Developed and narrated by K.Qhamata 4 SMAART INCUBATOR, Inc.
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Episode Synopsis: Jay-Z inks a sneaker deal with Reebok and makes history with the Blueprint album. Damon Dash spirals out of control at the loss of girlfriend Aaliyah, and begins to fight executives at Def Jam. Jay-Z moves away from Dame and begins alliances with Lyor Cohen, President of Def Jam and Steve Stoute, former manager and adviser to Nas. Finally tired of hip hop drama and Dame, Jay retires after the release of the Black Album.
2001 Blueprint (Enter Lyor Cohen)
In the second week of September 2001 the twin towers of the world trade center fell, Alicia Keys and Linkin Park release their debut albums, B.E.T is sold to viacom and Bush-Cheney declare war. But on Tuesday, September 11th amidst the chaos of the nation's most horrific terrorist attack, music fans still make it to the store to pick up Jay-Z sixth studio album, simply called “The Blueprint”.
The Blueprint was reportedly cut in two weeks, with Jay-Z writing the lyrics in two days. Upon its release, The Blueprint was hailed by Vibe magazine as Jay-Z's best album as well as the best album of the year, while hip hop magazines like The Source awarded The Blueprint a perfect 5-mic rating, a distinction reserved for hip hop classics during the 90’s and early 2000s. The Blueprint sold over 350,000 during the week of 9/11 and would go on to go platinum.
But this was the beginning of the end. On his rise to becoming Hip Hop’s King, Jay allowed himself to succumb to the petty vices of rap fame and fortune. In 2001 while recording The Blueprint he was awaiting two criminal trials for gun possession and assault (e.g. Lance Un Rivera stabbing). The anointed first lady of Roc-a-fella, Amil (A-million), an artist he personally signed to the label was leaving. And local New York rappers Prodigy (of Mobb Deep) and Nas we’re throwing rocks at the throne.
To make matters worse his relationship with long time business partner Dame Dash was disintegrating. Drunken with success, and devastated by the loss of his girlfriend/fiancee Aaliyah - Dash was a man spiralling out of control. Verbally assaulting Def Jam V.P.’s, A & R’s and general managers (e.g. Randy Acker Damon), over what he believed to be an overstep of Def Jam’s influence in Roc-a-fella business. Dame declared war anyone who didn’t share his vendetta against the established music industry and its parents, corporate america.
Jay-Z proves to be resilient during this rough period. Eventually beating the criminal charges of gun possession and assault. Jay is able to pave over the rocky relationships created by Dame. Turning indifferent business associates like Lyor Cohen into close confidantes and mentors.
2002 Armadale Vodka Vodka (The Gift & The Curse)
In an unprecedented move, Jay-Z, Kareem “Biggs” Burke and Damon Dash purchased Armadale Vodka. Armadale Vodka that is eighty proof liquor that was only been available in Scotland until 2002. The purchase was led by Damon Dash’s ambitions to make Roc-a-fella a lifestyle brand.
“Roc-A-Fella has always respected quality vodkas, such as Belvedere and Grey Goose. Just like we do with all of our businesses we wanted to present a vodka that represented the best and we feel Armadale is of elite quality,” said Dame Dash in a statement to AHH.com.
Few people remember the Armadale vodka purchase because it quietly flopped. A victim of poor business management and strategy, the failure would never be fully publicized in order to protect the invincibility image of Jay-Z and Roc-a-fella. While the low visibility of the vodka company’s flop spared the Roc brand, it did nothing to quell the ever growing rift between Jay and Dame.
Tensions were increasing, and Dame complicated matters further by signing harlem native Cam'ron and local rap super group, The Diplomats to Rocafella. Agreeing to put Cam's third studio album, "Come Home With Me" without fully consulting with Jay-Z. Cam's release is success and marks another platinum plaque on the halls of Rocafella, but is largely seen as power grab by Jay-Z.
2002 ended uneventfully for Jay-Z. His 7th album, the Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse, released on November 12th of that calendar year would go platinum. Selling over two million records within 18 month period. All due to Jay’s inhuman popularity and the album’s hit single “03 Bonnie & Clyde” featuring R&B pop star Beyonce. But hardcore Jay-Z fans and critics would find disappointment in the project. Noting the lack of vision apparent on the album and the large number of filler cuts ( i.e. Low quality songs meant to fill up listening space on the album).
2003 Reebok & The 40/40 Club
In 2003, attempting to move past the in house controversy between him and Damon Dash, Jay-Z forms a new partnership with former Detroit Tigers outfielder, Juan Perez, to start The 40/40 Club. The 40/40 CLUB, an all-American sports bar and lounge opened its doors to the public on June 18, 2003 in New York. The club is 12,000 square feet of pure sports and entertainment, styled after the lifestyle of Hova. Within its first year the Club is a massive success and racks in revenue in the seven figures.
Powered up from the launch of 40/40, Jay-Z inks a deal that will change Hip Hop and the sports apparel world forever. The S. Carter shoe by Reebok, released at the beginning of 2003 marked the first time a rapper or entertainer would be partnered with a major athletic shoe brand. Creating a trend that would eventually dominate both the hip hop and sports worlds for years to come - Mr S. Carter (Jay-Z) becomes the first hip hop star with a major shoe deal. Increasing his net worth to $50 million, Jay-Z finally cuts his teeth outside the business of Hip Hop and Damon Dash.
On the 318th day of 2003 in mid November Jay-Z releases his 8th album, The Black Album, and formally announces his retirement from Hip Hop. No more hit singles, summer anthems and witty Jay-Z anecdotes. It was the ending of an era, but the birth of a new, improved Jay-Z. With the Black Album Jay-Z would not only close the door on his career as a rapper, he would also close the door on Roc-a-fella, Dame and Biggs.
Sources: Armadale Vodka Press Release 2002, Kareem 'Biggs" Burke Interview Rap Radar, The Source 2002 September Issue, MTV Article Big Un Stabbing, U.S. Damon Dash Aaliyah Article, Memphis Bleek Drink Champions Interview, Amil Hip hop DX Interview, Rap Radar Randy Acker, Lyor Cohen Drink Champs Interview, Lyor Cohen Bio Wiki.
Khufere Qhamata, is the founder of the SMAART INCUBATOR, a serial entrepreneur, and dedicated futurist. He is chief executive of Leap72, a strategic innovation consultancy advising corporations on how to use startup economics to grow and compete for the future. He is also a co-founder and board member of Academy M, a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit specializes in the mentorship and career development of millennials. You can follow him on Linkedin.