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So So Def at 20: How it all began 

Jermaine Dupri, Da Brat, Kris Kross, Xscape, and Bone Crusher tell the story of the iconic Atlanta label's rise

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JUMP JUMP: Kris Kross aka Chris “Mac Daddy” Kelly and Chris “Daddy Mac” Smith in 2013.
  • Chris Mitchell
  • JUMP JUMP: Kris Kross aka Chris “Mac Daddy” Kelly and Chris “Daddy Mac” Smith in 2013.

Dupri: I met Xscape through a guy named Ian Burke. He came over to my house for my 19th birthday party and brought them along. Ian Burke is like the guru behind that whole Atlanta music scene. He was the guy who was damn near at the head of almost every group that came out of Atlanta in the beginning. He was a talent finder.

LaTocha Scott of Xscape: Our manager [Burke] was like, "Yo, this kid's going to be big and he's already got some groups he's getting ready to sign." We were like, "OK." We just wanted to get a deal. We really wanted to become famous. So when we went to his 19th birthday party, we sang "Happy Birthday" to him and he was like, "You girls have remarkable voices. I love your harmony. I already have Kris Kross I'm working with, and as soon as I'm done putting them on the map I'm going to come back for you guys." At first we were kind of apprehensive. Everybody had been telling us, "We wanna work with you guys," and we didn't take it seriously.

Mauldin: Their harmonies were crazy, so Jermaine immediately started working with them. I remember taking a demo of them to New York City. We got a deal because of the success of Kris Kross and other stuff. Columbia gave us a deal for Jermaine; that started So So Def Recordings as a record company.

Scott: When we met Jermaine, we were real street. We were from College Park; Kandi [Burruss] was from East Point. But all of us had this street edge to us. And he would always say, "You guys [are] so ghetto." He was like, "Y'all can sing, y'all like the ghetto En Vogue." We were kinda like, "OK, ghetto En Vogue? Cool." We were also compared to Jodeci cause we had the rugged look. We kinda just brought who we were to the table and Jermaine added that hip-hop flavor to the music. It was just a good mesh.

Mauldin: We immediately put out Xscape's "Just Kickin' It" [in 1993]. It wasn't quite as powerful as "Jump," because it was really an urban radio record. But it blew up and ended up making a platinum album for Xscape.

Scott: We were very naïve when we came into the game. It was crazy because I remember when "Just Kickin' It" was on the radio and we were screaming in the car. It wasn't even like a month later and we were called to be on "The Arsenio Hall Show." Things kinda took off for us and then Jermaine sat us down and was like, "Y'all went platinum." We didn't know what platinum was. We were like, "OK, is that good?" he was like, "Y'all sold a million records!"

Da Brat, So So Def's next official act after Xscape, was a rambunctious female MC from Chicago whose Funkdafied debut adapted Snoop Dogg's swagger with a Southern twist to make her the first platinum selling female rapper.

Da Brat: In October of 1992, Kris Kross had a concert in Chicago and they had a part in their show where they asked if anybody could rap or sing to come on stage and win $50. My seat was kinda in the back and I was with my godsister Dawn from Atlanta. I ran on stage. I had dookie braids like Janet [Jackson] in Poetic Justice. I had them pulled up and they hung down in a little ponytail. Honey, I was ready.

So I went on stage and I rapped. I actually did this song written by R. Kelly - my first couple of songs were written by R. Kelly, so I did a rap written by him - and when I started rapping, they just went crazy. Kris Kross heard all the hoopla. And I went backstage and met Kris Kross and we exchanged numbers. They both were trying to holler at me; they were trying to see who I was going to talk to, I guess. [Laughs] They told me they were going to tell Jermaine Dupri about me, [and] they were coming back to Chicago to do the "Oprah Winfrey Show."

Dupri: Kris Kross called me to tell me about Da Brat. Her approach to rap was different than any other female artist I had seen at that point. I was really nervous about female rappers, so there had to be something that would stick out for me. She had a thing about her that felt different from anyone who had come before.

Da Brat: I've always been a different kind of character. In high school, I used to wear my hair crazy; I used to wear ponytails up real high and put like 20 ponytail holders on them so it would stand real high and the hair would hang down like a fountain. I was wearing my pants backward before I knew who Kris Kross was.

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