In a marketplace fast-paced as the music industry, there’s no shortage of best friends turned sworn enemies. Fuelled by ego, investments, or simple self-preservation, hip-hop has claimed many close bonds. When you share a creative headspace with someone, infighting is not only anticipated but rather a predisposed part of the process. When it comes to a business partnership, a lapse in a shared outlook can only be sustained for so long.
Conjoined by their shared affinity for the hustle, Dame Dash and Jay-Z seemed custom-built for prosperity. Flanked by Kareem “Biggs” Burke and dressed like cinema's iconic mafiosos, the early promotional shots of the two embody La Familia. There was once a time where Dame and Jay were exactly that, taking on the record-label machine from the ground floor and racking up emphatic wins along the way. Launching with Jay’s seminal debut Reasonable Doubt in 1994, Hov admitted to MTV that they had to employ this route because “nobody would sign me” and Dame was the only one to show faith. Now, left estranged since the early 2000s, it’s been widely reported that the pair have crossed paths a grand total of twice within the past 15 years.
In Dame’s case, the wound continues to fester. Prone to deriding his former stablemate, the past week saw Dame using Jay’s controversial deal with the NFL as an indictment of his character. "I mean, everybody knows Jay ain't sh*t," he told Adam22 on a recent edition of No Jumper. "Everyone knows that...Listen, if you ask anyone in the industry, it's a common knowledge that Jay ain't sh*t…He's about the bag. We all know that. He's self-preserving. Period. It's just that the people he does it to don't have Beyoncé next to 'em. They don't have that kind of power.”
Djamilla Rosa Cochran/Getty ImagesThe foundations of the rift between Hov and Dame stem from two deep-woven threads. First off, there is the purported culture of (mis)management and distrust at the top of Roc-A-Fella. Perched at the head of the chain of command, there were clear discrepancies in Dame and Jay’s visions for the label's future. After renewing their Def Jam contracts for a reported 20 million in 2004-- a whole 19.5 million increase on their original 1997 deal-- Dame’s remarks to MTV inferred that he couldn’t envision a life without Roc-A-Fella. “All that is paperwork. We'll never break up," he insisted. "It's Roc-A-Fella for life. I would never pass the torch or leave any of my artists. I look at them like my family, almost like my children. I would never leave them with anybody else. Who else could run Roc-A-Fella but me?”
But within six months, Hov opted to assume the position of Def Jam President after the remaining 50% stake of the company was sold to their parent group. But in truth, the wheels had begun to uncouple a long time back in 2002. During a vacation in the Mediterranean islands, any tranquillity that Jay was experiencing would soon be disrupted by the corporate restructuring that Dame was laying out in his absence. Holding court at a media event, Dash appointed Dipset’s Cam’ron and State Property ringleader Beanie Sigel as new vice presidents of the label.
Scrambling to quell the fallout, Jay spoke out from across the Atlantic to The Source. “That's not taking effect as of yet... I think the talk is a little premature as of right now." The catalyst for an even more acrimonious falling-out between Killa Cam and Hov, it was becoming increasingly clear that the two were singing from different hymn sheets. As best laid plans continued to go awry—including schematics for a Harlem amusement park and a dramatized account of Jay and Dame’s relationship in the scrapped Roc-A-Fella: The Movie, Dame saw the writing on the wall and began to batten down the hatches.
In a 2008 profile for NY Mag, Dash spoke of his contingency plan, the sole concession he asked from Jay. “At a certain point, I got ready to depend on my other artists,” he recalls. “I started putting together an army—Kanye, Cam’ron, Beanie, the Diplomats. I figured Jay gave me time to prepare.” During a dinner at an upmarket NY restaurant, Dame said that they had a frank discussion about the future. "Go ahead and take the money and the job, but don’t take the name—don’t take Roc-A-Fella with you,” Dash recalls. “I didn’t say please, but I might as well have.”
Johnny Nunez/Getty ImagesOnce earmarked to be a VP, Beanie Sigel had an unenviable front-row seat for the death of the Dynasty. Speaking to GlobalGrindTV, he believes that the tide turned when Dame got too accustomed to the high-rolling lifestyle. “From conversations I had with Jay, when Dame started being famous, he fell victim to the camera,” Beanie said. "I think if Dame would’ve played the role as Kareem [Biggs] did and handled the business correctly, maybe Roc-A-Fella would still be the force it was. Teamed with Dash’s decision to “go on a lot of trips with company money” and “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” The Broad Street Bully also acknowledged that Hov had grown beyond the confines of this battle-tested partnership.
From Dame’s vantage point however, the bottom fell out when Jay was dissuaded from the common good by entities he deems nefarious to hip-hop to this very day. Among the many execs that he ascribes the title of “culture vulture” to, Dame arraigned then-Def Jam president slash “Puppetmaster” Lyor Cohen on The Combat Jack Show. “It was like they have people that their job is to create beef. So, that they can monetize it. Pause. And they can’t make any money or get any respect in their culture. That’s why they’re in our culture. Because the minute that they were allowed to be there, they would go. But they just can’t…Never had a beef with Jay. Always with Lyor and his whole crew. He’s the one that ruined Roc-A-Fella.”
Known to be an unyielding figure in the boardroom, the frustration that the mogul experienced can be heard in every syllable of an infamous 2003 tirade at Def Jam’s office. Aggrieved about Def Jam officials holding meetings about Roc-A-Fella artists without him, Dame pulls-no-punches, telling former general manager Randy Acker that “ya’ll don’t know shit about my culture and you don’t know shit about Jay. Get the fuck out!”
Numerous accounts suggest that matters of the heart also played a pivotal role in their acrimonious split. In the midst of a lengthy diatribe against Dame, Flex suggested that Dash's wandering eyes caused friction between Hov and Roc-A-Fella’s co-owner. Taking to Instagram, Flex teed off on Dame for a violation of the code. “That was Jay-Z lady first," dished Flex. "Dame did a snake move…. Tell me I’m lying you piece of shit.” Not content to stop there, the radio firebrand continued by ambiguously stating “that why the ROC crumbled you was touching Jay-z chick (remember the house in The Hamptons).”
The original source of Dame’s profanity-fuelled rant at Def Jam, former Roc-A-Fella producer Choke No Joke jumped to corroborate Flex’s claims suggesting that he tried to repeat the requisition with Beyoncé. "I mean nothing happened like he kissed or sexed her or something like that,” Choke said to The Starr Report. “Did he try to holler at her? Yeah. That’s the same thing he did with Aaliyah. Aaliyah fell for it. 'Yonce wasn't gonna violate Jay like that. We all know there was a point at Roc-A-Fella where Dame wasn’t allowed around Beyoncé. Everybody that worked there at that time knew […] because he was a creep."
On the flip side, the release of the revelatory Surviving R Kelly documentary sparked Dame Dash to make serious claims of his own. Said to have illegally married the singer when she was just 15, the Harlem entrepreneur cited Jay’s decision to work with Aaliyah’s former “partner” on the Best Of Both Worlds collaborative project as a contributing factor to the Roc’s demise. “If you remember The Best of Both Worlds, you don’t see my name on that. I never wanted no part of that. I know I’m not fuckin’ with that… I knew, morally, we weren’t the same,” Dash said referring to Jay. “So, to me, Roc-a-Fella was defunct. It was over. I couldn’t f*ck with it. It was something that, to me—I don’t wanna say unforgivable— but I couldn’t understand it.”
Save for an appearance in the "Fiesta" music video, it would appear on paper that Dame stuck to his word, donating his share of the proceeds to a Breast Cancer charity that Aaliyah had once championed. But after his claim circulated, Jay’s fellow Marcy Projects expat Memphis Bleek refuted Dame’s alleged moral repugnance all the while trying to keep things amicable: "Everyone knows I fuck with Dame Dash, this is my guy, Roc-A-Fella history, But somebody gotta tell him, he's buggin'. You buggin'. And then you gonna really say, you wasn't there with n****s? You was opposed to it? You fucking lying."
Mark Mainz/Getty ImagesFor the most part, Jay-Z has largely avowed to keep his feelings for Dame and the ROC’s last days under-wraps, with a couple of notable exceptions. Upon his formal return to the booth with 2006’s Kingdom Come, some saw 2006’s "Dig A Hole" as a dressing down of Cam'ron, Dipset, and Dame. Over a Swizz Beatz production, Hova vengefully spits “N****s like, 'Hov', why don’t you get at ol’ boy?' / Why kill a puppet and leave Geppetto alive? Why not wait to catch them all together? That’s why you dig one big hole, onetime." After he’d said his piece, Jay returned to stoicism until a July 2013 interview with Hot 97’s Angie Martinez. In perhaps a moment of wistfulness, Sean Carter placed all underlying grudges aside to celebrate what they’d created. “What we’ve done will forever be stamped in history… I can only have love for Dame. I just don’t know if, where we are in our lives, if we gel in the same way. We’re two different people.”
As fate would have it, the two would link back up at a birthday soiree for Roc stalwart Chaka Pilgrim a month later, causing a commotion online after they posed for a pic together. After a frosty overture, an unnamed guest told Vibe that “there didn’t seem to be a clear cut 'this person approached this person' introduction, but rather the happenstance that the two once best friends ended up in each other's space. Once Jay and Dame interacted, things seemed to smooth out. It was good to see them speaking.”
Six years on, it seems as though the ill-feeling has become one-sided than ever. Jay, currently nursing a net worth of one billion dollars, appears to have placed Dame out-of-sight and out-of-mind. Left at a distinctly lower branch of the hip-hop pecking order, Dame continues to dwell on the damage their dissolution had on his life. Even when he decided to apologize to Jay and numerous other targets in February of this year, his remarks to Ebony were ultimately backloaded with an undercurrent of venom: “I don’t have beef with anybody – pause. I’m working past it. So, JAY-Z, if I offended you, I apologize. Lyor Cohen, if I offended you, I apologize… Just ’cause you don’t have the same morals and principles, it’s cool. I’m not angry with you no more. I did what I had to do. I was a little aggravated about Aaliyah, so y’all just caught the brunt end of it. It was therapy.”
No matter how disenchanted they may be on a personal level, both men still have the utmost appreciation for what they built together. Much like how Jay claimed he’d eternally have love for Dash, his former partner spoke with more affection than we’ve come to expect when discussing the 20+ year legacy of Reasonable Doubt. “It’s a reflection of my mentality 23 years ago, he told Rap-Up. "I’m not so happy about how things rolled out, but for what we did when we were younger, it was great. It was beyond dope.”
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