Atlanta: Black Music Industry Keeps Georgia on the Map

So So Def has been a major part of the black music industry that has created a multi-billion dollar economy in Atlanta.

Written by Christopher A. Daniel

The history of American popular music has definitely seen its fair share of input from African Americans. Considering hip hop and R&B continues to stretch the boundaries for crossover success, it seems the last two decades have been dominated significantly by Georgia’s rich musical community.

Decades before regional affiliation became synonymous with music video and digital age acts, icons James Brown, Gladys Knight, Otis Redding, Little Richard and Ray Charles pledged their allegiance to the state. Georgia’s output — a cumulative $3.7 billion economy according to 2011 statistics – proved to be the perfect gateway for an equally blossoming $3.1 billion film and television industry  with more black entrepreneurship (i.e. Tyler Perry, Will Packer, Rob Hardy and Earvin “Magic” Johnson) at its helm. There are even 50 statewide post-secondary music-related degree and certificate programs.

Atlanta, in particular, has proven the most fertile far beyond the state line. Dubbed “the Motown of the South,” the city is home to numerous Grammy Award winning, million-selling recording artists, recording studios and music publishing companies. With prolific, chart-topping production courtesy of L.A. and Babyface (or LaFace), Organized Noize, Dallas Austin, DJ Toomp, Lil’ Jon, Polow Da Don, Bangladesh, Drumma Boy, Mike WiLL Made It, Ne-Yo, Sean “The Pen” Garrett, Bryan-Michael Cox and DJ Smurf/Mr. Collipark, red clay-based black music catalogs carry on tradition for becoming timeless classics.

“It’s all about being connected to what’s going on and what the general public is looking for. You have to keep it fresh and have confidence.” says Michael Mauldin, entertainment manager and former president of Columbia Records.

Another one of Atlanta’s own, Jermaine Dupri, believes Atlanta is a culmination of “good music, a great lifestyle and fun.” He’s set to commemorate two decades of his production imprint’s — So So Def Recordings — Midas touch. JD hosted a press conference in January to announce his anniversary concert on February 23 with his label’s legendary roster.

Who can forget the backward clothes wearing duo Kriss Kross’ infectious breakout 1992 number one single, “Jump?” From there were the successes of female quartet Xscape, male quartet Jagged Edge, former hip hop teen idol Bow Wow, vocalist Dondria, crunk artist Bone Crusher and snap music’s Dem Franchize Boyz. Dupri also laid golden eggs for Mariah Carey, Usher, Ludacris, Monica, Nelly, Master P., Jay-Z, Janet Jackson, Lil’ Kim, Destiny’s Child, Jessica Simpson and Mary J. Blige.

It was Dupri who also gave hip hop Da Brat, its first solo female act to certify platinum. Known for her classic 1994 release, “Funkdafied,” the Chicago native believes her success results from Dupri encouraging her to embrace her individuality. “I’m a P.Y.T., pretty young thug. It ain’t no other person like me in the world, and [JD] knows that. Seeing any female rapper do their thing makes me proud.” says Brat.

Mauldin, Dupri’s father, credits a producer’s work ethic and musical integrity as keys to success. He adds that So So Def specifically has always been about excellence. “[Jermaine] has always been about the music. What people don’t see are the hours spent in the studio till the morning comes. I can always count on him to give me the real solid stuff,” Mauldin says.

Dupri, on the other hand, says hit records are a much simpler process. “It takes a great song, artist and producer,” he says.

Christopher A. Daniel is a pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.

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