The billboard q&A: damon dash

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March 28, 2009

The Roc-a-Fella co-founder sounds off on his new business ventures and why he's going multiplatform to push the new Jim Jones album.


Damon "Dame" Dash co-founded Roc-a-Fella Records, helped launch the career of Jay-Z and discovered Kanye West. He's produced or executive-produced about a dozen films, including the well-received 2002 urban flick "Paid in Full" and the 2004 movie "The Woodsman," starring Kevin Bacon. And he started lucrative apparel lines like Rocawear and Rachel Roy, of which he is still part owner with his wife, the company's namesake.

But the 37-year-old Dash still says he gets snubbed by the music industry. Media reports last year about his alleged financial difficulties and legal problems probably didn't help. "My mistake was watching everyone else's careers and not watching mine,'' he says.

More important was his acrimonious split a few years ago with his old friend and business partner Jay-Z. "It was like, either you are on his side or on mine," he says. "And because of all that, there's resistance on every level with me and the shit just bugs me out."

That hasn't stopped Dash from diving into new projects. He's spearheading an ambitious multiplatform promotional drive for Jim Jones' new album "Pray IV Reign," slated for a March 24 release on Columbia. The rollout includes a play ("Hip Hop Monologues: Inside the Life & Mind of Jim Jones"), a documentary ("This Is Jim Jones") and a movie project that's still in development. In an interview with Billboard, Dash talks about building the Jones brand and the difference between the music business and the fashion industry.

What have you been up to since selling part of Rachel Roy to Jones New York last year?

After being able to settle my wife's company, I was able to start doing other things. My first approach was the music business and getting with Jim Jones.

Why Jones?

At first I wanted to help him because I've known him since he was young and me listening to the album and thinking it was really good. I thought it deserved to be heard outside of the urban market. So I spent the last six months doing research, trying to figure out how to use all my resources to blow this out. Plus, he just likes to work. He shows up and he respects time.

What's the marketing plan to promote Jones' upcoming album?

There's ["Red Apples Falling"], the Byrd Gang [Jones' crew] movie. He's also doing some performances with a live band, and he has a play, plus webisodes online and a movie in the works. We did a test run a few months back with the play, and now we're bringing it back and hoping to go on the road with it soon.

It's all about building his brand. I think it's important to sell albums, but what's important is making enough off album sales to cover your costs all around so you can invest in the other things that make an artist money these days, like touring. And then branching out into these other things, like the documentary, is a way to gain exposure in other circles.

What do you think of Jones becoming VP of urban A&R at El Music, formerly Koch?

He had a purpose for taking it. Now he has a plan to be able to showcase all his artists. He can sign any one of his artists anytime he feels like it. If it doesn't work out, he's gone. And he still has a record deal on Sony.

You had other apparel lines before Rachel Roy. What happened to them?

The reason I sold half of [Rachel Roy] was because it was costing a lot to build as a brand and I wanted to get with some partners who could take some of that pressure off me. Fashion is so hard and the retail game right now is in such a bad place. I had Pro-Keds but that didn't really work out. It was a sucker deal considering I was building a brand that I didn't even own. Then I was doing CEO but I found that it was hard for me to make urban clothing just because the quality of it is a little different. The younger dudes from ages 15 to 25 don't really wear urban clothes anymore. So now I only make underclothes under the CEO brand. You know, there are some other things I'm thinking about doing but the time's not right to start anything, especially in retail—the numbers are down. As much as people in urban fashion claim it's all right, it's not all right.

In all the businesses that I'm in, it feels the music business has the least amount of respect because the people who run it are more creative than business and there's no respect for time. In the fashion world, there is a calendar, you have to get these deliveries every month. You have to be able to design the clothes, develop your clothes, make samples, then you have to pay to get it made so they can be in the store. If you miss a day, you miss millions of dollars. There is no time for BS.

You ask someone in the music business, they act like they're the best on the planet. They don't want to talk, strategize. The more you want to work, the more resistance you get. I embrace people that want to work.

How will Jones' album do?

I have no idea. I'm not out there like that. I'm in my house taking care of my kids. I meet Jimmy in the studio and I go to rehearsal, that's it. But I'm not in the community like I used to be. I just know that good records sell. But I also know I don't depend so much on record sales; I depend on the brand.

What do you think of 360 deals?

The 360 deals are smart for those who don't have a brand set up yet. If you don't have anything and you have someone that's going to put $1 million or $2 million into building your brand, then they deserve a piece of it. But if you already have your following, then I wouldn't do a 360 deal. It's like the Cool Kids—they don't need the record company. An artist has to look at it like this: If you can't do it on your own, and you need the record company to do it for you, then you have to give up a piece. Get a record company only when you need it.

How has the recession affected your business strategy?

At this time, you have to generate a lot of things and make it within an affordable price point and you have to be better than everybody. I do see brands on every level that still do well. But everything just seems oversaturated and everyone is trying to make a buck. Everyone was trying to do the same thing, so the minute urban fashion got good, everyone had a clothing line. And the minute music got good, everyone started a label.

You talk about affordable price points, but some of the price tags on the Rachel Roy line are like $2,000.

When you build a brand, you have to understand that you have to develop a lifestyle which you have to buy into. If you start at a $2 price point, nobody wants to buy into that. So now that Rachel Roy's pants cost $2,000, the minute someone can get Rachel Roy for $200, they're going to buy it because they're getting a little piece of a lifestyle that they can't really afford. You establish the lifestyle first.

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