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When it came to Hard Knock Life (issued by the Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam imprint), Platt wasn't in the position to make creative suggestions. ("I'm a different kind of cat," Jay-Z says. "Nobody hears what I do until after it's done, so I didn't send it to Big Jon until after it was finished. He called me up the next day and said, 'Oh my God!'") But in most cases, Platt doesn't shy away from offering his opinions. Jermaine Dupri, for instance, is a hip-hop veteran who served as the Svengali for Kriss Kross, the backward-dressing youths who gave the world the rap staple "Jump," and his connections helped him assemble an impressive supporting cast for his new CD, Life in 1472: Participants include Platt associates Jay-Z, Usher and Krayzie Bones (from Bone Thugs-N-Harmony), plus Mariah Carey, Mace, Nas, Snoop Dog, Warren G, Slick Rick, Da Brat and Lil' Kim. But Platt still laid it on the line with Dupri when he thought something wasn't working. "I would go to Atlanta, and he would play the music for me, and we would bounce things off each other," Platt says. "When I was down there, he told me, 'You're one of the people in this business who will always give an honest opinion. And sometimes, you're almost too honest!'"
Dupri, who records for So So Def/Sony, laughs at this anecdote, but he doesn't dispute it. "He's got a great ear for what's going on, and he loves music," he says. "That's where we meet each other. I respect him as much as a friend as I do as a businessperson. We really value each other's opinions--and he definitely will say if he doesn't like something. But that's good. We keep it real with each other, because that's the best way to be."
Such counsel is even more pointed when Platt's directing it at developing artists. Tamara Savage, who has tracks on the next discs by TLC and Shanice as well as Monica's latest for Arista Records, was a relative novice when she came under Platt's umbrella, and she credits him with keeping her focused. "He doesn't completely shoot you down," she allows. "He'd say to me, 'Okay, this isn't working, but there's a little bit of hope in it. If you listen and do this, we've got a shot at it.' And once he believes in something, he believes in it all the way. He wants you to keep going, never stop, and when you see something good happening, it just pushes you to work harder."
Campbell, who helped bring "How Deep Is Your Love" to life, tells much the same tale. "Big Jon liked what he heard from me, which wasn't much," he says, chuckling. "But he had the ability to kind of hear in its rough form where I was at and to help me take things further, and to grow in the areas where I needed to grow. We'd go over things song by song, and every one I wrote, he'd go, 'Change that part of the verse' or 'You need to make that song shorter, or longer, or faster, or slower'--technical things that he could hear and that he was almost always right about. And that really helped me be able to critique songs myself. After a while, I'd be able to step back and go, 'What would Big Jon think about this?' And then when I'd play it for him, he'd like it the way it was."
Big Jon's ability to shape tunes for radio consumption hasn't gone unnoticed: "Lately, it's been hit after hit after hit," says LaFace's Reid. But the men and women he represents laud him just as much for his fairness when it comes to finances. Dupri puts it bluntly: "I can call up Big Jon and tell him, 'I need my money, and I need it now,' and he'll go in there and fight for it like he's fighting for me instead of them."
"A lot of artists used to get screwed over publishing--and a lot of them were R&B artists," Platt says. "Back in the Fifties, they were getting paid with Cadillacs and stuff like that, and then, when the hits stopped coming, they were left with nothing. So I try to educate the generation that I'm involved with on what it's about and how to do smart deals. I tell them, 'This is what your kids can go to school on,' and I teach them what to look for. Some people only want to think about the music, and that's fine. But I tell them, 'If you don't want to know about this, you'd better have someone around you who does, because if you sign a bad deal, you're the one who has to honor it. And if you're only living for the moment, you're not really someone I want to do business with.'
"I don't like dealing with people who are content," he goes on. "You should always want to achieve more, and if you're content, that's the most disrespectful thing you can do--to be blessed with a gift and not use it to the fullest."
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