Towards the end of the summer, Complex stopped by Roc-A-Fella co-founder and erstwhile rap mogul Damon Dash's Lower East Side gallery Poppington to catch up with Dame. A picture had emerged of him and Jay Z, together, smiling, maybe for the first time in almost a decade. It was a hell of a moment, and maybe one meaning more than just the thaw of tension between the two.
Ever since the end of Roc-A-Fella—and, crucially, his partnership with Jay—Dame's become a relaxed denizen of downtown Manhattan, moving through and hosting any number of eclectic cultural ventures, and no cultural medium seems to be off limits. But of course, Dame's still on the hustle, moving on all kinds of different projects at any given moment, from art to motor oil to new media, whiskey, and of course, music.
One of the things we saw while we were at Poppington was a short film Dame directed in Hong Kong, Beef & Broccoli. For a guy who's still mostly known as the brash rap mogul of the late 90s/early 00s, it was more than impressive. We asked if Complex could premiere it, and Dame obliged. We also got the director to answer a few of our questions about how the project came about, and those dudes in Paris who ran up on him (and inspired the short). Check out the Complex.TV premire of Damon Dash's Beef & Broccoli above, and the story behind it, right here:
How’d this project come together? You were on a trip to Hong Kong and just decided to make a short film?
Yeah. We went on a trip to open up the Hong Kong gallery, Poho 66, and while I was out there I got inspired. I wanted to direct, and my [director of photography] and my main editor—my partner for a while—Jonah Schwartz was in Japan for a couple of years. He flew out to China to meet us to tape the gallery opening. Once I got with him I was like, ‘Yo, we got to shoot something. I just feel it. I’m inspired.'
How'd you decide on a kung fu short?
I was in Highlander: Endgame years ago with this dude, Donnie Yen. He’d tell me, ‘I’m the biggest film star in China,’ and I was like, ‘yeah, alright,’ because I never heard of him and he was always kind of bitter about it, but we became really good friends. When I got back to China I started to notice he really was the biggest movie star out there. One of his older producers that works with him, a friend of my partner’s in China, this dude Bey [Logan], he had all of these stuntmen rehearse to do fighting scenes. So I was like, ‘Okay, I already know what I’m going to shoot.’ So I just used my own experience—that fight I had in Paris—as the subject matter, and we recreated it.
What happened with the fight in Paris? What was that?
I was in Paris with my homeboys back when I was running around, throwin’ parties for Rocawear during Fashion Week. I wanted to be relevant in the high-end fashion world, and didn’t want to do fashion shows for Rocawear, so I did partes, and I was going to do some radio spots. I was on my way to the radio station with my crew and a couple of girls I hung out with, and my cameraman, Choke No Joke. We were late, and there was traffic. They said it might be better to walk, but the driver didn’t tell me this was probably the worst neighborhood in Paris. They were selling drugs, there were hookers and pimps and shit.
And then these guys just ran up on you?
We’re walking through, taping, and they start yelling at us. My cameraman Choke was acting kind of tough about it like, ‘fuck them,’ so I was like, ‘alright, I’ll ride with you if that’s the case.’ I guess the neighborhood tough guy, this big African dude, ran up trying to take the camera and we just ended up fighting. But as I’m fighting, I’m watching Choke running. All of the sudden, the whole block started to mass us, the whole block jumped us and everyone ran. I was kind of embarassed to run in front of the girls, so I tried to fight it out. Johnny Nunez was there. He ran, but then he came back and got me. He was the only one that helped me out of there. The way the movie ends is not the way it ended for me in reality [laughs]. I ended up kind of bloody, but I caught a couple of dudes. It was me versus twenty people. It was ridiculous. But it was all good. The winning was that I didn’t run. I felt good about it, but I did have stitches.
All of the sudden, the whole block started to mase us, the whole block jumped us and everyone ran. I was kind of embarassed to run in front of the girls, so I tried to fight it out.
So the movie is the "had it played out differently…" scenario?
I wasn’t really trying to showcase my fight, but it just turned out to be an authentic experience that I can recreate and have done in a way where it wasn’t about me.
How'd you decide on the soundtrack for it?
We were signing the biggest DJ out there [in China], DJ Wordy. He’d just completed an album and he also had his first single out then, so I was also like, ‘Let’s combine it with your music and make it a short film video to introduce your work to America.’ So the soundtrack is also the first single off DJ Wordy’s project, Let The Rhythm Hit and we’re going to release it in America. I love Wordy. He’s my first artist through the brand Mama China, which is me and my partners from China, Shelly Pecot and her husband. I get to kill three birds with one stone. It’s therapeutic, I get to shoot something that happened in my life that was a bit traumatizing and significant, and then I also got to direct and got to showcase DJ Wordy’s music.
And how did the shoot go? Was it highly coordinated, or...?
Nah, nah. We freestyled it. We ran up on the set. We shot until the police came, and the police did come and all that.
What happened when the police came?
They just told us to leave, you know. They beefed a little bit. We broke out, but it wasn’t like we got arrested or anything. We taped it all. I got pictures and all that. It was dope. MC Yan was there, DJ Prepare, all of these artists that are relevant in China who came down and support. It was cool, it had a good vibe.
Why directing, and why now?
A lot of what I’ve done is: I’ve made other people famous, other people’s dreams come true. If I’ve ever been creative, I’ve hid behind the people that I was working with. This year I want to focus on putting my name on my own projects, putting my name out there, not worried about being scrutinized and just directing because...I really do like directing. That’s all I’m thinking about.
When you were making this did you have any inspirations in mind?
As far as action styles go, of course I like Donnie Yen, because that’s my man. As far as filmmaking, I’m more of a Guy Ritchie kind of guy, mixed with Martin Scorsese and a little Quentin Tarantino. Did you have any help making this? My D.P. and editor is Jonah Schwartz, he’s a genius, he’s like my secret weapon. So I tell him what I want and he’ll make it look good and he’ll make sure the angles have some significance as well. It’s a real collaborative effort with my team. I can give you the story, I can give you the performance, I can give you the swag but as far as setting up shots and those kind of things, I’ll tell him what I want, but he brings his own input to the table as well. I couldn’t have done what I wanted to do without him.
A lot of what I’ve done is: I’ve made other people famous, other people’s dreams come true. If I’ve ever been creative, I’ve hid behind the people that I was working with. This year I want to focus on my own projects, putting my name out there.
Did you learn anything from Jonah while you were directing this?
Yeah, every time. That was the first time I had ever directed action. So we also had someone direct the action, Bey Logan. But watching the angles and movement and getting enough coverage in fighting is a little different than getting enough coverage in dialogue. You want to get the fight, you want to get the reaction, you want to make sure there’s enough room for it to breathe so that there could be some effect on it. It has to look realistic even though it's kind of outrageous.
When I last talked to you, you said you had some feature-length stuff in the works is that still going on?
Yeah. My agenda right there was to showcase a little bit. Here’s a little short and then the next thing is 60 minutes, and then the next thing is going to be 90 minutes. I’m the kind of guy that doesn’t usually care what people think but there are key issues that I’m insecure about: directing and cooking. I’m not as positive and sure about myself in those aspects. I can tell you about making music and fashion, I’m cocky about that, but movies and cooking I really do care what people think. And that’s what I got to do, I have to show some vulnerability if I’m going to really be creative and embrace that side.
As you get further into directing do you want to do more drama, or more action, or would you want to do comedy?
Nah. I want to do violence. Like I said, I’m going Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Guy Ritchie. Guy Ritchie’s clever. I like the Casino and the Goodfellas narration and the way Scorsese approaches things, and I like the violence of Tarantino and the coolness and the music, and the music in Martin Scorsese’s films as well. That’s a big part of it, the music. I’m going after violence though. I’m attacking the guy that likes gangster movies like Scarface and The Godfather. I’m obsessed with that shit. That’s my passion.