Damon Dash. I repped him from 1991 – 1997. My most difficult client ever. There’s a lot of shit I can write about dude, but because of client/attorney privilege, I’m legally precluded from doing so. He started out as a manager with his cousin, Darien Dash. Another effin “winner”. Brilliant dudes though. Both in their teens. They came in the music game with two acts, “Original Flavor” and “The Future Sound”. Upon the Dash’s first shot, they landed both those acts deals with the now defunct East/West Records, a part of the Atlantic record family. The Dash’s must’ve netted over 150k for those deals. Imagine sitting on at least 50 – 75 k in your pocket, in your teens, in the music game. And not as an artist, but as managers, executives.
One of the best things that came outta me effin with Dame was him introducing me to fellow Brooklynite DJ/ Producer/ Sneaker God Clark Kent. Clark remains one of my closest friends from the music game today. Clark was A&R at East/West and gave the Dash’s the co-sign. He also came to the table with the then unknown artist Jay-Z, introducing Jay to Dame. Even tried to sign him to East/West, but back then NO ONE was feeling Jay, not even Clark’s then boss, Sylvia Rhone. Clark did manage to squeeze Jay a cameo on Original Flavor’s first single, “Can I Get Open”. That shit right there rocked and it felt great to bang a single that I was proudly associated with. Jay did murder them on they own shit though.
A coupla years passed, Original Flavor and The Future Sound came and went. So did the cash. The IRS came knocking and hard. Dame’s accountant kinda eff’d up, didn’t give the teens the proper financial advice and guidance they needed. Niggas had to turn in the Pathfinder jeeps they were so proudly rocking throughout NYC. Clark and Dame went into overdrive to get Jay-Z a deal. They had me up in all types of meetings, selling, pushing, damn near begging the record execs to give Jay a deal. Nada. One exec even told me “why the fuck should I sign Jay-Z, I have Black Sheep on our roster, Jay ain’t fucking with them”. Shit was rough on the cousins Dash. Eventually Darien, who had just graduated from college, caught on to the whole digital revolution. Saw the internet coming from miles away. Started a dot com start up company called Digital Mafia. Made a shit load of money even. One thing the cousins always had was mad smarts on their side. Brilliant.
Dame started borrowing a coupla dollars from me. Not that he needed it, but as he explained it, “there was no way niggas Uptown is EVER gonna see me walking out the subway. I’m too fresh for that. Niggas need to stay seeing me stepping outta cabs. Fuck that plebe shit.” So I lent him money for cab fare. Thought he was being x-tra, still, had to admire that sense of pride. Shit like that kinda ensures your financial success. That, and/or financial demise. He was also going through mad baby momma drama at the time with the mother of his first son Boogie. Shit was so bad, he even got into a physical fight with her father, brother and uncle. At the same time. From what I remember, he knocked all three of them out and on they asses during that same encounter. I think I even remember them pressing charges against Damon for the ass whuppin. Funny shit. We laughed loudly behind that one.
Shit looked dire for the team. You heard it right there on the song. West Coast blew up, Nas stunned the world with “Illmatic”, Puff and Bad Boy started killing it here in New York with that “Big Mack” one two punch (Craig Mack’s “Flavor In Your Ear” and Biggie Smalls set up the momentum for Bad Boy Records forever and just right). I soon started repping Jaz-O who was an extended member of the original “Team Roc”. Biggs wasn’t yet down. Jay, Dame, Clark, them kniccas went in. Like 24/7, they was producing records left and right outta Clark’s crib, on Carroll Street, in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. We also had Ski Beatz producing fiyah as well. Ski was a member and the sound behind Original Flavor. Between him and Clark, Jay was swimming in a pool of beats to sharpen his rhyme play. Jay soon began evolving, slowing down his rapid fire tempo, stretching out his words, dumbing down his delivery to a point where shit sounded simple to the casual listener, but somehow would stuff so many layers upon layers of metaphors and double, triple, quadruple entendres in his shit, so much so that it still takes years for me to catch the full meaning of shit he dropped back in ’96, ’97, ’98. Hard times and financial pressure made him forge his skills into the sharpest of blades.
Damon kept that whole shit together though. Never lost sight, never gave in a bit. Eventually he landed a measly ass deal with a small label, Pay Day Records. Deal was like less than 30k. Still, Dame took it, they was the only label on the block biting. They released Jay’s first single ever, “In My Lifetime”. A dope laid back underground New York state of mind record. Sold wood. Pay Day dropped Jay and Dame shortly after. By then they had hooked up with Biggs. They pooled their collective monies and decided to swing for the fences.
Niggas had me working overtime as well, doing producer agreements night after night with Ski, Clark, Jaz-O, Preemo. They actually went in and produced the majority of “Reasonable Doubt” on their own, on the strength of relationships and hard cash. Because Dame “dated” Mary J. Blige briefly, right before she blew up, she did him a solid and dropped her cameo on “Can’t Knock The Hustle”. Jay’s relationship with B.I.G. and Clark’s relationship with Puff resulted in “Brooklyn’s Finest”. Dope shit was being cooked up, just didn’t see where that shit was going. Eventually, we landed a modest label deal with Moon Roof, a label under Priority. No lie, that was a bullshit deal. But the only one we could find at the time. The album was solid no doubt, but was missing that one joint, that one commercial single that would push that album from being ai’ight to becoming certified classic status.
Boom! Clark’s baby cousin Inga Marchand, p/k/a “Foxy Brown” made some noise and started a bidding war between Def Jam, Bad Boy, Elektra and a bunch of other labels. On the strength, they snatched her yung ass up for what would end up being the monster single “Ain’t No Nigga”. Damon played that single for me in his new offices, then located in the Wall Street area. Nigga was doing that goofy “Dame dance” with the mock dice roll even then. That record was a monster!!! Inga single handedly, in my opinion, saved Jay-Z’s career. Without her on that record, and Reasonable Doubt being Jay’s last shot, the world at large might have never heard of Shawn Carter. (Niggas don’t really put 2 and 2 together, realizing that Jay had been trying to get on since like 1987, ’88, damn near close to 10 years before Reasonable Doubt!!!)
Reasonable Doubt dropped and sold gold out the gate. 500,000 units. Priority never expected that. Owed Dame $1,000,000.00 but couldn’t, wouldn’t pay up. Enter Irv Gotti, who snatched up the “Ain’t No Nigga” single for the “Nutty Professor” soundtrack. That led to Roc-a-fella eventually landing at Def Jam. The rest, as they say, is history. Let me set the record straight, here, and once and for all. Without Dame, there would be no Jay-Z. I know it. I said it. And I said it here.
I write this all to say that as brilliant as Damon Dash is, his strongest suit, the thing that made him so extremely successful is that the man is one of the world’s biggest assholes. Always was. I guess it’s a good thing that dude never changed once he made money. I credit him for definitely taking great care of his artists and his peoples, but if you weren’t on what he considered to be his team, he would be incredibly disrespectful. Burned a lotta bridges too. Too many. I once argued with him on just that, on how I felt he was hurting us, hurting himself by burning too many bridges unnecessarily. Told me he didn’t need any bridges to blow up, to make paper. Cool. Confidence is one thing, arrogance is another, and Dame had arrogance in abundance. Throughout my years of association with him, I’ve seen him shit on so many people. So. many. people. Not that the music industry is full of saints, that business breeds dicks by the bundles [||], but when it comes to assholes, Dame remains king.
So now the media is clowning dude for supposedly being broke, for going through a divorce with his wife. I would never pray for that type of public humiliation on anyone, anywhere. Humiliation in spades. However, I confess, when it comes to Damon Dash, I set my watch like 13 years ago, waiting to see when shit like this would happen to him. Not outta hate though, not outta jealousy even, shit I owe dude for helping me in building my business, in helping me to establish a solid reputation in the game, in becoming the person that I am today. The reason I set my watch is because I’ve seen him humiliate and disgrace so many people, throw so many souls under the proverbial bus that even then, I knew that the shit he’s publicly suffering through now was coming, inevitable, only a matter of time. I seen it coming years ago. Only because karma can be a mean bitch, and she is mos def getting it in on dude.
If I were a betting man, after all this shit dies down, and the papers and websites and blogs have had their way with him, I’d say that outta them all, Damon Dash might just could come back and land on top again. He’s brilliant like that, and being an asshole is his strongest suit. But before that time comes, there’s a whole lotta hell for him to pay. And in this lifetime.