FEATURE: Dame Dash, The CEO[Definitive Dozen]

[Editor's note: For our 12th-anniversary celebration, XXL speaks with 12 artists who’ve come up, and blown up, with the magazine. 50 Cent, Baby, Shyne, Dame Dash, Crooked I and more reflect on how we’ve affected their careers—and how they’ve affected ours.]

Photography Michael Lavine

Photography Michael Lavine

The idea of a movement in hip-hop wasn’t just idle talk in the 1990s. Roc-A-Fella Records really was a dynasty, and Damon Dash was a driving force. As the often obnoxious but always dynamic voice behind the Roc, Dash played a huge executive role in one of hip-hop’s most successful crews. When it came to getting recognition, the Harlem-bred mogul fought for his team, negotiating several XXL covers, including issue No. 1 (featuring Jay-Z holding a cigar in his mouth) and the Roc La Familia cover for the December 1999 issue, which he was part of. More than five years later, Dame and his buddy Cam’ron shared the front of the mag for the June 2005 cover. From their reign to their fall, Dame kept it real. He continues that tradition here.

How did the December 1999 cover come together, with you, Memphis Bleek, Amil, Beanie and Jay?

I feel like every time—at least when I was on the cover—it always felt like there was some kind of a negotiation, a little stress, but not in a bad way, just a negotiation. I think Jay had done a cover for
The Source—I’m not sure, though—and we weren’t allowed to do a cover alone. That was really the only way we could get Jay on the cover, is if we were all on it. But, at the time, we were rolling, so I felt like we deserved it. I’m trying to figure out what made me want to be on the cover, though. [Laughs] My mind was in a different place back then.

How would you describe where the Roc-A-Fella movement was at that point?

Everyone on that cover was known. That’s a lot of different people on one team to have. Knowing me, I probably felt like we all needed to get a certain amount of exposure and credit… XXL has always been kind of supportive of us, ’cause we always gave ’em enough to talk about… It meant a lot to me, because we’d always been very independent. It just felt like we were getting acknowledged, as opposed to me always having to yell about it, like, “Yo, we’re the best! We’re the best!” It was about time someone else was saying we’re the best.

What about the June 2005 issue, with you and Cam’ron?

I remember how that cover happened. A couple issues before that, [XXL] had put some bullshit in there, like a picture of a Roc-A-Fella chain, and it was just saying a whole bunch of fucked-up things about us. And, at the time, I was giving a couple of million dollars in advertising a year to XXL. Like, I’m not gonna be putting Rocawear ads in and Roc-A-Fella artists, all these movies I’m doing, for y’all to be shitting on me. Especially when it was, like, rumor shit, the whole article. So I was like, “I’m pulling all my ads.” [Laughs] I was like, “Y’all gotta give me a cover with one of my artists.”… Anytime I had a platform, I didn’t want to be on the cover. I just wanted my artist to get it. That was when the Roc-A-Fella split had first happened… I didn’t even really understand the split, so if you read the article, I was, like, confused, like, “Whatever, I don’t give a fuck.”

Did you have an initial reaction to the August 2005 Roc-A-Fella cover with Jay-Z, LeBron James and everybody?

Not really. I was so out of hip-hop at the time. I was more looking at Vogue. [Laughs] I’m 38 years old. At the time, I was 35. It wouldn’t be my demographic anymore. My son was looking at it maybe, or it was in passing, but it really wasn’t something I was too concerned about. I didn’t even read the article.

How did you feel about the struggles to get coverage? Did you just accept it, or was it frustrating?

I wasn’t frustrated. I always thought it was funny. In the very beginning, it was like the doors kept shutting on us, and we kept kicking ’em down, so it was always a big “fuck you” to everybody else… That was the way my career always was. Still is… You know, with magazines, it’s always love/hate, but it’s a little more love than hate. The part I hate about it is the business. The part I love about it is the people I work with. No matter what we do, and no matter what kinda war, how much we yell, we still say, “What’s up.”

To read more of the Definitive Dozen package, make sure to pick up XXL‘s September issue on newsstands now.

  • Enlightened

    I try to like dude, but this is a bitter dude.

    OK – in June 2005 you were on the cover but

    2 MONTHS LATER, all of a sudden it was out of your demographic and you were more into Vogue?

    Nigga stop it. And for the record, I do tend to think Jay-Z shitted on them more than the other way around, but Dame Dash be on some sneak bullshit with his answers.

    I would rather see him outright be on some, “fuck that nigga” shit, than all that trying to act like he cool about everything when he’s not.

    • i agree

      yep, sounds about right to me.

  • http://www.bc-tw.blogspot.com bc-tw

    Doesn’t Dame have a right to be bitter?
    Maybe you want to see him talk shit to Jay but Dame’s point is that he’s moved past that phase in his life and is concentrating on things other than rap. Why is that so hard to accept?

    • Enlightened

      It’s not hard to accept and like I said, I think he has the right to be bitter. And he don’t have to talk shit in a juvenile way, he can be professional on some grown man shit.

      For example, instead of saying that bullshit about Vogue and he was far away from hip-hop and didn’t read the article blah blah blah,
      he could have just said, “I didn’t respect it at all because I knew that wasn’t the real Roc-a-fella. Me, Jay, Biggs and all the people we brought in were Roc-a-fella. That was something else.”

      Or something like that.

  • argree

    yep, bitter. LoL about the demographic comment. nice observation.

  • AK

    word,son

  • suge

    dame not bitter because he has what jay really wants. the masters to reasonable doubt

    • *BLOCK*

      BLOCK BITCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      UMMMM JAY OWNS THE RIGHTS TO REASONABLE DOUBT…SO EVEN IF DAME DID SOMETHING FOR PROFIT WITH THE MASTERS…JAY WOULD STILL GET PAID……

      I THINK IN THE END IT WAS ALL FUCKED UP BUT….REMEMBER DAME MADE THE FIRST BAD MOVE…WHEN HE BOUGHT IN CAM AND MADE HIM A CEO….KNOWING HIM AND JAY WASN’T COOL AT ALL..
      THE WAY I SEE IT IF ME AND MY PATNA BUILT UP A BUSINESS AND I GO ON VACATION AND COME BACK AND MY ENEMY IS NOW CO CEO OF MY BUSINESS…THEN YEA IF IM OFFERED TO OWN THE WHOLE LABEL AND MY PUBLISHING TO MY BEST WORK AND A BIGGER JOB WIT MORE MONEY AND POWER…UMMM DUHHHHH WHAT YOU EXPECT… I JUST WISH IT WOULDN’T HAVE HAPPENED LIKE THAT…

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  • kedordu

    DAME DASH IS A GENIUS BUT HUBRIS WAS HIS DOWNFALL . HE IS STILL MY BIGGEST INSPIRATION IN MUSIC BUSINESS. AND HE IS PROLLY THE SINGLE MOST INFLUENCIAL PERSON RESPONSIBLE FOR THE KANYE GENERATION TODAY .. THE ROC WAS ABOUT TO TAKE OVER EVERYTHING .. JAY DID THIS ..

    • CHEAA

      nah.. dame did it…

      he thought he was the rapper and wanted shine jus like jay… he got jealous of jay and started pullin some crazy moves..

      u see him goin crazy in def jam… thats not how a buisness man sould act.. he wasnt professional at all.

  • alderman j

    Maybe he dont give a damn, if he was in business with Jay all them years he saw it coming, he probably didnt know what was coming but he knew it would be something. Kinda like when you in a relationship with a chick and after a a few months you realize she aint worth the trouble, if its lucrative situation you will stick around untill it hits the fan, then you would be out, but its not like you gonna be all tore up about somebody you knew wasnt about nothing!!!! I see where he coming from.

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  • BeerGangsta

    I fell like J diss Dame behind his back. There go J telling everybody at Def Jam that he did not won’t to work with Dame and Biggs. J did not won’t to split the money 3 ways. Then he got Candy Booty Beyonce on his team. Then he surpossed to have Lebron playing for his NBA team. Rumor Wade surpossed to be on the team to. Money Brainwash the Fucker.

  • AZ40

    I don’t believe he has moved on

  • $ykotic/Don McCaine

    Regardless Dame did his thing in the game.

    I WOULD REALLY LIKE TO HEAR BIGGS BUILD THOUGH. HE HAS A STORY TO TELL AS WELL.

    Dash put a lot of dudes on. Whether or not you liked him PERSONALLY, his BUSINESS saavy(no web site) was on point when it came to picking the right rappers to join the fold of The Roc.

    Thank you for your contribution to Hip Hop Dame.

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  • http://xxlmag.com Kane Corleone

    When its all said and done ya’ll want him to answer the way YA’LL would IF YA’LL were in his position.I know this is Hip-Hop but last time i check cuz is from Harlem,a Harlem nigga has to keep it “onehunnid and thorough” no matter what. if he is bitter he has to check that shit when being asked dumb ass questions

  • http://xxl gside

    Man I never understood the hate for Jay when it comes to Dame . How long you got to let a nigga be in your pocket that you made a fortune for . You see a these rapper’s and singer getting fuck over by management , record company’s and who ever form the being of black music in this county , because of what they didn’t know the one nigga that comes along and flips shit for the underdog and nigga hate on him unbelievable .Then you take all the people in the music industry from Suge to Barry Groudun that has fuck over there artist and people praise the ground they walk on , and all they do is exploit “others people’s ” talents . How long you going to pull that budgie when you find out you don’t need it plus you carry them past there stop Dame made a lot of money with Jay . Plus when you have real talented people and they break up they never get back together . look at the Beatles they never got back doing better on there own Ringo probably the only one because it’s cold out there when you ain’t got nothing good to nothing offer . Shit how long would any of you let a nigga eat off you for free.

  • justalkingshit

    BIG-UP-TO-DAME-DASH-A-TRUE-HARLEM-HUSTLER-AND-A-BROTHER-THAT-I-WISH-THE-BEST-FOR-KEEP-IT-100-LIKE-YOU-ALWAYS-HAVE-FUCK-THE-HATERS

  • Mr. North

    Yo there is no Jay-Z without Dame and vis-à-vis so basically Jay is a bitch for the way he went about it as if he could’ve done it on his own. Yeah its his rhymes but its 90% business. Dame did not use Jay like Suge or Diddy they were supposed to be a dynasty. Its supposed to be rules to this sh*t, but n*ggas I guess aint got no rules. Dame is at least 60% responsible for making The Roc what it is today.

    • Monty B.

      You have a sad outlook on Hip Hop.

  • http://www.whatever.com Whatever….

    Fame Dashed please go away…

    You overstayed your usefulness.

  • SOUTHSIDE A-TOWN

    i already read this in the one i copped out the store. but, i feel both sides. you could be close with a person for a long time. as ya’ll grow up n shit, sometimes niggaz just wanna do they own thing. i think thats what happened. it just wasn’t supposed to happen like it did.

  • cashcow

    dame is cool to a point,but when exc’s try to shine as the artist then the set be messed up.jay had got to the stage in his career where he don’t need nobody stylin on his shit.dame should have stayed in his lane;management.

  • dred

    I see most of yall never had a business friendship relationship and shouldn’t be commenting on this man and his attitude. He has the right to be bitter, he was used. Have any of yall ever been use. Shawn came out looking like the good guy while damn came out looking like sh*t. Live life then comment.

  • maine0616

    Jay-Z is a backstabbing nigga. I can’t wait for Dame to air his ass out in that tell all book.