12. Damon "Dame" Dash
Title(s): Co-founder of Roc-A-Fella
Artists They Worked With: Jay-Z, Kanye West, Cam'ron, Beanie Sigel
The choleric and bilious Damon Dash was 100 percent hustler. Unlike another spiritual brother in charms, Sean Combs, he never showed much interest in what went on inside the studio. But Dash’s visceral understanding of culture—specifically the zeitgeist of the late 1990s—gave the world the two artists who to this very day dominate the game: Jay-Z and Kanye West. That throne you’re watching? Dash was the one who built it.
Now that they’re collaborators and double-daters, it’s easy to forget that Dash once famously championed Kanye West as a potential Roc-A-Fella artist when Jay, to say the least, wasn’t so confident in West’s potential.
Dash also doesn’t get enough credit for Cam’ron, whose Roc-A-Fella album went Gold after his first one, on Lance “Un” Rivera’s label, flopped. Alas, it was Dash’s horse and carriage that ended up on the auction block. Dash had the ability to pick artists who could, when necessary, reinvent themselves to continue their success. Dash himself has lacked that ability, and his virtual disappearance from the hip-hop scene is bound up within that.
Of course, Dash—being less interested in creative concerns—would not have been able to attain his level of success without a great supporting A&R team. In particular, Kyambo “HipHop” Joshua deserves credit for bringing Kanye West into the fold, and both Joshua and Gee Roberson were the irreplaceable creative and operational core for artists & repertoire at the Roc. It’s no surprise, then, that Joshua and Roberson have gone onto great success as managers for Drake, Lil Wayne, Nikki Minaj, T.I and more.
Extra credit: One must give special dap to DJ Clark Kent, who gave Dash his start in the music business and introduced him to Jay-Z.