Chances are, while driving on Route 9 through Pleasantville you've seen a strange gated building. The cars in the driveway range from the latest Hummer models to the sexiest sports cars to good old fashioned Rolls Royces. People who have looked even closer while passing the building may have spotted R&B singers like Brandy or Toni Braxton making their way inside the large tan structure where the Grammy-winning producer Rodney Jerkins' Darkchild recording studio is housed.
When Jerkins isn't lounging around in his Pleasantville home, he makes hit records for popular music's most successful artists. Right now, you can turn on the radio and most likely, you'll hear Jerkins' latest hit "Deja Vu" playing. Jerkins produced and recorded the song, which features Jay-Z and Beyonce and is this summer's hottest hit. Like many of the records Jerkins has worked on over the years, the song came straight out of his studio and headed for No. 1 status.
Recently, Mr. Jerkins invited me into his home studio to discuss his current projects. As you walk from the waiting room inside his home you see a big wall that at one time was plain white. Today it bears the signatures, warm regards and even a few doodles from artists like Tyrese, Kelly Rowland and many more. While the rest of the outside world dealt with the recent record-breaking heat, I took off my shoes and walked onto Jerkins' deep carpet and discussed the record-making heat that he has brought to popular music over the past few years.
AC Weekly: Let's rewind a little. In 1996 "The Things You Do" remix dropped, produced by Rodney Jerkins, and featuring AC's Mike Nitty and Vineland's Gina Thompson. It's still a hip-hop classic.
Rodney Jerkins: Thank you, really. That whole experience was great. First not only did you have us holding it down, but you had Craig Mack and Raekwon -- two of the illest emcees ever -- on that track. I enjoyed the experience because Mike and Gina were both "hungry." You don't see that enough in this business; people who really want it. Other than [Brandy's] "The Boy is Mine," that one really put me on the map. That's how Mary [J. Blige] found me. We were in NYC working on separate projects. She walked by, then she came back and was like "Are you Rodney Jerkins? I heard that Gina Thompson joint, you did your thing, we need to make something happen."
ACW: How did it feel the first time you heard one of your songs on the radio?
Jerkins: Of course it felt great. But even after all this time I'm still "hungry." After hearing it a couple times my attitude was "OK, I have to follow that up." Even with "Déj� Vu" -- I heard it played on the radio about 10 or 20 times, but I'm working hard to outdo that, to knock myself out of the No. 1 spot again.
ACW: What makes Rodney Jerkins unique as a producer?
Jerkins: I don't see myself as competing with people who I may be mentioned with now, and I mean no disrespect to their work, their music or what they've accomplished. My goal is to be mentioned one day with producers like Quincy Jones. So who did Quincy work with? Frank Sinatra as well as Michael Jackson. Look at my career; I can be in the studio with a Toni Braxton and then next week I can be working with Celine Dion. Quincy has even said I'm "like the Q" for my generation and for him to say that means a lot to me. Lets me know I'm on the right track.
That's artistically. Business-wise what separates me from other producers is record sales. There have been artists who have had No. 1 records but that didn't translate to album sales. Historically, our music has positively affected album sales.
ACW: Who would you like to work with who you haven't yet?
Jerkins: Janet Jackson. Her last album was a flop and I know I could bring her back to where she needs to be. I wouldn't have her competing for Beyonce's audience but I'd introduce her to that Anita Baker-urban-adult-type crowd. I know we can pull down better records sales then she's had.
ACW: What brought the Darkchild back to Pleasantville?
Jerkins: I had finished the Michael Jackson album and I was already burned out. I was still working on the Full Moon album with Brandy. Then I went out to Canada right after that to work on a project. By the time I got back I just didn't want to make records here at that time.
ACW: No truth to the rumor you left because of theft or vandalism to your property?
Jerkins: None at all. No one has ever stolen anything from me here. It's a gated community with cameras. If somebody so much as throws a rock we'll get it on tape and they'll be in jail -- period. We were back here in the area for a function and my wife said "Why don't you start up here again?" I plugged in some stuff and we got it cracking and have been here ever since. I re-did everything inside to make it comfortable. To make it home.
ACW: Now that this is home, where do you hang out while you're at the Shore?
Jerkins: I hang out at my house. I'm not a party guy, never been. I stay at home when I have down time with my wife and family.
ACW: How about when you go out to eat? Where might we find the family Jerkins?