[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

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.