This week's Stray Shots explores Dame Dash and his fight against Lyor Cohen and others, and why seemingly everyone getting the band back together.
Once upon a time in a universe far, far away, HipHopDX used to host blogs. Through Meka, Brillyance, Aliya Ewing and others, readers got unfiltered opinions on the most current topics in and beyond Hip Hop. After a few years, a couple redesigns and the collective vision of three different Editors-In-Chief, blogs are back. Sort of. Since our blog section went the way of two-way pagers and physical mixtapes, Twitter, Instagram and Ustream have further accelerated the pace of current events in Hip Hop. Rappers beef with each other 140 characters at a time, entire mixtapes (and their associated artwork) can be released via Instagram, and sometimes these events require a rapid reaction.
As such, we’re reserving this space for a weekly reaction to Hip Hop’s current events. Or whatever else we deem worthy. And the “we” in question is myself, Omar Burgess and Andre Grant. Collectively we serve as HipHopDX’s Features Staff. Aside from tackling stray topics, we may invite artists and other personalities in Hip Hop to join the conversation. Without further delay, here are this week’s “Stray Shots.”
What is Dame Dash’s Beef With Lyor Cohen, Joie Manda & Friends?
Omar: There are several simultaneous conversations occurring about power in Hip Hop. Jay Z is talking about wealth. Kanye West is talking about opportunity, perception and a glass ceiling. Swizz Beatz and Dame Dash are talking about ownership, and all of them are correct. But Dame has been talking the most often and at times the loudest. He’s talking to Vlad TV, HipHopDX, Combat Jack and possibly a dozen other media outlets. By his own account, he’s also having fun.
“People are scared of the unknown,” Dash told Combat Jack. “The last five years, I’ve been banging out in court all day for different things. Right now, I’m really battling… We was going at it with a billion dollar company—like real, corporate stuff with the Rachel Roy scenario, Jones New York, Sequoia and all these different groups. Like, these are real businessmen, and they don’t scare me. I’m doing real business. I’m not doing this for business. I’m doing this for fun. I’m doing this because I want to make examples of everyone that’s taking advantage of our culture, so people will be empowered not to fuck it… but not to be scared of them, not to think that they need them to do anything… I’m saying let’s stick together culturally. They can’t stop us now.”
Dash has been spreading the gospel of ownership while accusing lauded executives like Lyor Cohen, Kevin Liles and Joie Manda of being culture vultures.
On one hand, I like such dialogue because it’s a self-correction for Hip Hop. I think too much of the ‘90s ethos in Hip Hop was about getting money without attaining any actual power or even ownership. What good is slapping your logo on an album if the major label you thought you were partnering with treats you like Deebo in Friday? I’m also intrigued by the prospect of ownership within Hip Hop because I see too many people who know nothing about the culture profiting from what I feel are corny ideas that compromise the culture. As for the “vulture” accusation, only the people directly involved are at liberty to authoritatively and accurately speak on the matter. Black musicians have bitched and whined about being financially taken advantage of by cultural outsiders for decades. What feels like the last vestige of the major label record industry may be a chance for a level playing field in terms of who has the real power in Hip Hop. I don’t agree with everything Dame has been saying. But I do agree with his rationale for saying it, and if the last six months have been any indication, I’m interested to see what some of the industry’s power players have to say in response to his statements.
Andre: Dame Dash has been on a mission to expose the chicanery behind-the-scenes that led to the destruction of Roc-A-Fella, and, if he’s to be believed, we’ve all been worried about the wrong things. Like Kanye’s lyrical crucible lamenting his lover’s tendency to focus on the nonsense around them instead of what’s happening between them, the real culprits, he claims, are the “culture vultures.” The executives at these record labels who pull the strings behind the scenes. His argument is thrice fold. None of these people are using their own cash, so while they’re puppet masters for the artists, they themselves are merely employees of a different order. This one is the most easily verifiable accusation. It’s safe to say that Lyor Cohen, Joie Manda, Todd Moscowitz and anyone else that Dame Dash has had his sights on did not own the companies they worked for.. before 300, that is. Mr. Cohen’s newest venture is one he’s brought to market with industry titans the likes of Todd Moscowitz and Kevin Liles, and that venture is funded by a few different huge players including Google, Tom’s Capital, and former Warner Bros Digital Music Chief Alex Zubillage. Oh, and Dame also has a problem with Mr. Moscowitz. In an interview with Vlad TV he had this to say, “Why do y’all wanna know about the rappers? Aren’t y’all curious? You’ve been talking about the same thing for five years… Don’t y’all wanna know about the other side of the story? Ask about Lyor, Todd Moscowitz, and all those players.” Intriguing to say the least.
Part two? That the executives previously mentioned, and spearheaded by other murkier figures at their parent companies are taking riches from Hip Hop and stuffing their own pockets with them. In that way it would be a traditional colonial resource grab. Set up in an area, use the resources there to create abundance for themselves, and when the ideas inherent are dead, move on. These claims, then, are taking on a more traditional if not familiar narrative. Musical acts have been talking about these sorts of things for years. From Chuck D to Talib Kweli, Yasiin Bey, and others, and, somehow, they’ve been mostly relegated to the “conscious” folder, (which is ridiculous on the face of it. How can most of the individuals within a culture be considered “unconscious?”) So in a way, he’s correct. Sure, label executives tend to make a lot of money. Their parent companies in turn make more money, and at the bottom of the pyramid are usually the artists, who make the least money. Maybe there was a point where Jay Z was still trying to teach you how to move in a room full of vultures. I’d go ahead and think that class has gotten much smaller over time as his wealth and power has grown. So it goes.
Most damaging, however, is Dame’s argument that Lyor Cohen has said nothing of the claims he’s leveled against him. For the most part they have not. Funk Master Flex did call out Dash, however, and in a very public way on Hot97, but I’m not concerned about that so much as the continuation of the musical machine that pumps out our favorite artists. A few of these artists eventually get big enough to go sideways (three cheers to you, Kanye!) but most of them, and most of us are only concerned about the music, art, and culture. That the execs pulling the levers don’t is a tale as old as time, and whether it is true or not we cannot say. But it is very interesting to see a man as accomplished as Dame Dash seemingly come to the defense of his culture and be summarily dismissed for it.
Why Is Everyone Getting The Band Back Together?
Omar: The band is getting back together. Or so it seems. In 2014, we’ve seen full or partial returns by G-Unit, Mobb Deep and Three 6 Mafia (as Da Mafia 6ix sans Juicy J). Additionally, OutKast is touring together again and so is Jurassic 5, and that doesn’t mention the kind of sort of reunion of the Diplomats with “Dipshits.”
A few years ago, I foolishly thought the concept of the Hip Hop group was dead. It’s difficult enough for a solo artist to draw a profit without splitting the pie five—or in the case of the Wu-Tang Clan, nine—ways. Now it seems as if money may not be the sole reason for several groups deciding to at least tolerate each other again, but I think it’s a factor. DJ Paul pointed to brand longevity and the money associated from touring when he talked to HipHopDX in November of 2013 about reuniting factions of the Hypnotize Minds crew. If you’ve checked the Forbes Hip Hop Cash Kings list at any point in the last decade, it becomes clear 50 Cent is financially set whether he drops another album or not. So maybe he chose to reunite G-Unit (sans Game) to empower his frenemies after sacrificing them to the Animal Ambition pre-album press altar. Given that the G-Unit brand was once selling everything from albums to shoes, I don’t think it’s far fetched to assume 50 was also rehabilitating one of his brands too. Even younger outfits like Cool Kids understand the value of an amicable parting so each member can strengthen their respective brand and hopefully make the group more powerful. Chuck Inglish has gone on record saying Sir Michael Rocks encouraged him to pursue a solo career for just that reason.
Then there’s the nostalgia factor. Who wouldn’t fork over some cash to relive their glory days—or at least the songs that fueled them? Hip Hop culture has a soft spot for nostalgia, and you needn’t look any further than the phrase “Golden Age” to know how vehemently people defend the music they were raised on. I always think it’s interesting when people’s genuine love of the culture align with the cause of getting paid. Cash still rules, and I won’t sit here and front like I wouldn’t push an old person down a flight of steps to get one last quality Wu-Tang Clan reunion album.
Andre: People are fond of saying things like, “It’s chess, not checkers” when things are happening in a way that they did not foresee. So I’m calling an audible and claiming that for a few, the reasons for getting back in the wagon were pure, and for some… probably not so much. Do I think 3 Stacks and Big Boi just wanted to be on the road together again like old chums? Of course I do! The master of many styles and Daddy Fat Stacks making crowds at Coachella weep with irony and guilt was not so much about performing for fans who don’t know their catalog, but about being around each other again. At least I hope so.
G-Unit, Mobb Deep, and Da Mafia 6ix, amongst others, however, I’m not too sure. Of course, it doesn’t matter if they’ve gotten back together for the money or not. I’m just happy they’re back, and hopefully we’ll get a few ferocious posse cuts that will make the ‘90s blush and everyone will get rich or richer and talk that Maybach talk. But it’s always a bummer to see forced reunions. You know the ones where they’re all on TV together gritting their teeth and obviously hating each other. Then, at that point, I can no longer suspend my disbelief and the illusion is shattered. And illusions are what entertainment is all about. It literally broke my heart when, at a Rock The Bells at Jones Beach featuring A Tribe Called Quest, Q-Tip came out onto the stage alone before being joined by his compadres some agonizing 10 minutes later no longer in arms. I wanted to believe in the sanctity of the group and that everything can be made right with a sit down and a glass of orange juice. But life doesn’t work that way.
Am I happy that Dipset and Jurassic 5 are back together making songs or touring? Of course I am. We all are. Especially with this very special year being two decades removed from the beginning of Hip Hop’s third or fourth Golden Era. I’m nostalgic about all these folks returning to their old form and maybe getting on the radio, and it can feel like the summer of ‘98 again and all is right with the universe. But it simply may be logistics. You can sell more together than you can alone with record sales being as anemic as they currently are. And why not use any means to get that gold over the rainbow? If getting back together and setting off a car alarm of excitement in my soul is how you’re going to get me to buy your record again, so be it. Just don’t cheat me. If this is really an illusion, let’s keep it up for as long as we both can muster it.
Omar Burgess is a Long Beach, California native who has contributed to various magazines, newspapers and has been an editor at HipHopDX since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @omarburgess.
Andre Grant is an NYC native turned L.A. transplant who’s contributed to a few different properties on the web and is now the Senior Features Writer for HipHopDX. He’s also trying to live it to the limit and love it a lot. Follow him on Twitter @drejones.