Jermaine Dupri’s ‘The Rap Game’ on Lifetime seeks for new Bow Wow January 1

Jermaine Dupri with the rappers he hopes can shape into stars. CREDIT: Lifetime

Jermaine Dupri with the rappers he hopes can shape into stars. (clockwise starting from left around Dupri: Niqo, Lil Poopy, Miss Mulatto, Young Lyric and Supa Peach. CREDIT: Lifetime

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed Thursday, December 31, 2015

Atlanta producer Jermaine Dupri has discovered or developed artists such as Kris Kross, Lil Bow Wow and Usher when they were young.

Now he wants to find a new generation of rap stars and has tapped the reality show route via Lifetime’s “The Rap Game” debuting at 10 p.m. New Year’s Day. He has taken five kids and over eight weeks, will hone their skills and decide who will be signed to his label So So Def. Each week, he ranks their performance on a “hit list.” They all have parent/managers who will remind you quite a bit of the parents on on Lifetime’s ‘Dance Moms.”

“I make big moves, big things and take small groups and turn them into big names,” Dupri said in his intro of the show. “Ever since Bow Wow, I’ve been looking for my next breakout star. One of these kids is going to be it.”

The five are:

  • Lil Poopy (Luie Rivera Jr.), 12, Brockton, Mass. Three years ago, he became a viral sensation, stirring controversy for a raunchy video showing him slapping a woman’s butt. YouTube had to delete the video. On the show, he explains that when his dad changed his diapers, he used to “poop all over his hands.” So the name came and it stuck. “I kind of like it,” Poopy said. He has already worked with Rick Ross, French Montana and Diddy. Based on the first episode, he seems to be impressively humble. And during one competition, he rapped quite age appropriately e.g. “I’m buying chocolate milk for the entire cafeteria.”
  • Young Lyric, 15, Houston. Her father is an aspiring artist but her mom Olivia is the manager. She comes across very shy and has trouble freestyling.
  • Supa Peach, 12, Atlanta. Her big sister and her mom are co-managers, who said they have sacrificed a lot for her. Another stage dad said he heard her sister writes her material.
  • Miss Mulatto, 16, Atlanta. She has been making her mark in Atlanta but wants a bigger stage. Her father Shayne notes that the family has invested their life savings in her success. No pressure!
  • Lil Niqo, 15, San Diego. He was signed to Island Def Jams at age 10 but his voice changed and it didn’t work out. He notes on the show that he has 30,000 followers on Instagram and 4 million views on YouTube. His single mom of three is a veteran in the music business.

Dupri said his model was Motown founder Berry Gordy, who shaped Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder when they were little kids. He feels the current rap environment needs a young kid to shake things up.

He has turned down many past reality show opportunities like judging competition shows but feels this fits him because it’s what he does for a living. “This is connected with something real in my life. I’m a real artist developer. If I can’t put my hands on development, I’m wasting my time.”

He liked Niqo because he has already been signed but didn’t break out. So at the tender of age 15, “he’s already a second-chance artist. This dude isn’t where he wants to be. He’s still trying.” He is especially impressed with Niqo’s lyrical ability.

Dupri had known about Poopy from his 2012 controversy. “He came to the table with a little bit of dirty baggage. How do you fix it and clean it up?”

Three of his five would-be stars are female. He noted how impressed he was with Supa Peach when she first rapped for him live. Young Lyric comes off as tentative in the early going but he said she will open up. He worried that Miss Mulatto’s confidence may edge at times into cockiness.

“These kids got YouTube and Twitter and Instagram,” he said. “That makes them think they made it. I”m humbling them.”

He’ll have them do menial tasks just to see if they can take direction. He has them freestyle on the fly. He tries to get them to talk about their own experiences and not try to ape adults. He also brings in a vast array of his Atlanta buddies, from T.I. to Ludacris to Da Brat to help him out.

He said he wanted to show off the real talent that has come out of Atlanta. When I mentioned “Love and Hip Hop Atlanta,” he said he chose to appear once because he felt like that show was mostly highlighting wannabes, not big stars.

Dupri said he is used to dealing with the stage parents, who are typically demanding and controlling.   “I tell them, ‘Listen, you’re a great mom or dead. But a manager you’re not. I don’t see how you’re going to turn into one. They believe their kids are stars. They feel that automatically entitles them to be managers. It doesn’t work like that.”

TV PREVIEW

“The Rap Game,” debuts Friday, January 1, 2016, 10 p.m. on Lifetime

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