When it comes to financial literacy and being your own boss, and everything in between, Damon Dash is the perfect example to look at. Best known for co-founding the famed Roc-A-Fella label alongside JAY-Z and Kareem Burke, the New York native has always been about his money moves.
Today, the businessman has his hands full running multiple businesses including the relaunch of his exclusive app Damon Dash Studios this year. In light of Financial Literacy Month, REVOLT spoke with Dash about his boss moves, the importance of ownership and more. Read below!
How has the pandemic helped push your business model further?
For my business model, the pandemic was perfect for it. Not to say I’m insensitive to the rest of the world, but my business model was always residual income, get money by the pole, also having content that people can get from their house, their phone, their computer and their television. The pandemic sped up my business model because my ultimate vision and my goal was to be able to have people view content and buy stuff while they’re watching it. Usually the content, I make everything. All the clothes, the liquor, the music, the weed — all the stuff you want — they’ll be able to buy it. A bunch of diabetes equipment, accessories I’m using or the apparatuses, you can buy that too. If you want to buy the food I’m eating, because I eat healthy, you can buy that too.
Congrats on relaunching your exclusive app, Damon Dash Studios.
I’m about to be REVOLT’s competition, I got a television network launching. Not competition, it’s enough money for all of us. I can’t even say that’s competition because we’re from the same culture, different kind of network. We launched over the air March 1st in LA, Atlanta, and Charleston. I’ll do New York right after.
Talk about your work with The Commission and possibly going on tour.
I’m part of a group called The Commission. OSG is one of them, that’s Dennis McKesey and 99 curated Black principals. I’ve got the band, so we’ll go on tour. I’ve got Congressman Andre Carson, Senator Eddie Melton, Dr. Chris Pernell, Bishop Pernell, then we have therapists from unrecognized trauma with Taj and Melt D. At some point, I’ll be going into cities to teach things and evolve the people based on what I’m learning. Plus, I’ll probably bring the rock group Black Keys around. We’ll do screenings, a launch of the magazine, a clothing line, some more movies. I’ll be outside with all that for sure.
The network has something for everyone: Health/cooking shows, comedy, talk shows, music, action movies, reality TV, etc. Do you have a favorite out of all those categories?
Nah, whatever inspires me. I’m an artist, I’m not a very one-dimensional person. In a day, I’m a hundred different emotions. I’m inspired by a hundred different things. My therapy is being able to tangibly do those things. I’m a very creative person, that’s what I was able to recognize about myself from running other people’s careers to then making my own. Doing what I love.
What’s an honorable person to you?
A person that plays by the rules that they sign onto. Everybody has different rules. An individual has a different rule between them, or you play a game and it has rules. Or life has rules. Playing the game without breaking the rules no matter what — even if a bag’s put in front of you or you have to violate friends for some money, or you have to exploit an artist because they don’t know no better, that’s dishonorable. You’re honorable when even if you can rob somebody, you don’t. When you know your whole existence is to help others, when you take care of your woman and your family, that’s honorable. Real man shit.
What are your plans in the film world?
I’m a creator. Not only a film producer, I’m a film financier. I’m the director. I usually score it. I usually make all the clothes. I have a big part in writing. I wrote Honor Up, so it stimulates a lot of creative things for me. I love making movies and doing it well, I love the art. I love understanding equipment, the budgets, just executing. It’s like running a whole separate company for however many days I’m shooting.
How does the film industry compare to the music industry?
I don’t deal with industry, I make my own industry. An industry has a lot of rules, there’s a bunch of people that you have to see every fucking day. They’re usually thinking they’re hot shit because they’ve got a job — not because it’s their own money, but because they’re in control of a bigger company’s budgets. I’m not a part of that. I make my movies, put my movies out myself, I monetize them. If somebody wants to license them, they could, but I don’t really get into the industry game. Back then, I was getting so frustrated and triggered that it made me feel like I had to get back to my street shit. I stay away from things that trigger me. Suckas trigger me, dishonorable people trigger, corny motherfuckers talking about other motherfuckers trigger me. Lame motherfuckers trigger me, so I stay away. I stay in my bubble of untriggeredness.
How much are you investing in yourself?
I’ve been lucky enough throughout my whole life to have invested wisely. When one company’s not making money, another one is. I built what I call an octopus: The head’s always strong, but the legs are expendable. I can cut one off anytime I want, and it will grow back. Because I’ve done a lot of legendary things, I don’t have to work everyday like everyone else. I can work on my dreams. I’m alright with it, I love it. If you don’t make money with the subscription, you make the money with the content. Gives you residual income. I invested in not renting, I buy all the equipment so I don’t have to rent. My budgets are straight, I don’t outsource. I never understood that. I’ma spend a million dollars a year outsourcing, I might as well buy all the shit and own it.
How would you describe your business savvy?
I’m a beast. I’m an honest beast (laughs). I’m unapologetic, I don’t try to fit in. I let my work speak for itself. I take over the industry, I burn it down. I make sure I eat. Everyone that’s being punished, I make sure we understand who’s punishing them, then I leave. I’ve done it, and I do it. I’m inspired by the fight, one for the right reasons. When it comes to business, I’m a beast. I’m a pure savage.
How did you learn? Did you have any mentors in the game?
To be honest, I’ve always been a beast because I used to be a drug dealer. I did it honorably. I did it in a way where I didn’t have to get so beat up by the war to get out. I learned and I got out decades ago, but you don’t forget the fundamentals, the risk and the recourse. Getting money when I was young, I had to worry about breaking the law, stick-up kids, going to jail, the police, all of it. There’s none of those concerns, except for people making up shit trying to sue me all the time, like this dickhead Chris Brown (the lawyer not to be confused with the recording artist). He filed 10 lawsuits against me in one year. He tries to go through this dumb lawsuit in one state, then they throw it out of that state, then do another dumb lawsuit in another. It’s part of the game. It sucks when people from your culture tries to rob you, those are the worst ones.
What does it mean to be your own boss and mogul?
It’s priceless. It means independence. It means freedom. It means strength. It means controlling your own bubble and staying away from people that trigger you. If I don’t like somebody, I don’t work with them. Or I fire them.
How do you pick your team?
The editing process is real. You go back and forth from my spot, different people are working. It usually takes a while. Somebody gotta be real creative, they’ve gotta want to evolve. They’ve got to have a dream. If you can’t fight for your own dream, how you gonna fight for mine? My thing is not to hire people, I look for potential partners. While they’re realizing their dream, I pay them to help me with mine. I’ll help be a partner with them in theirs.
How important is it to make the right business deals?
My business deals is I make a product and you buy it from me. That’s a transaction. I’ve got good work and if my work is good, you shouldn’t have a problem paying for it. If you’ve got good work, I don’t have a problem buying from you either. Now if you want to buy my company, I don’t know what the multiple is in television but for me, it’s gotta be at least 10 times. That’s what it’s about. A lot of people don’t sell companies in a lifetime, so they don’t know what that is. Distribution, they’re the right deals where you control the narrative.
What does generational wealth mean to you?
Generational wealth is wealth you could pass to your kids and they could pass to their kids. In our social class, at least where I started, first generation money or breaking a social class first generation is not the easiest. If you want to break a social class first generation, once you get there, you want your family to stay there. I’m not preparing my son to go through the same problems I went through, or to be a hustler or have to learn from the street. I’m preparing him to run this spaceship, take it all around the galaxy. He should never have to struggle. None of my kids should and none of my kids do.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Dream big. It costs nothing to dream, so why dream small? Don’t expect it to be easy. Don’t expect it to happen overnight. It’s a lot of battles. You might lose or win some, but as long as you learn from it, it’s a W. You’ve got to understand the war. What’s the war? What’re you really fighting for? What’re you dreaming about? Once you realize your dream, understand what it means to live it. Somebody might say, “Oh, my dream is to be a rapper.” What does that look like everyday, being a rapper? When you wake up, go to bed, it’s about realizing your dream. Dreaming big, fighting hard for it. Make sure you’re not only fighting for yourself. Your dream should be to make sure the people you love are alright. Dream big and dream for the people you love.
Coming up as a kid, what were your dreams?
Basically to be doing what I’m doing now, I’ve been living my dreams. My first dream was to be a hip hop mogul, I did that shit in my 20s. I wanted to do fashion, I did that shit in my 30s. I wanted to take a decade off, run around the world and open up art galleries. I decided I wanted a television network, and I’m living it now. I wanted to be in love, I always wanted my dream girl. A girl I wanted to hang out with every single day that’s cool, ride-or-die, fly. I always liked Spanish girls, no disrespect. I’m living my dream.
You mentioned being a music mogul. Any untold stories from the Roc-A-Fella days?
Biggie Smalls doing “Brooklyn’s Finest.” I see him going to get a box of fucking blunts, 60 of them. I didn’t smoke back then. I only used to smoke with Biggie, Method Man and Redman. The only people I used to smoke with, I had to back then. You know when he says “stink mink”? That’s because me and him were having a drinking competition at Bobby Brown’s birthday party. I went around the curtain and threw up, he ended up throwing up on his mink. D-Roc and them started calling him Stink Mink and that’s how I got into rap. We used to have some serious drinking contests, and he used to weigh a lot more than me.
What do you think of the rap game today?
I’m 50, man, I’m not supposed to be thinking about the rap game. For the youngins, let the youngins get busy.
Who do you listen to?
I guess I listen to whatever my kids listen to, but I’m aware of everything. The streets are usually about the war, rap’s about the war going on in the concrete. I’ve been to war in the concrete, I don’t want to feel it so much. I feel the pain in these kids. I like some of this shit, drill music is real interesting. Everybody’s fucking with the kid Pooh Shiesty right now, I know it’s about to happen. All the Babies are running the game: Lil Baby, DaBaby, they’re killing it. NBA YoungBoy, I know everything that’s going on. I wish the kids weren’t going through so much of the struggle to survive that they gotta be so tough. Rappers are way tougher now than it was before. I don’t think I would’ve been in rap right now. Rappers are too wild man.
A beef record back in the day just stayed on paper, stayed on vinyl. Motherfuckers is getting killed and making records about it. I’m never going to celebrate Black people killing Black people. I really don’t celebrate killing on any level. Culturally, us killing each other, that’s the program. That’s the plan. They want us to kill each other for entertainment, then they laugh at us. They want us to feel empowered by killing somebody with the same color skin, somebody in your family, that shit ain’t fly to me. I understand that it’s a program. They put people in a way to survive where there’s no other way, where that becomes their normal.
That’s why unrecognized trauma is important to be dealt with. To be young and grow up seeing your friends get killed, having to carry guns or someone twisting your man’s cap, then you go to school, the teacher don’t ask if you’re alright. You can’t cry because people look at you like you’re weak. I feel bad for these young kids because they’ve got to be so tough, they gotta grow up so fast. I hate the fact that jail isn’t a factor. Jail to me is part of the game. I’ma do whatever, I’ll do the time. Time should not be in the equation. It shouldn’t be normal. Try to make them smarter. It’s hard to celebrate the demise of culture, kids killing each other.
What does it mean to be a Black man in America today?
It’s a good time for Black people. I like this generation on that level, that they’re not having it. That independence is rocking, self-awareness is rocking. People are celebrating being smart, and wanting to help. There’s always going to be bullshit and bad, there’s yin and yang always in the world. Being a Black man is understanding what your potential is, understanding that everything every other Black person went through, sustained, fought for was for the freedoms that we have today. We should appreciate the day and go get bread, go get money. No complaining, it’s a great fucking day to be Black.
What are your thoughts on Kamala Harris entering the White House?
Love that. Love it. Donald Trump was so good for America in the sense that accountability — we’ve got the Senate, we’ve got the White House, we’ve got Congress. Extreme racists are the number one terrorists right now. White people are hot right now (laughs). It’s a good time to be Black. First time I’ve seen white people fighting white people, I’ve never seen that before. Watching them run up in the Capitol like that was bugged out to me. Watching white people fight white cops? What the fuck is this? I’ve never seen that before, not in this country. I’m not celebrating, but it’s about time we could watch that instead of them watching that.
The truth was told for the last four years as it relates to the mentality of old bankers. Not everybody, but what exists and how hard they’re holding on to the white supremacy that was, that used to control us. You ain’t in control no more. Of course, you’re aggravated. It ain’t going to be so easy for you no more. The last effort to keep things the way they were, where Black people are controlled and they think they’re number two, but we all know what it is now. Ain’t nothing going to stop us.