As more people are founding companies now than ever before, the concept of ownership and controlling one’s financial future has grown in popularity over the past decade. The so-called American Dreams of blue-collar security or corporate ladder-climbing have given way to a digital goldrush, as technology now allows anyone with a cellphone or a laptop to consider themselves a boss or a brand. However, 25 years ago, Damon Dash was an early adopter of this mentality, working his magic in a world that was still largely analog, during a time when building a company required more than a Wi-Fi connection.
Hailing from Harlem, regarded by many as the home of the hustler, Dash has always shown a willingness to build brands from the ground up. He used his street-wise business acumen and relationships with rappers to launch companies like Roc-A-Fella Records and Roc-A-Wear Clothing into the stratosphere. Having long voiced his disenchantment with the music industry he once dominated, Dash is primed to rebuild his entertainment empire on the back of another passion he’s had some success with: film and original programming. The 50-year-old mogul recently inked a partnership with FOX to curate original content from Dame Dash Studios to be streamed on FOX SOUL, the network’s free streaming platform dedicated to showcasing Black voices. Airing every Saturday at 4 p.m. PST / 7 p.m. EST, the 4-hour block will include a mix of scripted and unscripted programming from Dash’s streaming platform.
Having already dabbled in visual storytelling as a director and producer, Dash tells VIBE, “My other dream is to have a network… To be as big as Disney.” This partnership with FOX SOUL would seem to bring him a bit closer to making that dream a reality.
In addition to previously released content like his 2018 feature film Honor Up, FOX SOUL will also air a slate of new DDS original shows including OG Stories, Dressed to Kill, Health is Wealth, Mixed Nuts, and Dame After Dark.
In a sprawling conversation, VIBE spoke with Dash about his venture with FOX SOUL, as well as his interest in cryptocurrency, his current legal battle with Jay-Z, and more.
VIBE: You’re bringing Dame Dash Studios to FOX SOUL, how did that partnership come about?
Dame Dash: James Duboise, we had worked on Honor Up together. He helped me get the deal and finish Honor Up at Lionsgate… [Then] he went and did this deal he’s got with FOX. The distribution and the reach and the sales and the power of [FOX] with my content, I think it’s a match made in heaven. So, it’s been working out. The last two weeks, from what I hear, have been very well-received. The ratings are up, we’re putting more shows on.
I’m loving it. It’s making me step my game up. My dream was to always have a television network, not to have a television show. And this is one step closer to getting to that dream. This is the equivalent of me getting a deal with Def Jam or Universal. This is the same thing. FOX is Universal, but the numbers are way better.
This venture will find you connecting with audiences in Europe, Asia, and Africa. How important was it for this platform to have a global audience?
I mean, it’s always been International Grizzly. I’m only doing what I do to lead by example so the rest of the world can follow. So, having FOX as a channel of distribution and a partner in any way [is great] because they have that outreach to talk to people. Whether it’s about one thing or another, you can still talk. So, getting with them is really one step closer to International Grizzly spreading peace and prosperity and enlightening our culture and evolving us as a people. Just making information swaggy, done in a certain way with taste and style. Authentic, no politics. What Roc-A-Fella was for music, this is what [Dame Dash Studios] is for TV.
If I [did it] for music and [did it] for fashion, you know what I’ma do for television. That’s Paid In Full TV shows, State Property TV shows, Paper Soldiers—all those franchises, they’re gonna wake up. It’s time. 50 [Cent] opened a lot of doors for us, and I’m happy he’s done it so I didn’t have to fight to prove that Paid In Full  would be something that would work. I was saying that 10 years ago, but they wasn’t hearing it. He made them listen. So, now it’s time to put the work on the block.
What are some of the other projects you’ll be working on as it concerns Dame Dash Studios and FOX SOUL?
Well, we’ve got this TV show In Love For A Living, a docuseries. I’ve got this rockumentary… It’s a lot. It’s independent, showcasing other filmmakers as well that have talent that need a little help. Think of HBO, think of Netflix, think of MTV, think of Bloomberg TV. Think of all of that, but from our point of view.
Pound for pound, I put my content up against anybody’s content. We shoot with movie cameras. I’ve got my own studio; I own the cameras. This is what independence looks like, and I fought for it. I want people to see that when you do fight for what you love and [it’s] something good and independent, it might look like a struggle, but it’s worth it. And this is what happens when you get that W. But you gotta fight and that’s what this network represents. Deprogramming. To break the programming that makes us think we need to work for them. That we don’t work for our own family and pass it on and have lineage and all of that. That’s over. That’s what this network is.
You recently garnered headlines with your attempts to sell your interest in Roc-A-Fella, which owns Reasonable Doubt, as an NFT. Do you have any updates on that process?
Yeah, it’s for sale. I went to court. I’m allowed to sell my stake, so I’m doing it. To me, it was a statement as an artist: “I will fight whoever.” And it’s funny who that ends up being. But ain’t nobody gonna tell me what I can and what I can’t do with mine, I don’t care who it is. So, we just do it legally and bang it out in court. I think it’s petty and corny. It’s embarrassing that two men that kinda hustled together [are] in court. I’m a street guy kinda so my instincts aren’t court first. I would never think another guy would do that to me. I just think as men, we should be able to talk about it.
For the culture, we should be able to speak as Black men and not let another white man like his lawyer come in between us and be their entertainment. We need to work this out behind closed doors, but I ain’t just gonna have you playing me. N***a, I ain’t sue [Jay-Z]—I had to sue him back… But I’m curious to know what it is that I did where we’re suing each other, ’cause that shit is corny and that’s why I kinda backed up off it. And I hate being involved in a corny a** fight. But for the culture, this is a corny one and I’m sorry I have to be [in it].
I’m the main person that says we shouldn’t be fighting each other and look who’s in the papers fighting each other, being exactly what they want us to be. So, I’m a pawn in a chess game and all I gotta look at is who’s benefiting and then I know who’s playing these games. But I ain’t gonna be fighting this dude for somebody else’s bread. I don’t know what’s going on, but he should holler at me, or whoever should holler at me. If we’re from the same culture, holler at me before you holler at a judge. We ain’t from there.
What was your introduction to cryptocurrency?
Honestly, I was trying to sell my interest. I wasn’t getting what I was supposed to be getting out of it, so I was like, “Yo, I might as well sell this sh*t.” And I was looking under the hood and then somebody close to me and my family was like, “Yo, you should NFT it.” And to be honest, the first person to tell me about NFTs was Waka Flocka, and he told me about that sh*t like months before it started popping like, “You don’t know [about] NFTs?” He always would get at me straight up and be like, “You’re old. You had a good old hustle, but there’s new hustles out there that the young n***as know that y’all n***as don’t know.” He started pulling my coat and then I started to do some serious research.
I don’t know if he knew if I was listening or not, but I was and then I learned it. It’s only 12% of the world that even knows about it right now and it’s the way the world’s gonna run in the future. So, I suggest if you wanna be in the 1% this go-around, you need to find out and figure that sh*t out now or else you’re gonna end up back in the 99%. But it’s a new world. It’s a digital world out there where you can survive and do better and make the rules, but if you sit back and wait for somebody to teach it to you, or rather tell it to you after it’s too late… [You’ll be} hustling on a crowded block.
During a recent episode of Drink Champs, Cam’ron recalled a time when you and Jay-Z paid for Jay to open up for Redman at a show in Pennsylvania. Do you recall that story?
We did that a lot. I can’t tell you everything that happened that day, but yeah, Cam used to be with me when I used to do those kinds of things. We used to open for Biggie, so that was my thing. Actually, we would hire someone to perform and then just open for them. It didn’t always work out economically, but we still did it. Again, as an independent, you figure out every trick in the book to be seen. But at that time, it was just a stat for us to be seen. We wasn’t at a professional level yet. But wasn’t nothing gonna stop us.
Speaking of Drink Champs, what made you give N.O.R.E. a Roc-A-Fella chain? He always brags about never being signed to the label but still getting a chain.
He was signed. N.O.R.E. and Joe Budden was on Def Jam, and Def Jam was treating them terrible so I had them come over to Roc-A-Fella. Jay vetoed it, but I still had them come over anyway. And then he started to bring them Spanish cats around [like] Daddy Yankee. And he always had a personality, so I was always telling N.O.R.E. that he should be like, “Forget the music.” Like, “Do music, but you’re better as an actor and a personality.”
Drink Champs, I was the one telling him to do that sh*t for years. You can ask him, he’ll tell you why he did it. It was me that was like, “Yo, go do that.” Not to say specifically drink, like, “Yo, do a show.” ‘Cause [I] was doing that sh*t for years with Hip-Hop Motivator with Kenyatta [Griggs]. Just talking, just kicking it, giving game and it turned into what’s called a podcast now. But I was doing that years ago. Culture Vulture the book came out of it. So, a lot of things I do is to set a precedent. I might not wanna be in the industry, but I’ll make an industry and don’t even be in it, just by leading by example and coaching people to do it. So, a lot of what’s going on, at some point and time, a lot of people don’t know I was guiding N.O.R.E. [and] I was pushing Joe Budden… I fought for them. That’s why sometimes I’m surprised when they don’t fight for me back. But it’s okay, I don’t expect it anymore.
What’s next for Dame Dash moving forward?
It’s all about making this relationship with FOX and FOX SOUL and taking it to another level, period. It ain’t nothing to do until I get that right, finish all my movies I started and continue to give you more content and be consistent, that’s it. And that’s a lot. I’m not doing a show, I’m doing a network. So, that means I have to constantly be developing and shooting and editing four or five or six shows at one time. Paying for it at one time and being on schedule and having it packaged and making sure that it’s getting promoted. And making sure that all the art is done for it and all of that, everything.
I’m not complaining, I’m saying that’s what this is and it’s enough. So, people think because I do it—I’m Dame Dash; I direct, I act, I write, I produce, I distribute and everything—it’s not a surprise, ’cause I’m Dame Dash. But if one person just did one of those things, that would be a big deal. It’s people you [only] know as directors or you only know as rappers. I’m also in a rock band called The Black Guns and all the music you hear in the programming actually comes from me. We design all the clothes, we do everything. It’s a 360 thing that we’re working on, but I think FOX and FOX SOUL is gonna be able to elevate it and make the distribution and make it to where it’s gonna be constant. Again, what was Roc-A-Fella when it got with Def Jam and Universal? What happened? That was all the turbo I needed. So, this is the turbo I need for this, and this is a way bigger picture right here.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.