Disputing the fact that the 90s didnt take Hip Hop to another level cant be easily argued. Labels were flooding the airwaves with a sound that proved the genre had not only evolved, but shifted. Ruff Ryders Entertainment, founded by siblings Chivon, Dee, and Waah Dean, premiered their label in 1988. While propelling the careers of some of the eras premier artist like DMX, Eve, and the Lox, the label also set itself apart by catapulting production to a higher level. Key to that elevation was Harlem bred producer Damon Dame Grease Blackmon.
Down with Double R during most of its reign, Dame found a home for his diverse production style. Finding an aggressive MC like DMX to provide grit for his grimy beats, while also establishing a brotherhood that still exists, was a match made in Hip Hop Shangri-la. Responsible for some of Xs biggest hits like "Get At Me Dog" and "N***az Done Started Something," and "Stop Being Greedy," Dame provided Ruff Ryders with a distinct sound that couldnt be duplicated.
After separating himself from the label, Grease continued to provide his talents on notable singles like the Notorious B.I.G. tribute cut "Well Always Love Big Poppa" and the Loxs "If You Think Im Jiggy." In moves to become a self-described renaissance man, Grease flexed his skills on Xs films like Exit Wounds and Cradle 2 The Grave. Returning to the limelight with the heavily rotated "Big Spender" single featuring Freeway and Jay-Z, Dame proves time doesnt change a damn thing when it comes to skills.
With his vigor renewed, Dame spoke to AllHipHop.com on maintaining relationships in a fickle industry, his friendship with DMX, and why being a super producer means a balance of ear, gut, and inspiration. Take notes people. Dame Grease will not lose.
AllHipHop.com: I heard your beat for "Takin Pictures" made it into the hands of DJ Drama as soon as he left court after his arrest.
Dame Grease: I was talking with the other half of my team from Lakeshow [Management] and said, Listen, we need to get this track to Drama. This is a single right here." I guess when I contacted my manager, he was at court with Drama. As soon as he came out, he let Drama hear it, and he knew it was a single from right off the top. The song fit the atmosphere of the whole situation.
AllHipHop.com: So you had the track done and just fine tuned it for the Drama situation?
Dame Grease: To tell the truth, I didnt change a lick of it. I did it before the situation. I believe in things finding there way home, and this track found its way home.
AllHipHop.com: How did you feel knowing you had the track completed prior to the Drama situation happening?
Dame Grease: Im what you call "gangster spiritual." What is supposed to happen is going to happen. This is a theory I call leaving all gates open. No matter what I put into it, I leave gates open so whatever is going to fly can fly.
AllHipHop.com: How was it working with Jay and Freeway on the "Big Spender" single?
Dame Grease: Me and Freeway worked together before. I did a track on Kelis album Tasty called "Stick Up." Freeway took that track, looped it, and did a freestyle to it. A mutual friend of ours let me know Freeway killed the track. He sent it to me and I sent Freeway some tracks. [DMX] and I caught him and Jay-Z's show one night. After we caught the show, he and X hooked up and did a track. At the same time I think I gave him the "Big Spender" beat. I made it with Jay-Z in mind a while back.
AllHipHop.com: Speaking of sampling, Ive heard conflicting stories about you using samples and not using samples. What are your feelings on using samples?
Dame Grease: This is real talk, real history. I have been known as the guy that dont sample. I came into the game as a producer that played his own music. I was one of the first producers to do that. If I chose a sample I actually played the keys on top of it and made it into my own. At times when I have, you couldnt even tell. If I got a good sample of something, Ill take it, listen to it, and try to make it hotter. Some people do stuff and you know who did it. My first song that went main stream was an original song. It was "Well Always Love Big Poppa." That was a whole straight keyboard, me, fifty percent publishing. Another big song I had was "Get At Me Dog." That was a heavy sample. I would say Im 25% sampling and 75% me.
AllHipHop.com: "Get At Me Dog" broke out in '98. How have you and X been able to maintain your professional relationship? What do you two have thats special?
Dame Grease: Thats my brother. Thats my big brother. To tell the truth, what made it that way is we are friends. We became friends through the music. We lived the same lives in different places. To this day we still find out how similar we are as far as beliefs and values. Guys like us had to be men since we were fifteen. We homies. We just connected.
AllHipHop.com: So looking back what did your experience with Ruff Ryders teach you?
Dame Grease: Nothing.
AllHipHop.com: Nothing? It was of no benefit to you artistically or business wise?
Dame Grease: Well since you put it like that. (laughs) Actually I learned a million things in the business aspect. I learned how to maintain a steady business. Keeping relationships tight, and keeping your personal and business respect in tact. A couple of years ago when no one was checking for a Grease beat, I still had that respect. That respect helped me get back in the game even when I had to hustle and do a beat for free. All that allowed me to get to this beautiful part where I am now.
AllHipHop.com: What do you think rhyming does for you that being a producer doesnt?
Dame Grease: Ill go back to the whole Ruff Ryder situation. I always said that was just a fingernail of who I am. There is still a whole hand and a whole other arm and hand. So when the fingernail of what I did created such a conglomerate that affected a brand name. I used to rap before I produced. I do it all; I rap, I do the hook, and I sing. I dont even care. Ill make it hot. Its just me putting another part of my personality on a record.
AllHipHop.com: Do you think having a distinct sound works to your benefit as a producer?
Dame Grease: In one way it can if its a sound they want. But its when they want it. I have ten different styles and patterns of music I make. Thats why I f**k peoples heads up. Me and Swizz have a similar style. I used to call it my "dust head" style. When he reads this he is going to be mad!
Dame Grease: Because in reality a lot of these a lot of these mother f**kers dont want me in the game because I am the truth and I have the truth. They dont want the truth out there.
AllHipHop.com: Does that just make you go harder?
Dame Grease: It makes my d**k hard! (laughs) Excuse me, but thats what it does. Thank you for paying me that attention. The best way for me to influence is to go harder and do things that people cant do. I have others guys mapped out. I know where they are going to go next and they cant go any further.
AllHipHop.com: How do you respond when people say, Oh, Grease is back? Perfect example. Remember the Chris Rock movie Head of State? When Bernie Mac came to help Chris Rock and he was getting off the train? People were running up to him and he was like smack! Smack! What about ? Smack! I dont want to hear that nonsense. My people that f**k with me, we gonna f**k around and make it hot. Thats my frame of mind. Thats half of it. The other half of me is appreciative because I work hard for this s**t.
AllHipHop.com: As youve seen Hip Hop change, did you think you could change with it?
Dame Grease: I love music. When it comes down to the south or whatever, you have to think about it. People who are really into music cant comment on the south. Ni**as need to drop dead on that. Scarface and the Gheto Boys. Houston, Texas. Nobody knew what was poppin off down there. No one can deny they had some Gheto Boys in their house. They described their s**t to the world. I always knew I would f**k with the South because I f**k with real ni**as and real ni**as f**k with me. Real respects real.
AllHipHop.com: Aside from the haters, what gets you going creatively?
Dame Grease: The competition. When I first started making music I was a kid and it got me off the street. Music was my savior. It helped me release frustration. Everything I have done since '97, I did it just being me. Other people were manipulating, style stealing, penny pinching, and all the snake shit. I changed history by just making beautiful music without being sharky. What I did changed the world. So now its that competition. Motherf**kers are crazy to have forgotten about Grease. If you didnt know how I changed this rap game, you are going to know. So part of that fire is that competition within myself. I have peers out there that are rockin right now.
AllHipHop.com: Do you think being an all around artist will be the key to your longevity?
Dame Grease: Yes. Ive got ten years in the game and Im still accepted. Some people know me and some dont. Producers know me. Pharrell is my man. Don Cannon, Heatmakerz. People know I am more than and producer. They know I am a business man too. Being a producer is all hustle.
AllHipHop.com: Do you think people realize how much talent it takes to be a producer? Some people may think they can invest in some equipment and make it happen.
Dame Grease: I have a saying for that. I give it six months and they will be selling me all their equipment. Its happened. People think its just the equipment. But if its not the heart, the mind, and the soul, its not going to happen. If there is no passion and love for this thing, its not going to happen.
AllHipHop.com: What do you want your legacy in Hip Hop to be?
Dame Grease: Its going to be all the arts. Music, photography, scoring films, magazines, everything. Im just going to give you a taste of what I can do through all outlets. Thats what I do. I am an artist. I can do a hot beat and sell records. Thats the knowledge I have gained through these years.
AllHipHop.com: Complete this sentence. Damon Blackmon is
Dame Grease: Damon Blackmon is for self empowerment. I seek my empowerment through music.
AllHipHop.com: And Dame Grease is
Dame Grease: Dame Grease is that ni**a.
AllHipHop.com: Period? Dame Grease: Period.