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Hip Hop Fridays: Dame Dash Stands On A R.O.C.

Many thoughts went through my mind on Wednesday evening as I listened to Damon Dash dramatically articulate his vision and plans for the first time (before the mass media) since the sale of Rocafella Records, the label that he, Kareem “Biggs” Burke, and Jay-Z built into a multi-million dollar empire – and recently sold to Def Jam/Universal Music Group. My mind was busy enough following Dame’s colorful presentation which included the unveiling of his new boxing promotion company, Dash/Dibella Promotions; and the Dash Music Group, an umbrella enterprise that will launch record labels from the producer Seven; RZA of Wu-Tang Clan; Laze of M.O.P. and others. But taking in the new information, weighing the merits of it in light of Jay-Z’s new position as President of Def Jam, and considering the example it all sets for Hip-Hop and Black entrepreneurs is, well, a lot.

The industry buzz and some of the conventional wisdom following the controversial sale of the remaining 50% of Roc-A-Fella to Def Jam is that somehow Jay-Z, Dame and Biggs took a step backward or made only a lateral move. If the only standard is that another Black-founded or significantly or majority Black-owned company has been sold to non-Blacks, then perhaps the case is open and shut, and the trio that Jay-Z styled as Hip-Hop’s “rat pack” have cashed out. The debate then, is only whether or not they did so at fair market value, a premium, or at an unfortunate discount. Clearly Jay-Z and Dame have discussed their decision – praising its merits and lamenting its imperfections - in terms that are obviously non-monetary in nature. Jay has stressed that his move, which involves not only his holding the top spot at Def Jam, but his obtaining ownership of his own masters (to see how financially rewarding this is read my interview with Wendy Day of Rap Coalition) represents empowerment not just for himself but for all artists, who follow his path(This week it was announced that Jermaine Dupri would head Urban Music at Virgin Records). While Dame in defending the decision has expressed his sole regret that the partners were not able to hold on to ownership of the Rocafella name.

If I had all of the financial facts regarding the sale of the company and the related transactions and side "deals", I would have liked to have performed my own valuation of Rocafella Records, and its brand name to determine how good or bad the deal was. But I have yet to see or be presented with a trustworthy or accurate account of the purchase of the company. And new facts seem to be coming out every day. At his press conference on Wednesday, Dame stated that Antonio "L.A." Reid, Chairman, Island Def Jam Music Group is paying him and Biggs a substantial figure to serve as consultants to any Roc-A-Fella or Def Jam artist who desires to be consulted. So far, Joe Buddens and N.O.R.E. have sought their services and Beanie Sigel will continue to be advised by Dame (On another note, Dame emphasized that he will always be involved with Cam'ron's career although the Harlem artist is no longer on Roc-A-Fella or Def Jam).

And even if one knows the actual dollar figure of the sale of the company, do they know details of lucrative options, rights and aspects of the sale that have a greater future value than present, like the master recordings of Jay-Z?

So, I think the sale of Roc-A-Fella has to be viewed from not only the standpoint of the actual facts of the agreement, but also from the lens of what Jay-Z and particularly Dame are able to do in post Roc-A-Fella endeavors. In a sense, Roc-A-Fella’s greatest value may be its legacy and the reputation it has created for Dame Dash as an entrepreneur and marketing genius. It is hard to argue that the success of Roc-A-Fella Records made Dame Dash’s ownership of Rocawear, Armadale Vodka, Roc Digital, America Magazine, and Pro-Keds possible. It certainly made Dash/Dibella Promotions and the Dame Dash Music Group a reality.

Here is what the two principals in Damon Dash’s two new business alliances and partnerships had to say:

L.A. Reid: This is a great new beginning for Damon, Biggs, and all the artists involved. We are casting our sights on the future with Damon Dash Music Group, while respecting the impact and recognition that Roc-A-Fella has built up within the hip-hop community. What has been accomplished over the past decade with the careers of Jay-Z, Kanye West, Beanie Sigel, Young Gunz, Memphis Bleek, and many others, has set an entirely new standard of achievement throughout the industry. The popularization and mainstreaming of rap and hip-hop into the pop world owes a monumental debt to the vision and courage that Roc-A-Fella put forward on behalf of its roster of artists. Now, a new generation of performers will benefit from their trailblazing. Everyone at Island Def Jam is enthusiastic over the opportunity to continue working with Damon Dash and Kareem Burke."

Lou Dibella: "I have always admired Damon for what he's accomplished and his ability to market. Young fighters, particularly African-American fighters, need greater exposure, especially in the young, urban market. Working together, Damon and I can make this happen. Dash/DiBella will provide opportunities for top prospects and established champions that have never existed before. I am very excited about this venture."

Dame Dash’s new ventures represent a continuation of the philosophy that he laid bare for us at Black Electorate Economics University (BEEU) in a guest lecture entitled, "Business Diversification And Multiple Revenue Streams". He told us a year ago that his best profit margins were not in the record label and that he would be looking elsewhere and away from music to make the best investment of his money and time. “That is why I sell clothes (laughter). And that is why I make movies because I can’t be f------ with this (music business) anymore,” was actually how he punctuated his point to me. Not ungrateful, but clear, was Dame, that the increasingly less financially-profitable music industry has made Damon Dash open for business on a variety of other fronts.

While not totally removed from his foundation, Dame can certainly worry less about it everyday, and use it as a base of operations. Time will tell whether his latest moves are horizontal or vertical, but they sure do look interesting, if not promising.

The "Dame Dash Rule of Gettin' Money" is still being written, but on a R.O.C. of a foundation.

Cedric Muhammad

Friday, January 28, 2005

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