The Rise & Fall Of...: The Rise & Fall of Rocafella Records
Friday, Feb 19, 2010 12:00AM
As hip-hop enters a new era of business ventures, endorsement deals and growth within the music industry, SOHH reflects on the highs and lows of the rap empires that paved the way for today's black entrepreneurs.
Founded in 1996 by rap moguls Jay-Z, Damon Dash and Kareem Burke, Roc-A-Fella was one of the most renowned hip-hop labels and home to trend-setting artists like Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel, Cam'ron and Kanye West. Outside of the music industry, the threesome took their Roc-A-Fella franchise to unseen levels with the launch of clothing lines, films and even their own liquor.
The foundation of Roc-A-Fella Records occurred in 1996, beginning as an independent outlet for rapper Jay-Z's first album, Reasonable Doubt. After being turned down by several major labels, Carter, Dash and Burke started their own label through Priority Records, using money from the music videos provided by Payday Records due to their singles-only deal. (MTV)
In the wake of his 1996 debut, Reasonable Doubt, Jay-Z's albums sold millions upon millions with each release, and his endless parade of hits made him omnipresent on urban radio and video television. (All Music)
Damon Dash, the co-founder of Roc-A-Fella Records. Roc-A-Fella, specializing almost exclusively in hip-hop music, branched out with several spin-off ventures into other fields as well, notably hip-hop fashion (Rocawear Clothing) and many films (Roc-A-Fella Films and, later, Dash Films). (All Music)
Along with Jay-Z and Damon Dash, Kareem "Biggs" Burke formed Roc-a-Fella Records and transformed it into a lucrative venture on the strength of Jay-Z's albums and also via some excellent distribution deals with Priority and, later, Def Jam. (All Music)
Key Roc-A-Fella Roster Additions
Memphis Bleek was one of the first artists signed to Roc-A-Fella Records, as protege to long time friend, Jay-Z. He appeared on the Jay-Z albums Reasonable Doubt, Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life, Vol. 3... Life and Times of S. Carter and The Dynasty: Roc La Familia. Beanie Sigel's first major appearance was on The Roots album Things Fall Apart, on the song "Adrenaline!"; six months later, he "ran into Jay" and was signed after an audition. He was featured on "Reservoir Dogs," from Jay-Z's 1998 album. (Wikipedia)
Kanye West & Just Blaze
Jay-Z admitted that Roc-A-Fella was initially reluctant to support West as a rapper, claiming that he saw him as a producer first and foremost. Multiple record companies felt he was not as marketable as rappers who portray the "street image" prominent in hip hop culture. Just Blaze began producing for well known musicians in the late 1990s. This production would earn him a spot on Jay-Z's The Dynasty: Roc La Familia. His production on this album, along with the work of Kanye West earned them both jobs as in-house producers at Roc-A-Fella Records. (The Black Collegian)
Cam'ron & Dipset
With his release from Sony Records, Cam'ron moved on to sign with his childhood friend Damon Dash in 2001, who had already been managing him and Roc-A-Fella Records. In 2002, he released his third and most successful album, Come Home With Me, along with the biggest hits of his career, "Oh Boy" and "Hey Ma," both featuring Juelz Santana. He went on to appear in the Damon Dash produced film, Paid in Full, in 2002. Cam'ron then teamed up with his fellow Diplomats Jim Jones, Juelz Santana and Freekey Zeeky to release the Diplomats' debut album, Diplomatic Immunity, in 2003, which was quickly certified gold by the RIAA. (Celebrity Talent)
Rocawear is a clothing line created in 1999 by Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter and Damon Dash. Rocawear has annual sales of $700 million. Rocawear expanded its brand through licensing pacts to develop lines for children and juniors; socks and sandals; leather,suede, and fur outerwear; handbags andbelts; lounge wear; big and tall;headwear; jewelry; and sunglasses; as well as co-branded product with Pro-Keds, State Property, and Team Roc. (New York Times)
In 2002, following the release of the Rocawear clothing label, Roc-A-Fella Records released through Lions Gate Entertainment, State Property. The movie while not the first for Dame Dash, would be the start of ROC Films/Roc-A-Fella Films. The film studio would go on to release Paid In Full the same year and follow up in 2003 with Paper Soldiers and the hip-hop satire Death of a Dynasty. (Rocafella)
In 2002 Roc-A-Fella Records announced they will be taking over U.S. distribution rights for the Scottish, Armadale vodka, from the previous owner William Grant & Sons. The vodka is described as an 80-proof brand of "hand-crafted triple distilled vodka." (Wikipedia)
Jay-Z Vs. Damon Dash Conflict Emerges
Rumors of friction between Carter and Dash became apparent; though denied by both camps at the time, problems involving Dame's media attention and Jay's alleged inaccessibility had been brewing since the video shoot for "Big Pimpin'" After Jay-Z's supposed last hurrah, it was revealed that he had accepted a position as CEO and President of Def Jam. The infamous 'split' occurred when it was revealed that Carter, Dash and Burke had sold their 50% interest in Roc-A-Fella to Def Jam, making the label full owners. As President, Carter retained control of the Roc and his masters, ousting his two former partners. (SOHH)
Roc-A-Fella Roster Splits
As Dash and Burke set up their own fledgling record label, originally called Roc4lifeand later rechristened Dame Dash Music Group, each artist was offered their choice of labels. The Diplomats were the first to make the move to DDMG, and began a public campaign against Jay-Z, dissing him in songs and interviews, backed heavily by Dame Dash; Cam'ron was especially vocal, claiming Jay blocked him from an executive position Dame had offered him at Roc-A-Fella. (MTV)
In the video below, from HipHopStan former Roc-A-Fella filmmaker Choke No Joke discusses the fate of the artists that chose to stick with Jay-Z.
Beanie Sigel Goes To Jail
Beanie Sigel, then doing a year's incarceration on an attempted murder charge, put out his album The B.Coming on Dash's label; this was accompanied by accusations from Dame that of all the members of State Property, only Oschino had gone to visit Sigel in prison. Though Beanie had initially chosen DDMG, the rest of the group refused, preferring to remain on Roc-A-Fella; in response, Beanie Sigel effectively put the group on hold, claiming disappointment in his groupmates. (Wikipedia)
Roc La Familia was an extension of Roc-A-Fella Records and headquartered in New York. Roc La Familia featured a broad array of artists encompassing such musical genres as Latin hip hop,reggae, reggaeton, pop, rock and more. Roc La Familia has since folded. The whole staff has reportedly been dismissed. A number of artists, such as N.O.R.E. have been complaining of the lack of promotion for some time. (All Music)
While Jay-Z, Dame Dash and Kareem Burke's well-respected Roc-A-Fella Records has all but demised after more than a decade of hit records, the New York rapper has since taken his dream and began his own company, Roc Nation, focused on managing and helping launch the careers of music newcomers like Wale, J. Cole and Melanie Fiona.
It was reported that Jay-Z, no longer heading Def Jam, has signed a deal with Live Nation to set up a joint venture called Roc Nation. Implementing a reportedly redesigned business model, the full service entertainment company serves as management for Wale and Melanie Fiona, and has signed North Carolina rapper J. Cole and British girl-group the Sugababes. Roc Nation has signed a deal and will be distributed by Sony Music Entertainment. (New York Times)[Check out The Rise & Fall of Death Row Records.]
[Check out The Rise & Fall of Bad Boy Records.]