Jermaine Dupri Dishes On Why He Adopted A Vegan Lifestyle And Launched An Ice Cream Brand - Exclusive Interview

Jermaine Dupri is a Grammy-winning hip hop artist, songwriter, music producer, and CEO of his own record label, So So Def Recordings. He's written and produced award-winning albums for  Mariah Carey, Usher, TLC, and Destiny's Child, to name just a few. In an unexpected turn in his multi-hyphenate career, Dupri launched JD's Vegan ice cream and very recently partnered with Walmart as its sole distributor. (It's also available on JD's Vegan website.) Dupri worked with Malcolm Stogo – pretty much considered the god of ice cream — in creating a plant-based dairy-free ice cream that is just as smooth, rich, and creamy as the regular stuff. 

At present, there are six flavors of JD's Vegan available — Chocolate My Way, Strawberry Sweetheart, Welcome to Atlanta Peach Cobbler, 404 Cookies and Cream, Key Lime Pie, and the unique Apple Butter. Each flavor is either named for one of his records or has a personal connection with Dupri. Before our exclusive interview with Dupri, we sampled all six flavors — mostly made with coconut cream — and were seriously impressed by their consistency and intense flavor. 

Dupri switched to veganism 16 years ago to improve his health, and he's now devoted to getting the word out that you don't have to sacrifice "deliciousness" to eat vegan. In our eye-opening conversation with Dupri, he shares his philosophy, family background, and how he's reaching out to the Black community at large to eat better.

Jermaine Dupri switched to veganism to improve his health

What brought you to the decision to become vegan?

I wanted to feel better as a person. I wanted to feel healthier. I had started working out, and working out made me feel amazing. But then once I started getting on the road and moving around, I couldn't work out the way that I was doing when I was stable. And then I was just like, "So what can I do to just like, one, keep the weight off of me, and two, make me feel energized and not like sluggish and all of this?" And people around me just kept saying, "You should become vegan." And I'm like, "Vegan? What is vegan?" I knew nothing about it.

Enough people told me this, so I took this 25-day fast where I didn't eat anything. And once I got to that point, the way my body felt, I was really okay, so how do I keep this feeling? And they were like, "You definitely have to become vegan to feel even remotely close to what you're feeling right now." So from that point on, I just fell in love with feeling good and feeling healthy and knowing that I'm healthy. That's another thing. A lot of people today, we don't know if we're healthy or not. We just believe that life goes, then something happens, and people go to the doctor and they find out all this other stuff. I don't want to do that. I want to at least know I'm healthy on a lot of different fronts and being vegan allows you to be that.

It was more for your health issues that you wanted to do this?

Yeah, I wanted to feel better. And like I said, as I was getting older, I felt like I had ... I know I was eating bad. I'm from the South. So, the South is known for almost eating every week like it's Thanksgiving, especially in Atlanta. So it was like Waffle House, my mother's house. Those two houses alone have you end up in a spot that's just like, I got to make a change. So it was just a thing for me to make sure I was healthier.

It wasn't like an aversion to meat? Was meat making you feel unhealthy?

Yeah, totally. Yeah, because you know me. I'm small. What am I, 5' 5" or maybe 5' 4", something like that? So I'm a smaller guy. So, meat makes me feel heavy. And I started feeling that when I would eat hamburgers or eat steaks or any of that food, I felt like I was feeling heavy. And then I question Thanksgiving. As we get close to Thanksgiving, I question why at Thanksgiving you eat and you go to sleep. Food is supposed to fuel you. It's supposed to fuel you. It's not supposed to make you go to sleep, right? We start drinking Red Bulls and all of this other stuff to get fuel, and we let our food put us to sleep. So that is the opposite. That's not really the way life is supposed to be.

Why vegans deserve more than a fruit plate, according to Jermaine Dupri

How did you come about developing vegan ice cream?

Well, I mean being vegan, I'm pretty much a connoisseur of knowing what we don't have in the marketplace. You know what I'm saying? Because I'm searching everywhere, I'm going to every city, I'm going to every restaurant that people tell me is good because that's all I have to eat. So the majority of places, as soon as I get to a city, I find out what vegan restaurant has breakfast. If they have breakfast, I go check out the breakfast and I see that. You know, before JUST Egg came out, the egg business in veganism with eggs, it was shabby. You had people doing scrambled tofu, but scrambled tofu is not, it's consistency is like egg, but it's not close. So therefore you have room like JUST Egg to come into the marketplace and dominate as they're doing right now.

I don't know the numbers, but I would imagine that they would've turned the business around, and it's just the same thing here. It's like when I go to restaurants, it's always — especially if I go to restaurants – and there are vegan options that they have. So I'm always at the end, and it's like, "[Do] you want dessert?" And I'm like, "I'm sure you guys don't have anything for me." That's what I automatically say. And they usually say, "Yeah, we got a fruit plate." I don't want no fruit plate. I didn't come in to eat no fruit plate. I just ordered a $200 meal. I don't want a fruit plate after $200. 

So it's like that ... that, that started making me be like, "Man, so where's the vegan?" What's something that you can go to every restaurant and get the same taste every time you go? You had people bringing out sorbet and all of this other stuff. And I'm just like, nah, nah. Let's try this ice cream thing. Let's see what happens with some ice creams.

Chocolate My Way. That's chocolate your way, that is fantastic.

It's actually my daughter's way. Me and my daughter were the ones that were picking the ice cream we had to taste over and over. We tasted about seven different chocolates, and we got to that one and that's the one she chose.

And the Apple Butter. I've never had ice cream like that.

So, it is interesting when you say the Apple Butter. You see, apple butter is one of my favorite spreads that I put on biscuits and all of this type of stuff. And I never saw that as ice cream. So personally, to me, that's a flavor that I feel like I created. If I feel like if somebody else has an apple butter ice cream that's not vegan, they got that from me if, in the next seven months or whatever, however many months it is. I don't believe I've seen apple butter ice cream.

How Jermaine Dupri developed the flavors for his ice cream

How did you reach out to find someone to make the ice cream with you?

Like I said, I've been vegan for this many years. I've been screaming at people at the top of my lungs. "Hello. I'm here! Can we do some business?" I just had to find people that understood that it's actually a business out here. There's a lot of people that really shun us vegans and try to make a scene. We are like the outcasts and give them some grass. "They don't want to eat a real steak, so just throw them whatever." Do you know what I mean? So I've gone through all of that. So I was even going to tweet that, text that, and say tomorrow after countless meetings and conversations about "Hi, I'm a vegan, help me out. Let's get into this marketplace."

I could definitely be the spokesperson for this because I'm truly a vegan. And that's the one thing I want everybody to know about this ice cream launch and anything that happens at JD's Vegan. I am vegan. You don't have to worry about anybody else. I'm the person that's vegan. So if the brand doesn't taste right to me, it will not come out. That's 100% because I'm making this. Today, we was going to photoshoot, and I was sitting there eating the Strawberry Sweetheart and they was like, "You got to stop eating it." We're doing a photoshoot. And I'm just like, "this is so good." But it's like ... As a vegan, I've been shunned away from having deliciousness, if that's a word.

Have you personally tasted all of the flavors that are coming out?

Everything. Every flavor we designed. The Key lime pie was my favorite pie that I used to eat before I became vegan. So, therefore, I wanted Key lime pie. You know, we tried a bunch of things, all of the flavors and things that I like. We tried red velvet cake. And then we started naming them after records of mine. So the Strawberry Sweetheart is named after me and Mariah's record. You asked about the 404 Cookies and Cream. The 404 is the area code in Atlanta. Chocolate My Way is Usher's album "My Way", so Chocolate My Way. Just things like that. Just to give you these little sprinkles.

But yeah, I've tasted all of the ice creams. Like I said, I don't want this to be anything that a vegan person or anybody else could come to me and say, "Jermaine." Do you know what I mean? I wanted people to be like, "Oh, wow, you really got this right." And I've had so far, all of my vegan friends that were vegan before me taste at least the Key lime pie. And they're like, man, this is pretty dead close to what I wanted it to be.

Why it's important for Jermaine Dupri to reach out to non-vegans

Is there anyone else besides vegans you want to reach out to with this particular product?

Yeah. I want all the non-vegans. I feel like when I eat here in LA, I'm here in LA right now, when I go to Crossroads, 75% of the business at Crossroads [Kitchen] is non-vegan. In Atlanta, Slutty Vegan, which has taken off and become very big, I think 50% of her audience, if not 60% of the people that go there, they're non-vegans, right? So I feel like I'm looking for the person that's willing to try and that could possibly be swayed to vegan.

But I'm not one of those vegans that's trying to make everybody vegan because I know it's a lifestyle, and it's something that you have to really get mentally into. It's not something that you could just [say], "Oh, his ice cream is amazing. Let me become vegan." Because the rest of the food that's in the marketplace, I can't speak for that. It's not going to be as good as my Key lime pie. I made sure that it's that way. But I can say that hopefully, it will start to sway people to understand. Eat this Key lime pie. Although it's the dessert, it's a hundred times healthier than you eating the other dessert that you would probably eat. And that's all I want people to understand. Give yourself a bit, a longer life chance.

Are you hoping to reach out to the Black community?

Yeah, because my mother has diabetes. Diabetes is just big in the Black community, just because of what I said. We eat soul food and this is the thing. My mother cooked Thanksgiving dinner like almost every Sunday at her house. It felt like Thanksgiving. We would eat dressing and all of this macaroni and cheese, collard greens, cornbread. And when I was eating meat, it was ribs and all of this other stuff that was in there. And this stuff just drives your cholesterol very, very high. I don't think my ice cream can save a bunch of people, but it can bring awareness to a bunch of people ...

Listen, I'm a Black man. This is not just because Jermaine is trying to make a zillion dollars. This is really something. This is how I live my life. And I did it because I'm trying to live my life. And I feel like you can do the same. Just pay attention to it. Look at what's going on. Because even like me, I didn't know that I was even lactose [intolerant] before I became vegan. But once I became vegan, my body's not ... I can tell when somebody is lying and they put milk in something and the taste. My body starts to act crazy. And these are things that you have to pay attention to as humans because the human body was created in a way that is supposed to react to these things. And we just changed it. And I just feel like, why not help the people in a better way than to hurt the people?

For Jermaine Dupri, becoming vegan is about self-discovery

Is there anything else you want to say about JD's Vegan?

I just want people to understand it's really a thing about discovery for you if you're not vegan, and once you start eating it you just understand you're still eating something that is good for you. You're not eating something that's bad for you although it tastes like that. ... Too much of anything is not great for you, but this is still in a space where if you eat it gradually, it's not going to harm you as bad as the rest of the world food.

Do you have a Christmas flavor coming out?

Actually, [Welcome to Atlanta] Peach Cobbler basically is for the holidays. When we had our early initial conversations, we were going to release peach cobbler for the holidays. We were going to release the strawberry prior to the Walmart collaboration. Once we got the collaboration with Walmart ... So it's like "You got to go, go big, big time." We had to change about movement, but the peach cobbler basically was there for the holidays.

Jermaine Dupri shares his top chef and fast food picks with Mashed

Who is the one chef you'd want to cook dinner?

I actually think that would be the challenge. If you are a chef in 2021, you must know how to cook both. ... I feel like if you were working in a hotel and they said they had a special guest come and they wanted vegan food and you're the head chef, but you can't cook vegan? Then you're not really the head chef. You're like the guy that needs help. So I would have to think. ... What's that guy? Like Chef [Gordon] Ramsay. I've seen him talk about going vegan for one day in the week. And I feel like him exploring that he would probably make something that I've never tasted before.

What's one ingredient you couldn't live without?

I think cheese.

But you're vegan.

That's what I'm trying to say. By the way the cheese world, for the longest it took me forever to find a vegan cheese that felt good to me, that sat right with my stomach. ... Because you got people [that are] trying all kinds of different ways to make it cashew cheese, and all others. You got to find which one fits you ... but cheese ... it don't even have to be cheese. If you can figure out the flavor of cheese and put it in a ketchup bottle and squeeze it on there. That's what I need. I need the flavor of it.

What is your go-to fast food and at which restaurant?

My fast food restaurant would probably be this place in Atlanta called GOOD AS BURGERS. And it's a vegan restaurant ... It's all plant-based. They sell Beyond Burgers minis. They sell sliders, so I usually get the Beyond sliders as fast food. So they send you two sliders. They have tater tots. Sweet potato tater tots, it's all vegan. They also have the Beyond chicken meat tenders that they just had recently ... they seem to sell out all the time. That's what I get from there as well. So it's fast food, that's the place to be.

All six flavors of Jermaine Dupri's vegan ice cream can be purchased from the JD's Vegan website and at and Walmart stores nationally in December.