Jay-Z vs Dame Dash: The Unraveling Of Roc-a-Fella Explained


Yesterday author Dan Charnas explained what caused the on-going beef between music legends Quincy Jones and Russell Simmons. Today, Charnas gives VIBE an explosive excerpt from his new book “The Big Payback”, which gives her a sneak peek into what caused the Roc-a-Fella fall out.

While Jay-Z enjoyed his vacation, Damon Dash governed the expanding Roc-A-Fella empire. He made decisions without consulting Jay, but this was the natural course of events. Dame let Jay make the records, and Jay let Dame run the business. But Jay-Z’s relaxed Mediterranean summer was marred on more than one occasion by disturbing news from home.

At a media listening party, Dash had announced the promotion of RocA-Fella artists Cam’Ron and Beanie Sigel to vice presidents at the company. Jay-Z made an equally public denial via phone from Europe.

“That’s not taking effect as of yet,” he told The Source. “I think the talk is a little premature as of right now.”

Next Jay-Z found out that Dash was shooting a movie, a fictionalized account of their partnership, with actors playing them both. Jay hadn’t even met the guy playing him. It was unsettling.

Then Jay-Z heard that Dash had fired a bunch of folks in the office, including personal assistant Carline Balan, who called Jay, distraught. Jay flew her to Europe and hired her as his own girl Friday.

Jay-Z’s friends and colleagues—like Kevin Liles, who accompanied Jay on part of his European tour—could see the artist wrestling with conflicting impulses about Dash. On one hand, when Lyor Cohen offered the buyout in late 2001—the one that would have effectively paid his partners to go away and left Jay-Z in charge of Roc-A-Fella—Jay-Z turned it down out of loyalty to Dash and Burke. On the other hand, Dash’s combative style, which had been indispensible when Roc-A-Fella was promoting records and negotiating deals, had become noxious once those ventures became ongoing, workaday relationships. Moreover, the people whom Dash harangued were good people, Jay concluded, people who fought hard for him and his career. Jay happened to like Cohen and Liles, Norton and Alex. Dash saw everyone as the enemy. With Dash’s latest moves, Jay began to feel his partner turning his compulsive defiance in his direction. Before Jay-Z returned to the states, the rapper renewed his talk about retirement. His next album—a “black album” with no photography, no artwork—would be his last.

Several months after Jay-Z’s homecoming, Damon Dash made another unilateral change at Roc-A-Fella—not widely known, but of fateful import for the future of their partnership—when Dash axed Roc-A-Fella’s finance chief, John Meneilly.

Meneilly had come to Roc-A-Fella from Provident Financial Management, a firm that handled the accounts, investments, and businesses of many artists and executives in the entertainment business. Meneilly was something of a rock star himself: He had made partner in his early thirties. Among his clients were pop-music icons like the Dave Matthews Band, and hip-hop executives like Chris Lighty. It had been Lighty who first introduced Meneilly to the music of Jay-Z. When Roc-A-Fella became a Provident client, Meneilly took the account. And when Meneilly left Provident, RocA-Fella hired him full-time, where he handled the details for which Damon Dash had neither the time nor the patience. It was Meneilly, for instance, who assembled Roc-A-Fella’s 1999 “Hard Knock Life” tour that brought hip-hop back to American arenas.

When he first began working with Roc-A-Fella, John Meneilly dealt exclusively with the mercurial Dash. But Meneilly’s cool, even-keeled, intuitive temperament aligned more with that of Jay-Z. Before long, Meneilly had become Jay-Z’s de facto manager, and the rapper from the Marcy Projects of Brooklyn came to trust the sharp, silver-templed White guy with the goatee, who harbored a similar ambition for success and an ease with the hip-hop party life. They came to share the same views on some of Dash’s deeds, with Meneilly providing Jay-Z quiet confirmation of the artist’s better judgment. Meneilly’s presence reassured Def Jam’s executives, too.

From THE BIG PAYBACK: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop by Dan Charnas. Published by arrangement with NAL, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright (c) Dan Charnas, 2010.