Hip hop fans may be able to throw their Roc-A-Fella diamonds in the sky again real soon.
Former Roc-A-Fella Records executive, Damon Dash, was granted the licensing rights use the label’s name on Monday and plans to revamp the label that was once a force in music and hip-hop culture.
Dash, who founded Roc-A-Fella Records in 1996 along with Jay-Z and Kareem “Biggs” Burke, has said that the decision really came down to the opportunity being there and a “why not?” attitude.
The meteoric rise of the label was built off the strength of Jay-Z’s debut album, Reasonable Doubt, and at their height the Roc-A-Fella brand featured an unparalleled stable of artists including Kanye West, Cam’ron and Beanie Sigel. A highly successful fashion line in Rocawear, a movie division, Roc Films, that put out State Property and Paid in Full, and even dabbled in the alcoholic beverage industry, taking over U.S. distribution of Armadale vodka.
The decline of the label was ugly and, to some, calculated.
After stepping away from recording, Jay-Z became President and CEO of Def Jam in 2004, beginning the cycle that led to the dissolution of the label as it was known.
Others would argue that Dash bringing on Cam’ron as VP at the label in 2002 while Jay-Z was on vacation, was the beginning of the end. Either way, after a controlling stake of Roc-A-Fella was sold to Def Jam in 2004, the label was placed squarely under Jay-Z’s control and he seemed to be pushing Dash and Burke out of the picture.
Jay-Z told XXL magazine in 2005 that he was willing the refuse the position at Def Jam just for the masters to his debut album, Reasonable Doubt, and that Dash and Burke could have everything else but they refused.
During their heyday, fans could easily split the label down the middle, pairing those artists associated with Dash and those associated with Jay-Z. Artists like Beanie Sigel, State Property and The Diplomats being stamped Team Dame, and others like Memphis Bleek and Kanye West being Team Hov.
And after being acquired by Def Jam, artists caught in the shuffle were given the option of going forward with the label or moving to Dash and Burke’s Roc4Life label, which later became Dame Dash Music Group.
Dame Dash Music Group stumbled from the start with Beanie Sigel deciding to join Dash and Burke but the other members of State Property deciding to stay with Roc-A-Fella. The death of ODB, who’d recently joined the label and a growing list of tentative albums led to their demise.
Still under Def Jam’s umbrella, DDMG left the label and soon after folded.
Monday’s announcement allows Dash to use the brand he helped build and he seemed excited about the future, which he claims started with just pulling out the old chains “for kicks.”
The new Roc-A-Fella regime is likely to feature some familiar faces but also welcome buzzing New Orleans natives Curren$y and Jay Electronica into the fold.
Curren$y, who has also been on widely known New Orleans-based labels No Limit and Cash Money, is best known for his 2006 hit, “Where Da Cash At?,” while Jay Electronica, who’s probably best known for his relationship with soul songstress, Erykah Badu, has never released an official mixtape or album, but managed to build a following off the strength of his freestyles and seemingly random releases.
Electronica scored a hit recently with his single, “Exhibit C” which surprised many by making it into regular radio rotation without sounding like many songs that are considered “radio ready.”
Both have also captured huge online audiences through Twitter and other social networking that clamor to hear more new material from them.
The question remains as to whether the “new” Roc-A-Fella Records can be as successful as the previous incarnation and can the brand bounce back with a new face.
It’s been nearly a year since Roc-A-Fella’s last release, Jadakiss’ The Last Kiss, but the label is set to re-launch with Curren$y’s Pilot Talk slated to drop June 15. While fans may not be sold on the new lineup, the blogosphere is definitely intrigued by what could become of the former rap dynasty.
It’ll be important to watch who joins the imprint in the coming months. With the latest trend in the music being to carve things out as an independent entity, it’ll be interesting to see who Dash and the label could actually get into that fold.
Money talks more than anything but Dash spoke on how what people really enjoyed about the original incarnation of the label was the friendship and the bond that it stood for and that the label wasn’t originally built to sell records, it was more of a thing amongst friends.