LOS ANGELES, Oct 26 (Reuters) Grammy-winning music producer Jermaine Dupri has stepped down from a top post at Virgin Records following disappointing initial sales of girlfriend Janet Jackson's hotly anticipated new album.
In a statement issued yesterday, Dupri said, ''Since there are so many rumors running rampant about my position at Virgin Records, I feel that it is necessary to set the record straight. I was not forced out of the company, I made a decision that it was in my best interest to leave.'' Atlanta-based Dupri, 34, had served as president of Virgin Records' urban division since January 2005. Further comment from him or from EMI Group Plc. -owned Virgin was not immediately available. Rumors of Dupri's hasty exit have been circulating since the weekend.
Dupri and Jackson collaborated in the studio for the first time with her new album, ''20 Y.O.,'' which debuted at No 2 on the US pop charts earlier this month with her lowest first-week sales numbers in almost a decade.
The album, which features subtle nods to her 1986 breakthrough ''Control,'' has sold a modest 443,000 copies after four weeks, and currently ranks at No. 28 on the Billboard 200, down nine places from last week.
Industry pundits said Jackson, 40, has struggled in recent years to win over young pop music buyers while at the same time holding on to her core, urban fan base.
Dupri himself alluded to the challenge, recently telling Billboard magazine, ''In today's market, half the kids watching (cable channel BET music show) '106th&Park' don't even know what 'Control' sounds like.'' Dupri won a Grammy this year for co-writing comeback queen Mariah Carey's R&B song-of-the year winner ''We Belong Together.'' He has received numerous industry accolades, including five R&B songwriter-of-the-year awards from performing rights group ASCAP.
As for Jackson, ''20 Y O'' opened with sales of 296,000 copies, her smallest debut week since 1997's ''The Velvet Rope'' started at No 1 with 202,000 copies sold.
Her previous release, 2004's disappointment ''Damita Jo,'' bowed at No 2 with first-week sales of 381,000 copies, failing to capitalize on the publicity from her infamous ''wardrobe malfunction'' at the Super Bowl several months earlier. In 2001, ''All For You'' opened at No 1 with sales of 605,000 copies.
Reuters DKS VP0425