Cohen, who recalls Dash’s throwing temper tantrums all the time, says, “Jay would come to a situation that Damon had been working on and arrive to see a trail of charred people. Damon’s a wonderful dreamer, and that’s what our business lacks. But he could only see the final chapter in whatever deal he was working on and had very little patience for the steps it took to get there.”
Dash says that when he runs into Jay-Z at an event—as he did a few months back, when he went to Downtown Cipriani for a performance by Beyoncé Knowles, Jay-Z’s girlfriend—there’s no hostility and no love. “I just give him a pound and move on. I’d still like to know what happened. But I don’t think Jay would ever explain what he was thinking. He’s not explicit like that.”
“Jay forgets about people; Damon doesn’t,” says the former rapper Little Shawn, who now works for Dash under the name Shawn Pen. “When I got put away for drugs seven years ago, I was better friends with Jay than with Damon. I never heard from Jay that whole time. Damon stayed in touch. The guy’s not a letter writer, but he got word to me. He gave me a shout-out on BET. Do you know what that means to a guy in jail?”
“It’s been hard on both of them,” says Clark Kent, who is still working with Dash and has remained close friends with both men. “Now each one of them is struggling to do what they used to do, but each man on his own. The Roc hasn’t had any great successes with their new acts with Damon gone. They’ll never be able to replace each other.”
In Dash’s view, he’s the one who brought a kind of smart-set varnish to Jay-Z’s appeal anyway. “I designed Rocawear; I brought the lifestyle upscale,” he says. “Like getting Naomi Campbell and Victoria Beckham to wear it, going to Sundance to promote it. I had an ad campaign planned with Naomi and Kevin Bacon. It was so fly it could be in Vogue.” But Jay-Z and their two silent partners, a couple of Russian businessmen from Delancey Street, were skeptical of the campaign, which would cost on the order of $3 million to produce. “They just wanted Jay in there and to let some cheap photographer do it. All of a sudden, Jay’s voting with those two. I had to go to Mario Testino and say, ‘I can’t do this because my partners are too cheap.’ I felt ghetto.”
“I like making everybody around me famous,” Dash says one night. He is holding court at Soundtrack Studios, near the Flatiron Building, trying to give his core group of music employees a pep talk. A half-dozen black men in baggy jeans and new high-tops sit before him in an irregular circle, including Biggs, Clark Kent, Steve Mack, and Little Shawn.
“Now, it would be hard for me to hit the street looking for talent,” Dash goes on. “I’m 35. I go to operas and shit in Milan. I want everything different now.”
“Different how?” Mack says.
“Beautiful music, man,” Dash says, adding that he’s just not going to be the one looking for it and pushing it.
“Word,” Biggs says without looking up from a copy of The Essential Kitchen, Bathroom, Bedroom, a British magazine.
“What about the little girl?” Mack asks. He means Jasmine, a 15-year-old singer Dash found in Los Angeles who he thinks could be “the next Michael Jackson.”
“Definitely the little girl,” Dash says. He’s interested in R&B now, and also has high hopes for Sizzla, a reggae artist. “I’m gonna get someone to help you on the little girl.”
“Who?” Mack asks.
“Usher,” Dash says.
Dash explains that the night before last, on the way back from Miami, he decided to fly to Atlanta for a few hours to meet with Usher and sing Jasmine’s praises.
“This is the level I want to be operating at,” Dash says. “I don’t want to do anything else in music unless I make history. When we made Reasonable Doubt, I made history. I’m in the motherfucking hall of fame. You know when else I made history? When Jay-Z battled DMX. We did something legendary. DMX on one pool table, and Jay-Z on another. Some of you was there.”
“I had on these weird shoes,” Biggs recalls. “I had to go home and change.”
“After you made history once, it’s like flying first class: You can’t go back to coach,” Dash says.
His sermon over, there is, for the first time in a long time, a record to work on tonight. Dash has a cache of twenty new songs—by Nicole Wray, Rell, Sizzla, among others—that he needs to whittle down to ten. He pops in an Ol’ Dirty Bastard song that he’s had remixed for a more up-to-date sound, and all the people in the room start rolling their shoulders, nodding to the beat and mouthing the lyrics. Then comes the Carmen Electra number (with Sizzla rapping), then Busta Rhymes. Dash, still in his executive swivel chair, is throwing shapes to the music, freezing positions, grabbing his crotch, the whole routine.