OG entrepreneur Dame Dash is our creative of the month. You probably recognize him as co-founder of Roc-A-Fella but that’s not even a small portion of what he has accomplished. Interview by Meesh.
What was your first job and how old were you?
I’ve never had a job. You know what, I actually did have a job, like two days or maybe a week at a kitchen. I was 13 or 14. The first thing I did for work was being a part of this kids news group called “Child Express” and I got picked to be on the Today Show with Byron Gamble. It was a news show with kids doing adult stuff. I gotta find that footage somewhere. Then I think hustling, like when I wanted to get some money, I was about 15. I wanted to buy a Suzuki because they were only $10,000. My mother used to spoil me because I was an only child so I asked my mom and she was like no. I was mad so I said fuck it and I was down to sell drugs at that point so I started hustling.
When did you discover your love for music?
I mean you know in the streets you love music, it’s part of your everyday life. It's your soundtrack to everything you do everyday. When you’re in the car and you go to parties, you’re dancing. So you know I didn't approach music because of my love for it. I approached it because it’s business and I didn't want to sell drugs anymore. The movie “Paid in Full” is about an experience that had personally affected me. I saw it with my own two eyes and it made me quit husting.
Then I was like I need something else to sell but I don’t want to be working and music was the thing I felt would not be working. When you hustle you’re on the block with your friends, you want to get up when you want, you know there’s somewhat of a discipline there. You’re still an independent doing what you want when you feel like it so I wanted to have that same freedom but make that same kind of money. I just couldn’t see anybody paying me the kind of money I wanted to make and I thought music could get me there.
The opportunity presented itself at a very young age, about 18, and I jumped on it. The opportunity presented itself because I was doing so good in the streets that it attracted this kind of opportunity to me because people thought I could support it with the money I was making in the street.
How did you decide the route you wanted to take for your career path?
I love everything. That’s why I make movies, do fashion, medical, everything that you can sell. To me, business is an art and also being able to do it on your own became an art. Before when I was younger getting a deal was like the big thing because that’s what I was told. It’s easy to get a deal and have somebody give you a check and loan you money and you work it off and be told what to do and be aggravated all day. It’s easy but it sucks.
The magic is when you can support a lifestyle and still support your dreams. When you can fund your dreams. Because some people when they decide to chase their dreams they are very selfish and don't care about taking care of anybody but themselves. When I chase my dreams I got like 4 families, I have 4 kids, I have a staff, and two buildings I have to support whether it makes a dollar or not.
That's because I believe in me and it's priceless the freedom that comes with it. The music part while I was doing all that the thing that gives me the most comfort, the thing that makes me the happiest is when I’m just jamming out with my band. It's just really fun. It’s a lot you do can there.
What are you most passionate about right now?
I’m passionate about everything equally. I’m passionate about completing. In life you have battles to get to a war right? A lot of people don’t know what their war is so when they lose they look at every battle like it’s a war when it was a battle. You can lose a battle. It’s like a fight is 12 rounds, you can lose a round as long as you win six of them. You could take a rest in one round. Sometimes you lose a battle just so you can win the war. You lose a battle so you can learn from it to win the war. So I don’t care about battles.
My war is this television network but within the television network doing every single thing on your own means you have to have passion about music because you need music, I gotta score shit. You gotta have passion about the fashion because they gotta wear clothes and I make them. You have to have passion for the art of film making to shoot. There are so many different arts within my war I get to accomplish and stimulate all my senses at one time.
The reason why I need everything at one time is because I’m insane and I know it. To me, an insane person is someone who has a lot of thoughts real fast. Like some people are manic in a way where they just talk about what’s on their mind. I’m insane in a way that whatever is on my mind I need to physically see it happen immediately. So if I’m thinking about 20 things then I want 20 things to happen immediately and that’s insanity.
At what point in your career did you realize “my life will never be the same”?
You know it’s like at one point your dream is to be on the radio. Then you get on the radio and your dream is to be in a video. Then you get in a video and your dream is to have a hit record. Every dream I have had gets done quick so there’s not been one thing. Every time one thing gets changes in my life then I want it to change more. So there have been so many things that I can’t even begin to count how many times my life has changed.
Every time I win a war which is sell a company, my life changes. But then I go right back to struggling because I took all my money I won from one war and because I feel inspiration, feel passion, and am insane I bet it all again and be right back at the same place just at a different business.
What are some of the most valuable lessons you have learned from failure?
I don’t have failure, I have learning experiences. One of the most valuable lessons I have learned from experiencing life is preparing. Preparing is the most important thing. You have to think about the future at all times like a movie. The more you care, the more you prepare and the easier it is once you get there. A lot of people when they're in self preservation mode they just throw shit on the wall and see what sticks. Then they figure out how to make that work. When you have time to play chess and prepare everything else is really easy. I think the number one test for everyone is to care about other people before yourself.
That’s all anyone knows that I know they just only give a fuck about themselves. My whole life has been about helping other people. My whole adult life has been about helping other people. I’ve been putting money in people's pockets since I was 15 with a crew working for me. It's not that I don’t appreciate their work but I’m giving them money. They take care of themselves with that money I give them. I’m always stimulating someone's economy. Someone is always paying for their food with the money I paid them.
They earned it but it did come out of my pocket. I think people that have never done that before they don’t even understand what it is to do that, what it feels to do that, and the problems that come with it. I’m in a world of my own because the things I do most don’t so most people can’t relate to my problems. Most people can’t relate to my mentality. Most people can’t relate to my reactions.
Most people can’t relate to the things that frustrate me because they’ve never been frustrated by giving somebody something and them not appreciating it or stealing from them. They had nothing for someone to steal. They never invested in anybody but themselves so they’ve never been betrayed in that way. They’ve never given somebody some money, they make some money, and just don't want to pay you back and you have to go collect it physically. They’ve never been through that.
What drives you to keep going when it’s really tough?
It’s never tough for me my life is easy as fuck.
Your schedule nonstop, how do you stay grounded when you're busy all the time?
My children and my puppies.
What do you think makes a good leader?
Someone that loves others before themselves and would never send someone to do something that they wouldn’t do themselves.
What are some tips for people who want to start their own business?
Number one be prepared for being uncomfortable for a little while. Make sure it's something you really love, something you would do for free. Don’t do nothing for money. Everything I do I’d be doing for free, I just figure out a way to get paid for it.
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Probably that I had single custody of my son Boogie when he was 8. I was a single father and raised him myself since he was 8 years old. In the height of the Roc-A-Fella days, no one talks about that.
What makes you the most happy?
My children and women.
If you could change anything in the world what would it be and why?
I’d make women the bosses of everything. God is a woman.
What’s your favorite quote and by who?
By any means necessary by Malcolm x is a memorable quote that stands out.
“We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.” - Malcolm X