King of Pop Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, Toni Braxton, and Beyoncé are just a few of the multi-Platinum selling artists who have soared to the top of charts on the wings of production from Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins.
With hits spanning over two decades, the GRAMMY-winning producer boasts a collection of RIAA certification plaques that knows few rivals.
Yet, despite having amassed accolades and peer recognition beyond measure over his storied career, the 42-year-old operates with a hunger and tenacity akin to that of an industry newcomer – a trait he recently told That Grape Juice is among the many that keep him humble.
In addition to dishing exclusively about his new single ‘Come Together’ – an amalgamation of some of Gospel music’s biggest names (i.e. Fred Hammond, Karen Clark Sheard, Kirk Franklin, Lecrae, Marvin Sapp, and more) – Jerkins waxed honest on his love for longtime collaborator Brandy, the VERZUZ battle franchise, and so much more.
See the “must read” interview inside:
That Grape Juice: How are you holding up during this time of quarantine and social distancing?
Rodney: It’s not too bad. My studio is home, so I have no complaints. I am able to create. The kids are home schooled, so it’s kind of normal for them to be home.
That Grape Juice: Before we hop into the interview, we lost some big names in music recently – namely Little Richard, Betty Wright, and Andre Harrell (click here to read more). Do you mind sharing any fond memories you have with any of them?
Rodney: When I was 16-years-old, I sent my demo tape to Uptown Records and the A&R had me come up to New York. Next thing you know, I was pretty much a staff producer there.
I got to know Andre really well. In fact, I was with him a couple of months ago after the GRAMMYs. It’s a tough thing to lose someone like Andre, because he was always smiling, always talking about music; his passion and love for music was bar none.
Betty Wright, I had an opportunity to work with her when I produced songs for Michael Jackson. He wanted a choir on one of his songs so she put it together, brought the choir to the studio, and did the choral arrangements for me as well.
That Grape Juice: Thank you for sharing that. Can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind your new benefit single, ‘Come Together’?
Rodney: It actually started in 2003. Myself, LaShawn Daniels, and Jazz Nixon were in the studio in Atlanta and were coming up with an idea for a song that could reach the masses. The vision for it was that I wanted to have a lot of different Gospel artists together on one song. I never felt it was 100% complete, so 2003 wasn’t the time for it to come out.
A month-and-a-half ago I wanted to finish it, so I put my daughter, Lecrae, Le’Andria Johnson, Marvin Sapp, Kelontae Gavin, and a lot of other artists on it. We were able to cut a video together and I’m so excited that it’s out now.
That Grape Juice: A lot of people may not know, but Gospel has been a mainstay in your life.
Rodney: Yeah, that’s my roots. I’m from church, my father’s a pastor, my mom’s a choir director, and we played in church and sang in the choir.
A lot of people don’t know, but throughout the years I also produced Mary Mary, Kirk Franklin, Kierra Sheard, the Clark Sisters, and a lot of other [Gospel acts] as well.
That Grape Juice: ‘Come Together’ was one of many awesome unreleased gems I’m sure you have. What do you do with those songs that don’t make albums or you half-finish then put to the side?
Rodney: Sometimes, what you believe in doesn’t mean the artist you are working with will necessarily believe in it at that time. Other times their record company may take them in a different direction AFTER you record a song; I know there’s been plenty of times where that’s happened. It doesn’t mean it’s not a great song.
If it doesn’t get its due, it just stays where it is. I definitely have a lot of that type of material.
That Grape Juice: Give us an example of a song you loved that the artist didn’t.
Rodney: There’s a song I wrote called ‘Second Thought’ that was to be the continuation of ‘I Thought’ from Brandy‘s ‘Full Moon’ album. No one’s ever heard it, but it was really good.
That Grape Juice: ‘Full Moon’ was such a game-changing album. It’s something to see how much the musical landscape has changed since its 2002 arrival. What are your thoughts on the status of R&B right now?
Rodney: I kind of like where it’s at and I like the fact that it’s coming back, because it was dormant for a while. I think there are a lot of artists like H.E.R, Snoh Aalegra, Normani, Summer Walker, Teyana Taylor, SZA, and others that have R&B in their music, but in a cool, fresh new way.
That Grape Juice: Now, as with many interviews, we’ve received five questions from our readers for you. Are you ready for That Grape Juice‘s ‘Five From Fans’?
Rodney: Go for it.
- TGJ #1: Who are some artists you’d like to see engage on the VERZUZ platform?
Rodney: I’ve been wanting to see these two battles: Bobby Brown vs. Keith Sweat and Pharrell vs. Kanye West.
- TGJ #2: Would you ever do a battle on the VERZUZ platform?
Rodney: In a heartbeat. It’s got to be the right person, though. They’ve approached me, but I’ve got to feel comfortable in the battle. It needs to be a celebration.
- TGJ #3: Could we see a reunion with Brandy any time soon?
Rodney: You never know. If the cards are dealt right, it will happen. I think Brandy is an incredible talent, incredible voice, and has one of the most distinctive tones and quality in a voice that we have ever heard. So, we’ll see what happens.
- TGJ #4: What would you say is your MOST significant achievement to date?
Rodney: My crowning achievement is probably my children; I’ve got two girls and two boys. Out of everything, that’s the best production I’ve ever produced.
- TGJ #5: We don’t see Rodney Jerkins playing “the celebrity game” as much as your counterparts. Why?
Rodney: I like being somewhat low-key, so I let my music speak for itself. Some people know who Darkchild is, some people don’t. Some people know who Rodney Jerkins is, some people don’t. I kind of like it that way.
I don’t need the extra praises, I’m not a person that is in search of fame, so I’m cool with playing my role and trying to make the best music possible for the artists that I work with.
That Grape Juice: You have achieved so much in your career, including working with the biggest names in music. On your bucket list of things to do, what’s left?
Rodney: There’s a lot more left to do. I just keep on working with more artists, working with new artists, and finding new talent.
There’s no real bucket list. As long as I’ve got this brain, these fingers that can play the keyboards, and this mind to keep being creative, then I’m sure there will be hundreds of artists for me to work with.
The Rodney Jerkins-produced, ‘Come Together’ (by Gospel supergroup The Good News), is available on all platforms now! Proceeds from its sales benefit the Recording Academy’s MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund and Compassion International.