Don’t Be the Damon Dash of Your Own Roc-A-Fella Records
How To Not Get Shunned By The Dynasty You Helped Build
For those unfamiliar, Damon Dash is the once longtime business partner of a man and brand most people are more familiar with in Jay-Z.
The two of them, along with Kareem “Biggs” Burke, started the record label Roc-A-Fella Records, during the mid nineties — a time when no other label showed any interest in signing Jay. They did it their own way, as a team.
The three of them together, led by Jay-Z as the label’s only official artist, built Roc-A-Fella Records from the ground up, in every sense of the phrase.
The label was officially launched in 1995. By 1997 — The distributor of Roc-A-Fella’s parent company, Island Def Jam Music Group — purchased a 50% stake in the company for $1.5 million dollars. This deal was later renegotiated by Roc-A-Fella executives and ended up being worth a total of $20 million.
By 1999 and after a string of widely successful commercial album releases, Jay-Z was more than a rising star and the sky truly seemed to be the limit for the three guys who started Roc-A-Fella, just four years prior.
But as The Notorious B.I.G. once warned us, Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems.
I remember being roughly fifteen years old and watching the Dame Dash episode of MTV Cribs. Moments after he began giving MTV’s camera crew a tour of his very upscale estate, I remember becoming annoyed with who he seemed to be, as a person. Flashy, narcissistic and completely self absorbed.
Sure, maybe it was the hater in me. The poor kid who had nothing, envying a man who came from less and now had everything. It was more than that though — it was deeper — from a more intellectual and genuine place.
I’ve always had a low tolerance for other peoples egos. I can’t stand being around those, who only seem interested in talking about themselves. Though Cribs was a show that was practically built off ego, I had seen plenty of other stars give MTV a tour of their house, in a far less braggadocios manner. Not Dame though, while he was rightfully proud of all he helped accomplish and had managed to acquire, to me it appeared it was turning him toxic. They say money doesn’t change you, it simply shows you and everyone else who you truly are, it simply reveals and exposes your character.
Anyone who has heard Dame speak for more than ten seconds, knows his natural state is to brag, boast, talk about himself, money or something else materialistic.
He admittedly, did his best to never wear the same pair of shoes or outfit twice. A habit that’s good and well when you’re worth what Dame was back at the turn of the century— but one I can’t help but imagine is a pain point to his current day accountant, when he adds up the total amount of money his client reportedly owes out to what this article I found during my research — sums up as “practically everyone”.
He had both a strictly Adidas shoe and Nike shoe closet. Which is maybe slightly off key for the partner of a guy who just dropped his own line of shoes with Reebok, as Jay-Z did with his then popular “S Dot’s” at the time. Or who was part owner of a very popular brand of Nike Air Force Ones himself, as Dame was with the Roc-A-Fella line of the shoe an entire generation was growing up wearing. Sure, showing off his Nike closet made sense I guess but I can’t imagine Nike appreciated him giving the tour of his closet filled with one of their closest competitor’s shoes. And more importantly, maybe Jay was left with a bad taste in his mouth from the episode altogether, as well as by the man it featured, as a whole.
Then, came the moment I realized, it’d only be a matter of time before Dame Dash became the product of his own destruction and financial ruin.
On top of the MTV cameraman who was recording for the show, there were two other cameramen inside the residence during taping. Dame went on to explain how he hired a full time videographer, to record practically everything he did throughout the day. The other guy with a camera — and I promise I’m not clever enough to make this up — was his “videographer’s videographer”.
Yes, you read correctly. He was paying two different people a full time salary, one to record him — and one to record the person, who was recording him.
That was the exact moment I knew, Dame Dash was going to become a tale of caution of sorts. Like the young athletes you hear about who land a big contract, blow it all immediately, only to end up broke a few short years later.
The year was roughly 2002 and the death of a dynasty was very much in the making. Though Dame and Jay were enjoying the success of practically every artist they signed, from Beanie Sigel and Freeway to Kanye West — there were already very loud rumors about there being trouble in Big Pimpin’ paradise. Jay-Z being unhappy about Dame’s behavior in front of the media, at business meetings and his incessant need to be the loudest person in the room at all times. There were rumblings of Dame being none too pleased about how inaccessible Jay was becoming to him and others, as he grew more famous.
I remember hearing the rumors and thinking to myself, maybe Jay found Dame’s arrogance to be as obnoxious as I did and was making himself inaccessible to his business partner and people of the sort on purpose.
Then word leaked, that maybe Jay-Z was going to retire from rap completely.
From there, Dame began making some very odd choices in who he signed to Roc-A-Fella. He brought along MOP and the Wu-Tang Clan’s Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
Sure, both were plenty talented and well known, if not once legendary in their own right — they just weren’t really very relevant when Dame recruited them. That and Ol’ Dirty Bastard had infamously been struggling with addiction, for quite some time. Neither went on to release anything significant under The Roc-A-Fella flagship and ODB ended up passing away not long after.
Before writing this, I did an exhaustive amount of research, digging through YouTube for obscure interviews with both Damon Dash and Jay-Z, as well as anyone close to the situation — and reading every article I could find, about the demise of Roc-A-Fella Records.
Not surprisingly, Dame had the most to say about it. Most others involved have remained fairly quiet about the sale and breakup since — or just simply don’t know enough to speak on it. Not Dame though, he’s incapable of keeping quiet.
He still never misses a chance to take a jab at Jay, though he’s definitely seemed to finally start to accept the fact, the man who is currently worth almost a billion dollars — who he very much helped get there — wants nothing to do with him. It’s been reported the two have seen each other twice, in passing, over the last fifteen years.
It’s odd to do as much research as I have and not be able to find a concrete answer from anyone, what exactly and specifically led to the 2004 sale and eventual demise of the empire that was Roc-A-Fella records.
While Jay doesn’t blame anyone, plays it as cool as usual and says his decision to sell and move on was nothing personal — you can’t help but commend him and somehow simultaneously not believe a word of it. He’s just being diplomatic, the very opposite of what Dame has been about the situation over the last almost fifteen years.
As I recently couldn’t help myself from commenting on an Instagram post of his, he’s been pointing fingers at everyone around him but himself since the day Roc-A-Fella records sold. At Jay-Z himself. At Def Jam Music Group executive Lyor Cohen and now co-creator of the show Empire, Lee Daniels. No accountability or self awareness.
The once Roc-A-Fella records rapper Beanie Sigel, more or less blamed Damon Dash, in an interview, for the downfall of the label. With no certainty, he said he believes Jay-Z simply got tired of Dame’s outlandish behavior in front of the media and at business meetings with important executives.
Beanie claimed Dame was “spending company money, on other business ventures” and also stated he thinks Jay wanted Dame to play more of a behind the scenes, silent partner role in the company, much like their third partner Kareem “Biggs” Burke did.
A lot of words could be used to describe Dame Dash — but silent and behind the scenes are the polar opposite of who he is — both as a person and businessman. He’s loud, bold and insists on being heard.
To his credit, it helped him find all the success he did. However, not being able to distinguish between acting in confidence and being led by pure ego may just be what cost him all he had.
Roc-A-Fella was releasing music, movies and major clothing lines. There’s really no telling how much the brand was worth at it’s peak.
All we know for sure, is the final 50% ownership stake the three men who built it still retained, was sold to Island Def Jam Music Group for $10 million in December of 2004, bringing the final sale amount to a total of $30 million.
But not without Jay-Z first retaining the company’s most valuable asset, the masters of his entire discography of music. The rights to and ownership of every song and album. With Jay taking that and moving on, what was Roc-A-Fella even really left with or worth?
Here is rare video footage of Damon Dash losing it inside Def Jam’s office, on their entire staff, for “calling a meeting with Jay-Z without him”, not coincidentally shortly before the sale of Roc-A-Fella took place.
And yet Damon Dash fails to understand why maybe Jay wanted his distance.
While Jay was named president of Def Jam Records, the same company he was very much responsible for acquiring Roc-A-Fella — Dame was understandably left with a bad taste in his mouth, as he’d go on to trash Jay in every interview he gave for no less than five years after.
My research indicates Jay-Z is currently worth somewhere around $800 million and is very much on his way to becoming a billionaire.
Meanwhile, Google currently claims Damon Dash is in the hole for about $2 million — though he’s currently suing Lee Daniels, co-creator of the show Empire for $5 million, over a loan of $2 million that was apparently never paid back.
When he’s not busy popping up on Lee Daniels at Diana Ross concerts to confront him about the $2 million he feels he’s owed, in the exact spot where cameras just so happened to aimed at and rolling — he can be found trashing either Lee or Def Jam executive Lyor Cohen on social media.
Though Damon Dash is currently in the process of trying to build a clothing line and is involved in a strange assortment of other investments, things have not been going great for the Roc-A-Fella co-founder for quite some time now.
He released a book called Culture Vultures, which mainly has just left folks scratching their heads, wondering exactly what a culture vulture is — but apparently not curious enough to buy the book.
While there’s no denying Damon Dash is the true definition of a hustler and one maybe none of us should ever count out, he still seems to be his own worst enemy. His ego, sense of self righteousness and lack of accountability hinder him every step of the way — meanwhile he’s too busy pointing fingers at everyone around him to ever stop and take a deep look in the mirror.
Besides, hustling was fine at 27 — but it’s not as easy at his current age of 47. You don’t see Jay doing a whole lot of hustling these days, he doesn’t have to. He planned and invested well and never did a whole lot of talking or blaming.
While Dame recently referred to Jay-Z as his best student — a laughable statement to anyone who knows anything about the two — if there’s any truth to the statement at all, the student seems to have certainly outsmarted the teacher.