Born on July 29, 1977, in Atlantic City, NJ. Addresses: Production company--Darkchild, Inc., P.O. Box 410, Pleasantville, NJ 08232-0410, website: http://www.darkchild.com.
Just a few years out of high school, Rodney Jerkins dominated the pop and R&B charts as the producer of singles such as "The Boy Is Mine," "It's Not Right But It's Okay," and "He Wasn't Man Enough for Me." A publishing deal with EMI, an offer to develop his Darkchild Productions into a record label, and a Grammy Award for producing the track "Say My Name" fueled his reputation as the hottest producer on the contemporary music scene. In 2001 Jerkins added to his accomplishments by producing songs for eagerly anticipated albums by Britney Spears, 'N Sync, and Michael Jackson, whose Invincible album was over three years in the making. Colleague Carol Bayer Sager summed up his talent in an Entertainment Weekly profile of Jerkins in June of 2000, noting that "His melodies are simple, and sometimes his lyrics can be deliberately repetitive. But what he does is any time you might even remotely be getting bored, he adds elements. He always keeps your ear interested and satisfied, and that's a true art."
Born on July 29, 1977, Jerkins grew up in Pleasantville, a city of about 16,000 just west of Atlantic City, New Jersey. His father, the Reverend Frederick Jerkins, was the pastor of the Pentecostal Holiness Church and his mother, Sylvia, was the choir director. Both Jerkins and his older brother, Frederick Jerkins III, had an interest in music. Jerkins studied the piano beginning at age five and often experimented with this brother's drum machine and electronic keyboard. Jerkins's intrusions into his brother's room to play with his equipment resulted in numerous disputes between the siblings; the tension was finally resolved when Reverend Jerkins bought his younger son his own drum machine in 1990. Although he had to take out a $1,900 loan on his life insurance to make the purchase, Reverend Jerkins never doubted his son's drive to pursue a career in music. "From that point, he worked night and day," he told the Philadelphia Inquirer in February of 1999. "He'd be up half the night playing and creating new songs. My wife and I would be banging on the floor, 'Please go to bed!' He'd say, 'I got to do this while it's on my mind.'"
Jerkins had already started to write his own songs; the first ones were inspired by a grade-school crush he had on a classmate named Allison. His professional debut, however, was inspired by his religious background. Together with his older brother, Jerkins helped to produce a gospel music album, Blessed, for their uncle's group in 1992. That same year, Jerkins recorded his own album of Christian rap tracks, On the Move, which was released on his brother's Jerkins Music Entertainment label. Over the next two years, Jerkins made an impressive list of contacts in the music world, including a friendship with New Jack Swing producer Teddy Riley. Riley helped Jerkins get his first big break in 1994, remixing a Patti LaBelle track. By that time, Jerkins was too busy with his career to continue going to school full-time and had hired a private tutor. "I liked school, but I was making a lucrative amount of money at 16," Jerkins told the Philadelphia Inquirer in February of 1999. "I had to weigh my options: Do I want to go to school eight hours a day, or do I want to try to work with people I dreamed of working with all my life?" By the age of 17, Jerkins had left his tutor behind as well; he was already spending too much time on the road as a producer to keep up with his studies.
First Major Success
In 1995 Jerkins's career took another major step forward when he got the remix assignment for a Vanessa Williams song, "The Way that You Love." He also signed a deal with EMI Publishing that year, which he renewed in 2000. The EMI agreement signaled the rising stature that producers were claiming in the music business, which had been artist-dominated in the 1990s with multi-million-dollar, multi-media deals by Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, and Madonna. "We look at talents like Jerkins and others we've signed as if they're artists, as opposed to those who write songs only," Martin Bandier, CEO of EMI, explained to Billboard in April of 2000. "Writer/producers, to me, are no different than the director of a motion picture. They are, like directors, responsible for the creative aspects of their projects. Sure, you always get input from the artist, but at the end of the day the producer's input is crucial." Later, some reviewers would take up this point in criticizing Jerkins's work with some artists, saying that his work often overwhelmed the distinctive talent of individual acts.
While Jerkins had some minor R&B hits with his first productions, it was Mary J. Blige's 1997 album Share My World that secured his reputation as a leading producer. Jerkins produced five of the album's tracks, including her hit "I Can Love You," which went into the R&B top five. Another track he produced that year, Joe's "Don't Wanna Be a Player," also became a major R&B and crossover pop hit. The following year, Jerkins had his first number-one pop hit with Brandy and Monica's "The Boy Is Mine," which stayed at number one for 13 weeks. Jerkins also produced many of the tracks on Brandy's Never S-A-Y Never and Monica's The Boy Is Mine, including Monica's number-one pop hit "Angel of Mine." Based on his string of successes, Jerkins secured a label deal through Sony Music in February of 1999 for his production company, Darkchild Productions. Jerkins had previously turned down a major development deal with Sean "Puffy" Combs; although he insisted that he respected Combs's work, Jerkins derided his heavy reliance on samples in his productions. "I don't depend on samples for my career," Jerkins told Billboard in February of 1999. "I want to be one of the ones that takes music back to where it was. Quincy Jones, Gamble & Huff, those guys made real music; they didn't focus on just drums and basslines. I want to make music that people can cry to and people and dance to."
Worked with Superstars
While Jerkins had mostly worked with young talents such as Joe, Monica, and Brandy for his first hits, he turned his attention in 1998 to helping revive the flagging careers of two superstars, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson. It had been several years since Houston had released a full-length album of original material, and she had been criticized for losing her musical edge. Jerkins helped to bring newfound critical respect to Houston for his work on her My Love Is Your Love album, particularly the standout track "It's Not Right, But It's Okay," which went into the Billboard top ten on the pop chart and proved to be a dance club favorite. Jerkins was not hesitant about claiming credit for some of the album's success. "I always write specifically for someone I'm working with and make sure that we have our style or stamp on the track," he told Billboard in May of 1999, adding, "I wanted to find out what [Houston] wanted to say, what she wanted the songs to be about. I think the music on her album is hipper than anything she's done before; it's a little 'harder,' so she's got a younger generation buying her records, which is cool."
Jerkins took on another major challenge when he began to work with Michael Jackson in 1998. Work on Invincible continued over the next three years before the album was finally released in October of 2001. Invincible was not quite the comeback that Jackson had hoped for in the United States, but it sold more than nine million copies worldwide in the months after its initial release. More successful was Jerkins's production of some tracks on Toni Braxton's comeback album in 2000, The Heat. His work on the single "He Wasn't Man Enough for Me," featuring a now-familiar tagline, "Darkchild," on the intro, was a major R&B and pop hit for Braxton and the standout track on the album.
Part of the Teen Pop Phenomenon
In 1999 Jerkins worked on a track that brought him a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song, "Say My Name," from the Destiny's Child album The Writing's on the Wall. He also scored his fourth number-one pop hit with "If You Had My Love," the debut single from Jennifer Lopez. Jerkins also worked with some of the hottest teen-oriented pop acts of the day, including Britney Spears and 'N Sync. While his production talents did not take the acts too far out of bubblegum range, Jerkins did add a measure of credibility to their efforts. He was also responsible for a more R&B-flavored sound on the third Spice Girls album, Forever, which appeared in 2000.
In 2002 Jerkins announced that he would be moving Darkchild Productions from New Jersey to Florida. The producer also reunited with Brandy for her album Full Moon, her first release since 1998. While the first single, "What About Us?" and the album immediately went into the top ten on the Billboard charts, the effort was a disappointment to some reviewers. "This third album is a very slick example of production-line soul," a Qreviewer wrote. "Producer Rodney Jerkins had his fingerprints all over several tracks here, including the excellent 'What About Us?' As a result, you'd be hard pressed to say what sets her apart from her many peers."
by Timothy Borden
Rodney Jerkins's Career
Recorded first album, On the Move, 1992; signed publishing deal with EMI, 1995; won Grammy Award for producing Destiny Child's "Say My Name," 2000; worked with Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, and 'N Sync, 2001.
Rodney Jerkins's Awards
Grammy Award, Best R&B Song for "Say My Name" (producer), 2000.
- Selected discography
- On the Move , Jerkins Music Entertainment, 1992.
- As producer
- Mary J. Blige, Share My World , MCA, 1997.
- Brandy, Never S-A-Y Never , Atlantic, 1998.
- Monica, The Boy Is Mine , Arista, 1998.
- Whitney Houston, My Love Is Your Love , Arista, 1998.
- Destiny's Child, The Writing's on the Wall , Columbia, 1999.
- Jennifer Lopez, On the 6 , Epic, 1999.
- Britney Spears, Oops! I Did It Again , Jive, 2000.
- Spice Girls, Forever , Virgin, 2000.
- Toni Braxton, The Heat , La Face, 2000.
- Britney Spears, Britney , Jive, 2001.
- Michael Jackson, Invincible , Epic, 2001.
- 'N Sync, Celebrity , Jive, 2001.
- Brandy, Full Moon , Atlantic, 2002.
- TLC, 3D , La Face, 2002.
- Jennifer Lopez, J to Tha L-O!: The Remixes , Epic, 2002.
- Billboard, February 27, 1999, p. 12; May 15, 1999, p. 44; April 29, 2000, p. 65.
- Entertainment Weekly, June 2, 2000, p. 44.
- Philadelphia Inquirer, February 15, 1999.
- Q, April 2002.
- Rolling Stone, August 20, 1998, p. 68.
- Time, May 22, 2000, p. 132.
- Darkchild Official Website, http://www.darkchild.com (April 9, 2002).