Jermaine Dupri's rise to music MVP -- Behind the scenes of the once-iffy producer's current hot streak

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As the featured guest or producer on four Billboard Hot 100 singles (including Mariah Carey’s ”Don’t Forget About Us” and Nelly’s ”Grillz”) — and the mastermind behind the new, white-hot LL Cool J cut ”Control Myself,” featuring J. Lo — Jermaine Dupri is enjoying a career high. Next up: The president of urban music at Virgin Records is expected to help girlfriend Janet Jackson make amends for 2004’s lackluster Damita Jo. Dupri recently worked magic with Carey’s Grammy-award-winning The Emancipation of Mimi. But with a discography reaching back to 1992, you don’t have to dig too deep to find flops like Master P’s ”Da Ballers” and Bow Wow’s entire early oeuvre (when he was still Lil’). We examine Dupri’s current hot streak.

THEORY #1: After a long, awkward period, Dupri has finally come into his own. ”I don’t know if there’s another producer out there who’s as seasoned as Jermaine,” says Kawan Prather, Sony Urban Music’s executive vice president of A&R. ”If you count his ratio of hits to bricks, you won’t notice the bricks. He has been in the business for so long that he’s learned what works for him and what doesn’t, and now he just applies what works.”

THEORY #2: Dupri is only as good as his collaborators, and lately, he’s been working with the finest. ”When Jermaine comes out as a [solo] artist, he’s not always a hit,” says Ebro Darden, assistant program/music director at New York City hip-hop radio station Hot 97. ”He has more success when he does records for other people. Producing songs for Mariah gave him an opportunity to have hot R&B records.”

OUR VERDICT Dupri deserves a lifetime achievement award for resuscitating Carey’s career, but it’s only a matter of time before his MIA rivals — chiefly, the Neptunes (Gwen Stefani’s ”Hollaback Girl”), Dr. Dre (Mary J. Blige’s ”Family Affair”), and Timbaland (Missy Elliott’s ”Pass That Dutch”) — resurface to steal his producing thunder.

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