Exclusive Q & A With Damon Dash, CEO of Roc-A-Fella Records
Without question Roc-A-Fella CEO, Damon Dash, is one of the most interesting and important members of Hip-Hop's business establishment. The Harlem native, partnering with Kareem "Biggs" Burke, and multi-platinum artist, Jay-Z, has arguably built the most diverse empire in Hip-Hop history. Under Mr. Dash's leadership a business that originally focused on rap music, has evolved into a portfolio of other genres and whole industries - specifically the clothing, movie, and beverage business. Combined, Roc-A-Fella Records, Rocawear clothing, Roc-A-Films, and Aramadale Vodka (the Scottish two-grain, 80-proof liquor recently purchased by the trio) are estimated to be worth $300 million.
Last Friday evening, Dame Dash spoke for a few with BlackElectorate.com publisher, Cedric Muhammad, by telephone, about the latest happenings at the R.O.C. which find the Roc-A-Fella CEO busy with new artist signings; a new radio show; a new soundtrack; and planning the future direction of the hottest Hip-Hop entity in the world.
Cedric Muhammad:Tell me a little bit about the Dream Team album which you have coming out on November 26 and some of your success in the distribution of the film Paid In Full.
Dame Dash: Well, the Dream Team album is my whole crew - Jay, Beans, Cam, Bleek, Freeway, D.J. Clue, M.O.P. - all forming together like Voltron. And just laying down - like The Chronic album - something like 12 to 14 hit records altogether, on one CD. And on the other CD is all of the music I wanted to put in Paid In Full that Miramax Dimension wouldn't pay for, hosted by D.J. Brucie B., the original DJ at the Rooftop. So that's the Dream Team. And as far as distribution for the movie Paid In Full goes, I wasn't really particularly satisfied with it, because it was given a limited release, like 300 theaters, but I averaged pretty well - six thousand per screen which is decent, so we made some money and also I got some pretty good critical acclaim. So I feel like I validated myself as an official movie producer.
Cedric Muhammad: No question Dame. And I think you even stepped it up in terms of distribution from your movie, State Property, which was even more limited in distribution. That was a massive improvement. So I think your accomplishment speaks for itself.
Dame Dash: Definitely.
Cedric Muhammad: If you could, as you know, we deal alot with business and economics at BlackElectorate.com, if you could, please describe your economic paradigm. What is your business model? Obviously you are looking at multiple streams of income. You have the record label, the movie production, the vodka company - Armadale. What makes up the Dame Dash business model?
Dame Dash: Just capitalize off of our lifestyle, you know? So, everything that we enjoy, usually the general public enjoys. The objective consumer likes music. The objective consumer likes to drink. We feel like we are the objective consumer and that we have a brand that everybody trusts and the reason why everybody trusts us is because they know we only try to create quality stuff and deliver the best. So everytime that I see an opportunity or one presents itself we just capitalize.
Cedric Muhammad: So basically you are making a stream of income out of a lifestyle, everything that you do.
Dame Dash: Yup!
Cedric Muhammad: The way I have looked at it from an economist's point of view, it seems that the pace of the distribution channels, even of the multinational corporations at the center of your business ventures, is really too slow for you.
Dame Dash: Right.
Cedric Muhammad: It seems to me that everything that you are involved with from your music relationship with Def Jam and Universal to the movie business - you are like, really bumping up against Black America's crisis of not having distribution for its products and services. How do you feel about all of that?
Dame Dash: Well...I mean, you know it is a constant struggle. A little bit of a fight, because our culture doesn't usually get the correct opportunities and when they are presented, somebody usually f---- it up. Someone is there putting their hands into the cookie jar. Our culture has been exploited so much that we haven't been able to capitalize on things. So many other people make so much money off of us that I don't think that they are used to someone tring to capitalize on their own culture, you know what I'm saying? So its full of obstacles. But the s--- that bothers me is that I know that I am a strong individual and I fight for what's mine, but I know that there are alot of people in this who are not like that. Not to say that other people aren't as strong but they don't have the kamikaze attitude and as much to fall back on as I do. That's why I kind of feel sorry for anybody that can't take the position that I hold. But I will punish anybody that I feel is doing anything disrespectful to my company. You are a liability not just to me but everbody else.
Cedric Muhammad: Do you think, Dame, that there is more unity required to overcome the distribution issues that you are dealing with in music, movies and alcohol...
Dame Dash: Yeah...
Cedric Muhammad: Who are some of the people that you are looking to link up with and what are the type of business minds that it would require to get over this hump?
Dame Dash: I feel like it is kind of hard because everybody is trying to get in where they fit in, you know what I'm saying? And as established as people may seem, they are still on shaky ice. So they have their own things that they gotta deal with. Like right now, I haven't gotten the opportunity to address the distribution issue in the music industry because it would take alot of energy and effort. I will probably get back to that when I can. It is important that I do. I am happy that I got to make money my way, but when you get into distribution, it gets a little gangster, you know what I'm saying?
(laughter between both Dame Dash and Cedric Muhammad)
Dame Dash: You've got to be really serious about going for distribution and getting it done. And it is hard to put someone in that position.
Cedric Muhammad: I understand...Let me bring it back a little closer to home for Roc-A-Fella. Congratulations on the recent signing of M.O.P.
Dame Dash: Thank you, thank you...
Cedric Muhammad: You know everbody was waiting on that. But I see Dame, that that roster is getting kind of full! You just signed Twista too, right?
Dame Dash: We are still working it all out...
Cedric Muhammad: OK, I mean, are you all looking at coming out with something, like, every other month?!?!
Dame Dash: Yup. Probably every month!
Cedric Muhammad: Yeah...
Dame Dash: Yeah, I am not going to let people breathe, man!
Cedric Muhammad: You can't! I don't see how you could. And you have to keep everybody happy.
Dame Dash: Yeah, true, you are right about that.
Cedric Muhammad: So, to broaden the scope, what's the future? Do you have a five-year plan, a three-year plan? What are you looking at getting into that you haven't touched yet?
Dame Dash: Just the Rock-n-Roll -we have Samantha Ronson aka Little Red, and for R&B - Rell, Rick Vocals, Marc Anthony and Allan Anthony from Christion. About 4 to 5 R&B acts, and that will be my challenge. Hip-Hop right now is easy. I can go gold now, sort of with my eyes closed, ya know?
Cedric Muhammad: Right.
Dame Dash: I think I have an ill Hip-Hop team so I am trying to put together the ill R&B, Rock, Soul team, as well.
Cedric Muhammad: Wow, plus even with M.O.P. there is alot you can do on the rock tip.
Dame Dash: Oh yeah.
Cedric Muhammad: Dame, people quite often see you and feel you as just, you know, a beautiful Brother with a colorful personality, but to me, it seems like the business mind is most impressive. How do you reproduce that in other people, man? Is that something that you look for when you bring people into your team and inner circle?
Dame Dash: Yeah.
Cedric Muhammad: What is that like - when you are looking for help along the lines that you personally have developed, and it is hard to cultivate it?
Dame Dash: You just have to coach your team. You have to give them what they need - a pep talk if they need it - but you have to walk it like you talk it. My greatest example is myself and if I can continue to work so can they, you know what I mean? Unless you got more money than me, I don't see how anybody could be relaxing. And even if they have more money they shouldn't be relaxing with it. If you don't have what I have, and I am still putting in the work, I don't see how someone else still is (relaxing). Now, my thing is, I am going to get all of the money if you let me; y'all might as well get some of it. And even at this point and time, my attitude is that I am still starving. So if I feel like I am starving and you are not feeling that same way, then something is very, very wrong.
Cedric Muhammad: Do you see the need to get more involved politically? And are you satisfied at the political pace and involvement of certain members of the Hip-Hop community? Of course Russell Simmons gets pointed to alot...
Dame Dash: I've been working closely with Russell in every single thing that he does, whether anybody knows it or not, I'm there. And I definitely appreciate how he stands up for us. He does alot of things that people don't understand, like alot of s--- that is going on in Congress, they are really trying to stop us from getting any money. And every time they try to pass one of these laws without letting us know, Russell and Minister Ben (Minister Benjamin Muhammad) they go up there and they hold us down. And like dealing with this thing that went down with education, when they were going to take that one billion dollars from us (out of the New York City budget), 100,000 kids come out there and that changed things. They (Mayor Bloomberg's administration) didn't do what they said they were going to do. Russell actually had a hand in doing that. I think that we should all get together and give Russell our support. I don't think people understand what it is that he actually does for everyone in Hip-Hop, and other cultures and communities as well. We should come together and make sure that we don't get pushed around any more. So I am definitely trying to take a more active role. I am on the board...
Cedric Muhammad: You are on the board of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network?
Dame Dash: Oh yeah. And I talk everyday with Russell about these things because I definitely feel that being that we come from that place in our communities we have a social responsibility to help the people that we left behind, at least as far as setting some personal example for our culture, and community as well.
Cedric Muhammad: Great. OK, Dame, I will see you in the city soon.
Dame Dash: OK.
Cedric Muhammad: Oh, alright, now Dame, one last thing - my one wish for you all is that if H.O.V. does 700,000 the first week [sales for Blueprint 2] that you come back and at least do 50% the second week?
Dame Dash: Ahhh, that would be beautiful.
Cedric Muhammad: You know what I'm saying?!?!
Dame Dash: We are going into the holidays so it might just happen.
Cedric Muhammad: Hope so. Take care of yourself, see you soon. Peace.
Dame Dash: Alright man, later.
Tuesday, November 19, 2002