It has played out like a contemporary urban fiction novel, where common interests lead to friendship which lead to joint business ventures which lead to riches which lead to good times which leads to the inevitable crash and burn.
The story of these two main characters—street-wise slick-talking aspirants meeting in 1994, sharing similar spaces in New York City—unfolded on a public stage. One character is now labeled “nigga scraps” while the other is riding higher than a “Peter, Paul and Mary” concert.
Dame Dash. The jilted lover who was “back-stabbed,” wronged and can’t seem to get his life together.
Jay-Z. The lover who moved on after realizing that things have to change, even if it means hurt feelings and severed ties.
The splitting of this bromance was hard to fathom when they took off on a lark to start Roc-A-Fella records; when Dash was pouring champagne down the esophagus of models in “Big Pimpin”; when Dash was extolling the fruit of his labor on “Cribs,” revealing he had over 1,300 pairs of shoes and that he didn’t wear a pair of socks and shirt more than once (which he donated to charity).
With a narrative for which Robert Greene (The 48 Laws of Power) has probably already written a screenplay, the Jay-Z/Dame Dash breakup is one of the biggest elephants in hip-hop history. However, the thing about elephants: they’re too large to overlook, yet too massive to want to take on.
There are elements of Jay-Z’s success that have his most ardent critics in awe. The work ethic. Talent. Self-educated. Confidence. Add a Beyonce to the mix and any able-minded sentient being could see that he is doing something right.
But there is a dangerous element at work in this too.
His maneuvering, Horatio Alger-like flight is essentially American, something that people —especially those who don’t understand why “Black people whine so much about discrimination and inequity”—tend to focus on the most. Here is a guy who is palling around with Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Barack Obama and Oprah, who came from the roughest of the roughest.
Shut up and get your “by any means on” and go after it like he did.
Such a narrative is sufficient fodder to keep people distracted as to exactly how a man in his shoes has risen to the top and stayed there for so long. Feel-good gruel is the prerogative of any publishing company, media organization, and household chatter, but it doesn’t obviate the elephant present.
Straight thuggin’ man, thought we would never progress
But look at us now man, we’re young execs
My nigga Dame, my nigga Biggs, my nigga Tah
My nigga Ja, my nigga Gotti
We embody all that is right with the world
– Jay-Z in “Anything”
During his recent public appearances promoting his book and talking of his come-up story, there’s a name made conspicuous by its absence.
Where is the mention of the guy who went to bat for him when few others would?
The guy who ate Sundays dinners with him and his family?
Where is the guy who was the boardroom mouthpiece for Roc-A-Fella during the 90s?
The guy who flanked him in all those videos when Jay-Z was a long way from being household conversation material?
The man responsible for his “little brother” and the signing of possibly the greatest hip-hop artist ever (Kanye)?
Relationships form and fracture everyday. In the music industry, it’s a virtual certainty. But for Jay-Z, who has become the recent darling of business writers and Middle America, to omit the man who is as responsible for his standing as anybody, is, at best, a pure power play and, at worse, fishy.
Don’t confuse this piece as a shill for Dame Dash. Reportedly in the “glory days,” the way he dealt with business was unprofessional and un-CEO like. Lavish parties. Profligate spending. Haphazard financial investments. Appointing people (read: Cam’ron) to executive positions in the company without consulting with other business partners. Well maybe his behavior wasn’t un-CEO like. But if his business partner decided it was best not to do business with him anymore, that’s fair game.
Jay-Z and Dame were both hardcore capitalists. Slaves to the pursuit of profit. In this arena, the one who wins is the one with the plan. Where one was plotting to make his next move, the other was too distracted, too trusting, or too “slow to the draw” to realize before it was too late. Dash got the short straw because of his negligence, Jay-Z’s savvy, and some help from the Capitalist’s Handbook.
S. Dot is no dummy. He’s schooled in the Laws of Power and in the power game—there is no advantage in mentioning Dame Dash on an Oprah show, concert, article or best-selling book. Perceived ruthlessness and Machiavellian tendencies are at home in Powernomics. Above all, he knows that not mentioning the enemy’s name increases mystery, which adds to his aura of invincibility. Take this zinger in the first verse of “Lost Ones”:
I put friends over business end of the day though
But when friends, business interests as they go
Ain’t nothing left to say though
I guess we forgot what we came fo’
Should’ve stayed in food and beverage
Too much flossing
Too much Sam Rothstein
I ain’t a b-tch but I gotta divorce them
Hov have to get the shallow sh-t up off him
No name dropped, but it’s clear who Jay-Z’s talking about. With an image that successfully crossed over from the persona of urban grit (which Dame helped build) to a mainstream brand that is getting checks from Microsoft, has “Obama on the text,” and the ear of the most Powerful Woman in America, there’s no reason to speak life into a former union that’s dead.
So he keeps quiet about naming that elephant, leaving us to handle the tusks and trunk of the “Lost One.”
What do you think about Jay-Z omitting Damon Dash’s name in his come-up stories: savvy or shady?