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 Dark-child 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
Born on July 29, 1977, in Atlantic City, NJ.
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.
Awards: Grammy Award, Best R&B Song for “Say My Name” (producer), 2000.
Addresses: Production company —Darkchild, Inc., P.O. Box 410, Pleasantville, NJ 08232-0410. Website—Rodney Jerkins Official Website: http://18.104.22.168/main.html.
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.
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. Bilge’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.”
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.
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 Q reviewer 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.”
On the Move, Jerkins Music Entertainment, 1992.
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.
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.
Rodney Jerkins Official Website, http://22.214.171.124/swf/bio.html (April 9, 2002).
"Jerkins, Rodney." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/jerkins-rodney
"Jerkins, Rodney." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved October 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/jerkins-rodney
Jerkins, Rodney 1978(?)–
Rodney Jerkins 1978(?)–
Producer and songwriter
When young people achieve major success in popular music, it is usually as performers, as charismatic figures who win the hearts of their youthful contemporaries. Pop producers and songwriters, who in some sense are the music’s real creators, tend to have spent at least a few years mastering the complex crafts of record-making and musical composition. One startling exception to this generalization, however, is Rodney Jerkins. Active as a songwriter since childhood and as a producer since his mid-teens, Jerkins emerged in 1997 with a Midas touch that put him in demand not only in the R&B and gospel styles with which he was most familiar, but also in pop, Latin, and even country music circles.
Jerkins was born in small-town Pleasantville, New Jersey, around 1978; he later opened the headquarters of his burgeoning Darkchild Entertainment company just a short distance from where he grew up—and from the Holiness church where his father is pastor. Jerkins’s mother was the church’s choir director, and his childhood musical experiences revolved around playing drums in the church and around lessons in classical piano. When Jerkins was 12, his father gave him as a present the basic tools of contemporary musical creation—a keyboard and a drum machine.
By the time he was in junior high school, Jerkins had set his sights on becoming a record producer. The Rev. Fred Jerkins was initially dismayed about his son’s secular ambitions but agreed to them after receiving a divine vision regarding the success of which Rodney was capable. Jerkins’s father continues to serve as his son’s manager. When he was 15 Jerkins made a gospel album of his own, and his gospel roots continue to show through in his songwriting and choice of material. Unlike a large majority of his peers in urban music, Jerkins avoids sex and violence in his music. “I kinda want to do things that my mother can hear,” he told Time. “If my mother can listen to it, then I’ll work on it.”
Amassing a stock of demo recordings he had made for local rap acts, Jerkins sought an entry point into the big-time music industry. His breakthrough came in 1992, when he buttonholed and impressed producer Teddy Riley, the ‘new jack swing’ pathbreaker who infused tune-based R&B with some of the street intensity and rhythmic edginess of hip-hop. Jerkins made his way to Riley’s Virginia studio, five and a half hours from home, and “just waited to see him,” he told Billboard. “I owe
At a Glance…
Born ca. 1978; raised in Pleasantville, NJ; parents: the Rev. Frederick Jerkins, a Pentecostal minister, and Sylvia Jerkins. Religion: Pentecostal.
Career: Pop producer and songwriter. Began trying to break into industry at age 14; produced songs for group Casserine, 1992; signed to production deal at Mercury Records, 1993; produced five tracks on multiplatinum CD Share My World, by Mary J. Blige, 1995 (released 1997); produced Brandy CD Never S-a-y Never, 1998; album spawned hit “The Boy Is Mine,” which topped pop charts for 13 weeks; founded label, Darkchild Records; produced recordings for numerous top pop stars, including Britney Spears, Destiny’s Child, Whitney Houston, Toni Braxton, LeAnn Rimes, and Michael Jackson, 1998
Awards: Four Grammy award nominations.
Addresses: Record label – Darkchild Records, c/o Epic Records, 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022,
him a lot of credit because he told a lot of people about me.”
The following year Jerkins produced two songs for the female vocalist Casserine, part of the roster of the major Warner Brothers label, and then was signed to a production deal at rival label Mercury. At Mercury he worked on high-profile remixes, including one for former beauty queen Vanessa Williams’s “The Way That You Love” single, and produced tracks for vocalist Gina Thompson. All of a sudden the producer prodigy found himself the target of a great deal of attention. Hip-hop mogul Sean “Puffy” Combs (later known as P.Diddy), renowned as a talent spotter in his own right, tried to sign Jerkins to a production deal.
But Jerkins turned him down. “I wanted to prove that I could make it on my own,” he told Billboard. And he went on to prove just that: in 1995 he wrote, arranged, and produced five tracks that appeared on Mary J. Blige’s 1997 album, Share My World. Blige encountered Jerkins while working next door to a studio in which he was doing remix work on a single by the late singing star Aaliyah, entitled “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.” Blige’s album went on to sell over two million copies; the single “I Can Love You,” written and produced by Jerkins, hit Number Two on Billboard’s R&B chart, and Jerkins went from being a young phenomenon with potential to being a proven hitmaker. Numerous production jobs began to flow his way.
One production effort took Jerkins to a higher level still. In 1998 he served as lead producer on teen vocalist Brandy’s second album release, Never S-a-y Never, contributing 11 tracks to the album as producer and co-writing “The Boy Is Mine.” That song evolved into an entertaining mock-argument duet involving Brandy and fellow teen star Monica; it rose to Number One on Billboard’s pop chart, remained there for 13 weeks, and became the top single of 1999. Jerkins has also worked with a roster of stars that reads like a Who’s Who of contemporary urban pop, including Whitney Houston (“It’s Not Right But It’s Okay”), Will Smith, Deborah Cox, and, keeping a hand in gospel music, Kirk Franklin.
Along the way it became clear that Jerkins was offering a sound distinct from that of other producers, one that relied less on digital devices and more on traditional musical instruments, sometimes played by Jerkins himself. “I definitely feel responsible for [the diminished use of] sampling,” Jerkins told Entertainment Weekly. “From 1990 to 1997, all you heard was samples. Then I came with ‘The Boy Is Mine’ and we stayed No. 1 for 13 weeks… It made people switch their whole style up.” “I want to be one of the ones that takes music back to where it was,” he added in Billboard. 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 can dance to.” To Time he described his style as “an R.-and-B. pop classical sound.”
After the success of the Brandy-and-Monica duet, Jerkins founded his own production studio, Darkchild Entertainment, and label, Darkchild Records. With the blessing of corporate parent Sony he began to branch out beyond urban contemporary music. He produced a remake of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” for pop megastar Britney Spears, who forecast in conversation with Entertainment Weekly a still-greater future for her collaborator and near-contemporary: “He’s so young he still hasn’t gotten to show the world what he is capable of doing,” Spears said. Jerkins also produced tracks for Latin star, Marc Anthony, and country diva, LeAnn Rimes.
By 2001 Jerkins had notched five Number One pop singles as producer, several of which he also wrote or co-wrote: in addition to “The Boy Is Mine,” they were: “Say My Name” by the trio Destiny’s Child; “If You Had My Love,” by the Latina superstar Jennifer Lopez; Monica’s “Angel of Mine”; and Toni Braxton’s “He Wasn’t Man Enough.” “He’s the bomb,” Destiny’s Child vocalist Kelly Rowland told Time, “and he drops nothing but hits.” With a strong track record, a coterie of powerful admirers that included Sony CEO Thomas Mortola and veteran songwriter Carole Bayer Sager, and seemingly limitless inspiration, Jerkins seemed poised to dominate pop music in the new decade; he also hoped to break into films. In 2001 he undertook the delicate task of reviving the career of 1980s megastar Michael Jackson. A marker of his growing success was his purchase of a 12,000-square-foot home in an exclusive gated community in Florida.
“The Boy Is Mine,” Brandy and Monica.
“Say My Name,” Destiny’s Child.
“Satisfaction,” Britney Spears.
“If You Had My Love,” Jennifer Lopez.
“Angel of Mine,” Monica.
“He Wasn’t Man Enough,” Toni Braxton.
Billboard, April 29, 2000, p. 65; February 27, 1999, p. 12; May 15, 1999, p. 44.
Entertainment Weekly, June 2, 2000, p. 44.
Interview, March 2001, p. 90.
Time, May 22, 2000, p. 132.
All Music Guide, http://allmusic.com.
Biography Resource Center Online, Gale Group, 2000.
—James M. Manheim
"Jerkins, Rodney 1978(?)–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/jerkins-rodney-1978
"Jerkins, Rodney 1978(?)–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved October 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/jerkins-rodney-1978