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Jermaine Dupri explains why he picked Mani for 'The Rap Game'

By RODNEY HO/, originally filed Thursday, September 29, 2016

Jermaine Dupri's pick of 16-year-old Mani to win the second season of Lifetime's hit show "The Rap Game" last Friday did not go over well among many fans of the show who preferred Lil Key.

In an interview Wednesday, Dupri spent a good part of the time defending his decision selecting a person who didn't finish at the top of his weekly "Hit List" a single time.

The bottom line, Dupri said, was their final performances at Terminal West. Mani killed it. He rose to the occasion. The teen, who lives n Los Angeles, won over Dupri, who called what Mani did "crazy. It shocked me. He stole the show."

"I think a lot of people get it really twisted about the last final performance," Dupri explained. "It does basically determine my decision. The Hit List is for me to keep track of what I feel the kids need to practice on."

He said he was looking for someone who had grown during the series. The focus group kids had said if Mani was more serious in his rapping, he could be something. And he was able to do that.

"I pay attention to selling to the people that will buy the records," Dupri said. "I could care less about people watching the show and not really understanding the market of selling young artists."

Mani, he said, was marketable.

"I wasn't sold on him prior to his last performance," Dupri admitted. "He was a wild card. That last performance, I felt like he outdid everybody. That says a lot."

He said in season one, he was favoring Supa Peach but felt eventual winner Miss Mulatto outshone her in the final performance. In this case, Mani outperformed favorite Lil Key. (My unscientific poll from the story I wrote a couple of days ago indicated Lil Key had 45 percent support compared to 25 percent for Mani.)

Mani, in a separate interview, said he didn't feel the editors always portray him in the best light. But he said he learned a lot about the business and what he needs to do to be successful.

"I just have to stay me," he said. "Just stay true to myself and make good music and appeal to everybody: little kids, teenagers and adults. I feel I can do that and have longevity. I'm versatile. I can act. I can rap. I can dance."

Dupri is already working on season three. "The talent level has gone through the roof," he said. "I have seen 13, 14 year olds doing things I never thought I would ever see. It's getting more competitive. Season one, they didn't know what to expect. Season two was more competitive but still didn't know much. Season three is a group that kind of knows what's up."

He said he feels he's creating his own mini-industry of young rappers using this show. "It's becoming its own thing," he said. "The songs these kids want to listen to at their own parties, the way they are attracting kids to shows. It's just different."

Dupri is also proud of showcasing Atlanta to the world and how it has changed over the years. One of his favorite spots to highlight this past season was the venerable "meat and three" restaurant Mary Mac's.

I asked him about his 14-year-old hit song "Welcome to Atlanta," an ode to the city at the time. "That whole verse [name-checking clubs in town] is completely extinct - except maybe the strip club Strokers."

It goes without saying that's one place he won't be showing on "The Rap Game."



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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.