There is no denying Damon Dash’s impact on our culture. In recent years he has started to get his flowers for his business savvy. But when you do the math it is clear he needs more respect put on his name.
Since leaving the Rap industry the Harlem native has evolved. His Cake-A-Holic persona is long behind him but that doesn’t mean he is any less self-assertive about his signature approach to hustling for your last name. Currently, his biggest passion is content, creating it and more importantly distributing it on his own terms. In 2019 he launched his own streaming service, Dame Dash Studios. While the move should have been celebrated by the Hip-Hop community he was met with doubt from his peers and naysayers alike. But this is not the first time the mogul had to fight through the noise.
Fast forward to 2021 and the music legend has relaunched Dame Dash Studios with a goal of changing the entire streaming category and how viewers engage with media. In an exclusive interview with HipHopWired.com, Dash details why this new venture is groundbreaking, how all his past businesses prepared him for this big moment and schools the new generation of entrepreneurs how to get to it no matter what.
HipHopWired.com: On February 11 you relaunched the Dame Dash Studios app and gave the consumer experience a unique face lift…
Damon Dash: Well I always knew that apps were the way to go, the way to distribute content and it became a way for me to make content on my own. That’s the reason why I have the studio. Now everyone and their mother got an app. The world is ready for it but my app is different.
Disney and Netflix is my competition; the difference between me and them is that they don’t sell anything. My dream was always to have this experience of watching and buying at the same time because generally I make everything that you see on everybody [on my platform] regardless. I usually make the drinks they are drinking, the hoodie that I am wearing. So if you are inspired by the experience you can buy [the product right on the app].
“I’ve been showing people how to leverage celebrity, build a brand and make money off the ancillary things and I’ve always tried to teach residual income but no one understands it until they’re broke and old.”—Damon Dash
HHW: Your content has also evolved as well were you are taking on some much-needed narratives including self care and education.
Dash: I’ve evolved my agendas. So right now I’m filming curriculum. I’m meeting with 90 principles about changing things but not just talking about changing things. We’re reapproaching education because kids are not in school the same way. So we got to figure out a new way and it’s a great time for that. We’re going to make learning entertaining and make it cool. Speaking the language in our vernacular. They don’t teach you how to count money because they are not teaching you how to make money. Myself, I’ll be teaching a class for those who are inspired by an entrepreneur. It’s about whose going to speak the language that they are going to listen to and who inspires you the most. We don’t need them to teach us we can teach us.
HHW: On paper this reads like a big level up for the platform.
Dash: That’s happening on the network along with the original programming, the movies. Everything is going to be on steroids now, I’m better at it. So while I got you here you’re going to get the book, the music, the clothes, the food I eat. Basically everything I use that got me where I’m at today I’m making accessible to the rest of the world.
HHW: That seems to align with your entire career as you have always sold lifestyle.
Dash: I’ve been selling lifestyle. I’ve been showing people how to leverage celebrity, build a brand and make money off the ancillary things and I’ve always tried to teach residual income but no one understands it until they’re broke and old.
HHW: What has been your biggest learning lesson since you started to navigate the streaming platform category?
Dash: Well any world that I go into I know I’m green so I just have to go do it because the only way I can learn is by doing it. And the only way to get better at it is to keep doing it. You’re never good at anything the first time you do it. So if you do something one time you’re just alright. Even when making records chances are the vocals that you hear it’s usually the vocals the person just did the first or second time; it’s not rehearsed. They could do it so much better the hundredth time. So my point is practice makes perfect.
HHW: You originally launched Creative Control with the goal of evolving it into a streaming service. How much did that brand influence how you are shaping Dame Dash Studios today?
Dash: It’s the DNA of what I’m doing. It’s an evolved version of it; I was practicing because the world wasn’t ready then. So you know I think I am the only guy who was able to monetize a collective. I was the monetization Andy Warhol with a collective in Tribeca. I was putting stuff out at professional level, an art gallery, Rock & Roll, Rap, fashion, you know anything popping that was paying the bills. I’ve seen a lot of people try but unless you really know how to do that you not going to make money. I was able to show you how to do it yourself, protect culture and monetize it. It was me making the conscious decision that we had to evolve. I had to leave Hip-Hop to influence it.
HHW: One of the fastest-growing categories of business in this era is tech and you released the RocBox MP3 player launch in 2004 under your Roc Digital brand. Tell us about being one of the first early adopters as a person of color.
Dash: I appreciate that because I forgot about RocBox. I was watching the iPod and I was like I make so much music that a person who knows Roc-A-Fella [Records]….it’s all there. So I started to find factories to make it but for what I had at the time for development Apple had a billion dollars in development [for the iPod]. They were just so ahead I couldn’t keep up but I did try. I’m going to always swing. Like I tried to make an electric car, I’m always going to try just like I’m going to try to do this education, we doing it.
“I’m chasing Disney.”—Damon Dash
HHW: When you think of the immense popularity of the Club House app, I think about when you had BlockSavvy.com. That website was invite only, it also provided users spending power and opportunity to own their own real estate. This is another concept that you were an early adopter on.
Dash: Again once we were aware of the internet I was looking for ways to be ahead of the game. We built our environment and what we learned from that is that content is what they really wanted. We did some things that were better than, what was the original thing back then?
Dash: Myspace, right. The thing is I always want to build things from the ground up. I always want to be a fountain. I get inspired a lot and I get these ideas that are realistic and logical. So I’ll plant the seeds and I hope that someone in my crew can do it if it’s something not completely inspiring or I’m having fun with. And it be a lot of times [I’ll tell myself] ‘I should have saw that through’. But how would I have enjoyed it? I just want to have fun all day long.
HHW: Circling back to the content, Paid In Full is heralded as a classic but it was Backstage that really introduced the world to Damon Dash. Are you sitting on any b-roll footage and if so would you ever monetize it for a 25th-anniversary edition?
Dash: I got everything. I got everything but for me to revisit the past means I don’t have something to do. So if I wasn’t doing sh*t I would do that but I am so excited about the new sh*t and the old sh*t is something I am trying to get away from. And now that I am away from it I’m not trying to revisit it. That emotion and anxiety of being young again, that’s something I don’t want to feel anymore.
But definitely at some point, I’m making it.
HHW: So what’s the next phase of Dame Dash Studios?
Dash: March 1 we are launching DTV [on cable television] in Atlanta, LA, and Charleston. So we have Dame Dash Studios and DTV. One is an app and one is a cable network. So just going into that realm and making bigger movies, all the ancillary things, the cartoons, the toys and the video games, basically I’m chasing Disney.