Thursday, May 6th, 2010 at 10:15 am
I dropped that Damon Dash piece last year on my Daily-Math.com site that made a lotta noise. Probably my biggest post ever, right after that Tupac Is Overrated one. Last December, when I was still down with XXLmag.com, it was suggested that I do an interview with Dame. I was open, why not? I may not have had the most favorable memories from when I repped him back in the early to mid ’90′s, but I always maintained that dude was brilliant, how he was instrumental in making the rap icon that is Jay-Z, and how his ego would never allow him to be down and out. Not for long at least. Calls were made, Dame accepted. We linked up at his fortress of solitude like DD172 gallery/studio/offices located in the lower Manhattan section of Tribeca. I didn’t know what to expect, especially since I hadn’t spoke to dude in a couple of years. And the last conversations we had weren’t necessarily of the shits and giggles type. There was also me trying to figure out how he took that post I did on him, what/how he felt about it. Especially since some who read it felt I was too harsh in my description of Dash.
Shortly after we shot the interview, around mid December 0f 2009, I parted ways with xxlmag.com. I don’t think they’d be too anxious to drop the taped interview in my absence, but after all this recent talk about Damon ressurecting the Roc-A-Fella brand, I didn’t think it would be right for me to let that gem of an experience go to waste. You all have been very good to me, and as a writer, as a blogger, I want to continue blessing you with work that deserves your continued support. Here’s my highlights from sitting and waxing honestly and candidly with Damon Dash and Curren$y. I’ll call it the “Lost Interview”.
Walking into the DD172 building, I was immediately struck by how huge the place was, and how zen the layout felt. DD172′s first floor/lobby is in reality a vast open art gallery, like in a real Tribeca art gallery. Works of art hanging from the walls, glass cases covering pieces. The experience of walking in from the busy NYC streets into this quiet art space was somewhat disorienting. The change of atmosphere instantly let me know I was no longer within the county lines of “Wack World”, but now wholly within Dame Dash’s home. It was early afternoon, so the gallery had little action, but I already saw how a place like this must draw a crowd whenever a new exhibit was featured.
Making my way up stairs onto the second floor, I entered the offices, a spacious floor of desks, laid out in Feng shui style, the zen of the space still intact, expanding, minmalist and lit with natural light that the cold lower Manhattan sunlight provided. The offices resembled a hip talent agency, like from that ‘Entourage’ show, desks occupied by young faces working big Mac desk top screens. I was greeted by McKenzie, the white girl who was one of Dame’s assistants; she was the person who set up the interview. Walking into his office, I was greeted by a face I hadnt seen in a while. ‘Whaddup Ski.’ I said as I greeted David Anthony Willis, better known as Ski Beatz. ‘Chillin’ Reg, chillin” was his reply. Ski was always laid back, always “chillin”. Ski Beatz was part of one the first rap deals I ever negotiated, back when he was 1/2 of the group Original Flavor, managed by my then client, Damon Dash. 18 years ago. Being in the same space with Ski, in Dame’s space felt kind of like that Ground Hog’s Day movie, seeing Ski moving with Damon felt like deja vu. Like if Ski and Dame never stopped working together. In a sense, they never did stop. Over the years, and with all the different projects they both worked on, collectively or apart, Ski always stayed a phone call away from Dame, ready to take part on whatever new project he was working on, and with which Dame might require some of that heat that only the beatsmith hailing from North Carolina could deliver.
Walking into the office, the first thing that stood out was how skinny Dame had become. Damon, even 18 years ago, naturally carried a stocky frame. “Yoga” he said. Like it was his form of therapy. To help him in coping with the wreckage that was left of his relationship with his former best friend, son’s god father, business partner and star act. Yoga also looked like it was helping Dame to walk through his failed marriage to fashion designer Rachel Roy. Maybe him talking a page from Russell Simmons’ book helped him to sweat out the growing rumors of his financial status, how he was supposedly facing financial ruin. Dame seemed extra relaxed, his aura a hundred times more laid back than I can remember. The room was bright, huge windows facing Duane Street, and with no standard executive power desk sitting in the middle. Dame’s main office was decorated with couches, love seats and even a big ass bean bag that looked comfy as shit. Plus with more artwork hanging from the walls. As we greeted, Dame said when the magazine called him to do an interview with his former lawyer, he thought it was only right that he oblige. In catching up with each other, Dame asked me if I still did deals (I do), even as he was surprised that I was trying on my new skin as a writer, as a blogger, as Combat Jack. We discussed the current affairs of friends and associates that ran with the crew back in the early ’90′s, how some of them had lived lives that had flourished, and how some lived lives that, over time, proved how shady they really were. As we talked, I spotted, and acknowledged Curren$y Spitta, Dame’s soon to be new artist on the Roc 2.0. Curren$y sat on a couch, quiet, listening to our conversation, steady rolling and smoking trees that he picked from out of an exotic looking jar. As smoke filled the air, the airplanes were passed, Damon took some hits. Crazy. At how I remember when Damon didn’t ever used to smoke, wouldn’t touch weed, and how he was loud about it. Back then, he’d share what he’d learn from former Roc-a-fella associate and spiritual advisor Jaz-O, about how weed smoke takes one’s breath from their core, weakens and darkens one’s aura. 18 years later, and on this afternoon, Dame was light years way from the old him. The yoga and the weed working together in bringing out zen Dash, a kindler, gentler image of his former self.
As we were setting up, Damon asked the magazine rep present if the interview was for a cover story for their print magazine. When the rep said no, Dame started effing with him. “If I’m not getting the cover, why should I do this online interview?” Stunned, the rep shot back, “Dude, we already scheduled this in for today.” The camera man was still setting up. Dame paused, looked at the camera man and said “Alright, but if I let you shoot this, you can’t be shooting with that bullshit ass camera.” Now the camera guy caught feelings. “Hey”, he yelled to the rep, and ignoring Dame “is this interview gonna happen, or should I stop setting up?” Camera guy wasn’t feeling this and starting to get real defensive. They did know, how Dame was playing with them. Testing them, seeing how far he could push them. Or Jedi mind trick them to the point that they’d start playing themselves. “Alright, we’ll do the shoot, but I want my people to get the footage”. As if on cue, a stunning Latina walked by Damon, camera in hand. “Nah Damon,” the rep pleaded, “we can’t do that. This is exclusive for the mag.” Dame fired, “No problem, ya’ll could shoot your footage, I’ll shoot mine.” When the rep objected further, Dame shushed him. “How you gonna tell me what to do in my house? Ya’ll are my guests, don’t disrespect me in my house.” Dame wasn’t angry though, or ripping to the point, like how he did that Def Jam exec (Randy Acker) on that Choke No Joke footage. Like I said, he was just play fighting. The rep, desperate to now save face and to keep the interview in motion, offered, “Alright Dame, but if we let you shoot, you have to sign this here paper saying how we have first rights to run this on our site.” Dame shook his head, like he was disappointed “I ain’t signing shit, like I said, you’re being disrespectful in my house. I’m here being a patient host and how you repay me is by asking me to sign some papers? Understand, everything done under this roof is a representation of my brand, and of my artists images. I’m real careful with my brand, I control all my material, that’s why I’m doing this Creative Control thing. If you want to do this interview today, right here and now, you need to stop being greedy. You need to stop disrespecting me. This is not Wack World.” As the rep finally stepped back, letting Dame have his girl shoot as we shot, I smiled. Smiled at how Dame had given the rep a lesson in Dealing with Dash 101. You’re not going to win the argument. Ever. I also smiled at Dame’s comment about creative control, controlling your work instead of whoring it out to corporations that didn’t give an eff about anyone, it was all about the bottom line to them. A week earlier, my family and I had buried my father in law, Teddy Vann. Songwriter, producer, grammy winner, mentor. Teddy always schooled me about creative control, the importance of it. Hearing Dame speak it made a lot of sense. He wasn’t necessarily being an asshole as much as how he was 100 percent right. And the rep knew it. He had to fall back. I also smiled because I remembered the days I’d find myself standing in the rep’s shoes, feeling embarassed at how I wasn’t quick enough to develop a valid argument against Dame as quickly as he already formed one against me. I smiled because it felt good seeing him back in action, and with me not being on the other side of his tongue lashing. This new agey Damon gently sparring with dude, just like old times, and just for fun.
I had my list of questions ready. Questions about the making of Reasonable Doubt, his old beefs with Fat Joe and his once notorious Terror Squad set, or about the time he knocked out his baby mother’s father, brother and uncle during an argument he was having with her that led into fisticuffs as her family members tried to jump him. Or how he felt about that article I wrote about him. I asked him about the article and Dame claimed he never read the post. And before I could control the flow, he went on about how much of a trip the music industry had become. “For real, as long as you’ve been in the business, how many cats in the game are corny? They’ll be like ‘”I’m fresh”, but they’re basically corny. How many corny cats do we know who really believe they’re really fresh, and who are making decisions, and if they weren’t in the industry, we all know how they’d be corny? And how these corny cats try to fool, succeed in having everyone else thinking that they’re cool, and their artists are cool. And how this goes on until this corny world is a reality, and everybody else lives a life of lies, just to be down with and locked up behind the walls of Wack World”. He referenced the XXL rep, “You ain’t a bad guy, but I see how your boss has you doing things straight from the pages of the Wack World manual. Trying to run Wack World game on me here, in my home.” He laughed, Curren$y joined in “When I come in here, in this office, it feels like one of the only few places in New York that I can walk into and know it’s 100% wack world free.”
As much as I tried to moderate the pace, Damon continued, about his vision for Creative Control, for Ski and the 24 Hour Karate School. How the DD172 space he was in was a magnet for incredible, and incredibly talented artists who felt attracted to the movement, and were naturally drawn to stop by, any time, with or without a schedule, to build spomtaneously, creatively. Not confined by the laws that govern the dying music biz model, the Wack World rules. Damon spoke passionately about the importance of such a space, and how he was proud of whom it attracted, the likes of old friend Jim Jones, Jay Electronica, Jean Grae, Mos Def, Joell Ortiz, Rass Kass, all who freely added content to the collective. Damon also spoke of how happy he was to be able to maintain relationships with cats like Ski, that he and Ski were afforded the opportunity to work together again, in a relationship that spanned over 18 years. “Few industry cats are real enough to keep their original people around them. Ski is the first artist and producer I ever managed. It feels good to be creating naturally again, and with my first artist and producer from close to 20 years ago. How many of these corny industry people can say that?”
Curren$y lit up another airplane, the camera kept rolling, Dame took a couple of tokes, and as he blew out a cloud, he offered the j my way. I declined, me wanting to stay focused, questions in mind, being professional and never wanting to let my guard down around dude. He insisted. “I won’t continue this if you don’t” he said. Fuck it. I caved in, took a pull. Coughed. Shit. Eyes got low, body feeling lighter now. I was instantly high. Which translated into me saying “fuck it” to my prepared questions. Damon wasn’t sticking to script anyways. He had a whole lot to say though. This interview was far from over, and getting better by the moment.
To be continued.