Dame Dash: Changing Lanes Part One

The old adage says, “out of sight, out of mind,” but when referring to Dame Dash, that depends on where one looks. After a highly publicized split with his long time Roc partner Jay-Z, the Harlemite seemed to vanish from the public

eye that he once stunted in front of. For many, the talk has been that he’s washed up, if not struggling. Those speculations couldn’t be farther from truth.

On this frosty winter day, Dame is mellowed, suave and relaxed. After dealing with some business, he parks himself comfortably behind his spacious desk in his classy new office digs in Midtown Manhattan. Clearly, life after The Roc has served the Dame well and stepping out of the music business has made a new man out of him. He’s firmly rooted himself in the fashion world with the acquisition of Pro Keds and mass production for his new line, C.E.O. Clothing. He’s also the producer for a pair of movies currently underway, a trade he picked up while still with Roc-A-Fella Records.

This time the CEO has diversified his working relationships as much as his businesses. Every so often, long time partner Kareem “Biggs” Burke peeps in the office and throws up the peace sign, perhaps a reminder to their union. Biggs and Dame recently launched BlockSavvy.com, an upscale social networking site. Rachel Roy, Dame’s wife and emerging fashionista, shares the office space as well as her vast knowledge of couture fashion.

With all seemingly going well, can America’s most infamous bottle popping Cakeaholic abandon the rap game for greener pastures in a variety of low-profile niches? Read on.

AllHipHop.com: Now, when you left the music business it was definitely not a smooth exit, you’ve said it was something that was just “taken” from you and you’re not the kind of dude to just give something up with ease…

Dame Dash: I’ll tell you what I mean by tension. I wasn’t anticipating not having Roc-A-Fella Records. Jay was presented with a choice of going and doing what he wanted to do by himself, which was cool with me. But he came back with “I want to do my own thing, but I also want the brand and I don’t want Jay, Damon and Biggs now.” That one threw me off because I wasn’t expecting that.

AllHipHop.com: Was that just a straight show of disloyalty?

Dame Dash: Well you can call it how you see it.

AllHipHop.com: I’m asking you how you see it.

Dame Dash: Again, Jay’s a Black man, an African-American, and I wish any African-American good luck. It’s not diplomacy, it’s about the fact that as a culture, we don’t stick together, and that’s the problem. So even if somebody’s scumbagging me, I’m not gonna scumbag them back. I want that dude to be successful so that he can be another ambassador of our community, so that people can say “Oh, a Black kid did his thing.” I’m not gonna sit there and say what he did… I’m sure in his mind he thought he was right. That’s really where it stays. Me, I’m cut from a different cloth; I’m not like that. Everyone can be cut from any cloth that they want, I just choose to be around people from a cloth like myself. That’s just how I’ve been. If you notice, I haven’t been too social with too many people in the music business, ever. I don’t like the ethic, I don’t understand, I’m not from that place. So, to me, what he did to me contradicted what we were promoting to the world as Roc-A-Fellas, and guys that come from a certain place, but to a lot of people, it could be dead right. More power to him, hopefully he’s successful and I’m watching him work hard. But me, I’m about this fashion thing.

AllHipHop.com: Is it true that he turned down that same offer when Lyor made it?

Dame Dash: I read that in XXL, I know Lyor and I know that if he offered somebody 20 million [dollars], it’s not gonna be where you’re not with your friends. From what I know of that scenario, Lyor offered us the deal, Jay was contemplating not doing anything with us anymore. Lyor called me and said, “Yo Dame, I gotta do what I gotta do.” So what he told Jay was, “Listen, whether you do a deal with Damon and Biggs or not, we’ll still do a deal with you.” But I don’t think anyone in the world would say, “Here’s 20 million to leave your partners.” The music business isn’t in such a great state where because you like or dislike someone, you can give them 20 million. If that was the case, I think it would be a little absurd for me to have to read about it as opposed to someone telling my friend that, my friend should come to me like, “You know this n***a just offered me 20 million to s**t on y’all.” That conversation never came, so if it happened, I don’t know. It doesn’t really make sense, what I know that did happen was Lyor was like, “Yo, we rollin’ with Jay whether he rollin’ with you or not.” Jay had the opportunity to leave us, and they made it clear that they were still rollin’ with him. You have to also remember, when that deal got made and we split ways, I still had the deal with Universal and it was a funded deal. When I got the call like “Yo, your man wants the [Roc-A-Fella] name,” I was like, “This can’t be.” When I asked him about it, he was like, “Yo, it’s business.” But I think what happens is when there’s a distance between you, it’s easier to do things because yall are not seeing each other as often. I don’t think he coulda did that if I was in his face everyday, but I had other things to do. It is what it is, I’m not really bitter about it because it made it to where I can do other things.

AllHipHop.com: What ventures do you have in motion right now.

Dame Dash: Well I’ve kind of decided to focus on fashion, almost the way I was to the music business 10 years ago. I felt like in fashion I could do something very substantial when I started to see how the profit margins were in music as opposed to fashion. Fashion’s where the longevity is, also I think with music it’s kind of hard to articulate what’s going on in the street if you’re not in the street anymore and you haven’t been there in the last 15 years. I really don’t know what’s going on, I’m 35 and I don’t know if I can relate well to a 15 year old. I consider this my world.

AllHipHop.com: The last time I interviewed to you, you were on the movie side of things…

Dame Dash: I’m still on that. I’m working on two movies, one is the Larry Davis movie and the other one is this movie called The Brooklyn Fight Club.

AllHipHop.com: With the Larry Davis story, is that authorized? I read a recent interview with him in jail and he said he was still searching for the people that he wanted to do the movie with and that it wasn’t finalized. Can you speak to that a little bit?

Dame Dash: Larry’s an interesting dude, and without getting into his business, I wouldn’t make the movie unless it in his best interest. No way I would do it without acknowledging anything he had to bring to the table. I believe that he was treated unjustly, so I would never make a movie without his consent. I think the level of his involvement in the movie will be whatever we can do on a legal level. There’s a lot of laws in place that restrict certain things, without getting too in depth.

AllHipHop.com: So he might do another version?

Dame Dash: I don’t know what he’s gonna do, but I know what I can do. The best I can do for him, I will. But I don’t wanna make anything unless it’s a masterpiece, especially if it relates to any kind of urban experience because if I make an urban movie and it doesn’t check, then it makes it that much harder for anyone else to make an urban movie.

AllHipHop.com: Speaking of examples, there was a necessity for a restructuring because things got discombobulated after Jay and getting moved out of Universal. What is the number one different way you’ve restructured and attacked your business now that you’ve left that side of things?

Dame Dash: It’s just more business, it’s a different kind of work ethic. In the music business, there’s no real calendar. In clothing, you have to design things a year ahead of time so that they can be made and sewn. In the music business, you can kind of finish when you feel like it and put things out when you feel like it. Presidents or CEOs or whatever they call themselves are very different. They don’t call back, they don’t support you. No one does follow-through; people don’t work with that pace and tenacity. They just wanna get it done. In the fashion business, it’s gotta be done, and it’s way more disciplined. I’m actually embracing the evolution and I also feel that if I’m doing one thing at one level for 10 years it kind of gets corny. I feel like there was a time when I had the strongest label on the planet, unless I come back with that, I can’t do it. There has to be an evolution, not only would I have to come back with the strongest label, it would have to be better than the strongest label.

AllHipHop.com: Aren’t you still pushing more artists? Didn’t I just hear Sizzla signed to you?

Dame Dash: Sizzla has his own label. I got him the connect, and I’ll work with him and do anything I can. But honestly, I’m not in the day-to-day grind like that, so I wouldn’t say he’s my artist. I think he is an entity that couldn’t be signed. If you look at the power that that man has, it would be hard for me to say he’s my artist. I don’t really wanna be in the music business, and if I am, I don’t really think I want to come out with an artist for a couple of years because I look at artists like a brand and it takes five or six years to nurture and evolve an artist to where the rest of the world knows their point of view and they wanna buy an album for a long period of time. You gotta remember, when I started with Jay, it took him about five or six years to put out a record. Before we put out a record we were on the road four or five days out of the week. The only reason Kanye came out when he did is because he was hitting the road, but I had established the brand Roc-A-Fella by then, so I could put that on somebody and because of that brand, people will pay attention to it. An artist cant come right out, it doesn’t happen. Any artist that’s out right now that’s doing well, trust me he’s been in the game five or six years before you ever heard of him, working every day all day. I don’t have the time or the focus to do that right now, but if I did, I’d be right there.

(Chuck “Jigsaw” Creekmur contributed to this story.)

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