Originally posted Monday, January 7, 2019 by RODNEY HOfirstname.lastname@example.org on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
Jermaine Dupri is known for brutal honesty. That means he isn’t going to hype each new season of Lifetime’s “The Rap Game” as “the best ever” unless it actually is in his mind.
Rather, the legendary Atlanta producer assesses each season on its own merits. Season five, which debuts Thursday at 9 p.m., “is my most frustrating season,” Dupri said bluntly in a phone interview this week.
When the five selected would-be rap stars first arrived in Atlanta, “I wasn’t totally impressed. I was on the verge of actually scrapping these kids and sending them home.”
But instead, he decided to stick it out. Besides, starting over would have been a major problem for production.
“It’s hard for me to know what level these kids are at until they move to Atlanta,” he said. ‘And by then, it’s too late.” Viewing their YouTube videos and interviewing them can only help him so much, he said.
So this season, he said, “everyone is battling for everything” with no clear front runner.
As usual, he cast an Atlantan. This year’s entrant is Sire and Dupri said “he’s one of the most interesting 14 year olds I’ve ever met.”
Structurally, the show remains the same with different challenges each week. While some have become perennial favorites such as the rap battle, learning how to dress and photo shoots, he did move the kids into a bigger, nicer house. “Gradually, you have to switch it up, he said.
Dupri is known for grooming young artists such as Bow Wow and Kris Kross. He cares deeply about hard work and artist development. Unfortunately, his exacting ways don’t always sit well with past winners.
He’s no longer working with the first two “Rap Game” victors Miss Mulatto and Mani.
Kids today, he said, “are not in the space my previous artists’ minds were. I still have yet to find a kid off the show whose mind about their craft is as sharp as Bow Wow’s when he was just 12.”
Many of the rappers who come onto his show think they’re automatically stars because they get likes and have songs on Spotify. “Anyone can get on Spotify,” he said. “Artists are not learning if their music is any good or not by just putting it out there.” He recalls, as a young artist, how legendary La Face Records producer L.A. Reid put him through his paces before he got his music right. “It changed my whole life and outlook about how to make music,” he said. “That tutelage taught me so much. These kids have to learn some of that.”
Dupri is still working with season 3 winner Nova and season 4 winner Street Bud, who is from Atlanta.
“Even though Street Bud won, I still feel like he wasn’t 100 percent there,” Dupri said. “I have seen him grow. I’m teaching him and he’s doing more shows.” In fact, Street Bud will be among the artists performing during Super Bowl week at Centennial Olympic Park.
Dupri is curating six nights of free shows spanning multiple genres with artists from the state of Georgia. (He is almost done though he said it has been particularly difficult to find pop artists from the state.)
“The Rap Game” has propelled alums to do other reality shows. Lil Bri (season four) appeared on Fox’s “The Four” last year and Flau’Jae (season three) made an impact on “America’s Got Talent” last summer.
Dupri saw Flau’Jae on “AGT” and was impressed by how much she had improved since she left “The Rap Game.” To him, this just shows if the kids truly take the lessons they learn on the show to heart, they can become real artists.
“These kids came to me and learned enough to go and be out in the rest of the world,” he said.
“The Rap Game,” season 5 debut Thursday, January 10, 2019 at 9 p.m.
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