JAY-Z @ Billion Episode 04 - The Takeover: Jay-Z Ends Damon Dash & Becomes President Of Def Jam

JAY-Z @ Billion Episode 04 - The Takeover: Jay-Z Ends Damon Dash & Becomes President Of Def Jam

Developed and narrated by K.Qhamata 4 SMAART INCUBATOR, Inc.


Episode synopsis: JAY-Z fights against Damon for control of his masters recording rights for his first album Reasonable Doubt.  Strong arms the United Nations to build clean water well in Africa and becomes president of Def Jam. All while laying the foundation for the start of Roc Nation and ending his dependency on record labels, music managers and Roc-a-fella.

Full Episode Commentary

2004 JAY-Z Vs Damon Dash


The scene is iconic. A 34 year old year Jay-Z descending from a New York penthouse, clothed in the finest Hip Hop linens, wearing a fresh white pair of S. Carters (His signature Shoe he released with Reebok in 2003). In slow motion Jay takes his car keys from the penthouse valet, sits in a $250,000 luxury car, closes the door and starts the engine. A piano influenced melody drops with a settle baseline, and the words are uttered;

“ I heard motherfuckers saying they made Hov
Made Hov say, OK so, make another Hov
Niggaz wasn't playing they day role
So we parted ways like Ben and J-Lo.” 

The scene and its opening verse capsulate the opening 90 seconds of a music video for the song “Lost one”. A simple track explaining Jay-Z’s decision to leave business partner Damon Dash. The song and video wouldn’t come into being til 2006. But to understand the importance of what the song and video captures, we’ll need to journey back to January 14th 2004. When the New York Post ran an article called “ROC-KY BREAKUP – HIP-HOP’S JAY-Z, DAMON DASH PARTING WAYS”. 

The article revealed the shocking news that Jay-Z was creating a separate unnamed company outside of Roc-a-fella records with Def jam. The new company (which would eventually form into Roc nation) would handle all of Jay-Z’s endorsement deals and partnerships outside of Roc-a-fella. Universal Music, parent to Def Jam – which also was still backing Roc-A-Fella at time of the company’s formation – would provide startup funding and a line of credit to launch the venture. 

All Jay had to do was rap, the rest was my responsibility. All biggs had to do was keep telling us about the flyest shit and keep spending the best...you know he gave us that taste level. We all played our position, my job was to hustle hard and that’s it. And not let anybody in the room out work me period. My job was to lead by example. My job was to eat the food I kill in front of my crew, so they wana eat the food they kill.
— Damon Dash

This move by Jay-Z was the final loose thread that unraveled the Roc. The official split up of Roc-a-fella would come months later in December of ‘04. Where at a private dinner meeting between Jay and Damon, Jay-Z  would finally confront Damon and demand they part ways. Damon, who up until that moment had been trying  to consolidate power from Jay-Z  - by singing and appointing Cam’ron as of the president of Roc-a-fella, divesting Roc-a-fella’s cash assets into movies and knock out Ipods (Google Roc Box by Damon Dash), decided he would clap back with furry .


Seeing the formation of Jay’s new company and his leaving as the ultimate act of betrayal, Damon  along with business partner Kareem “Biggs” Burke, began a fight for the Roc-a-fella talent roster, the Roc-a-fella brand name and the master recording rights of Jay-Z’s first album “Reasonable Doubt”. Displaying a superior foresight, and market timing Jay-Z flipped the controversy to his favor. The morning after the private dinner meeting with Damon Jay-Z contacted L.A. Reid (The new chief executive of Def Jam) and not only accepted Def Jam’s terms to fund and back his new company, but he also accepted office of President. Henceforth, President Carter (As he would be fondly called by everyone hip hop) would function as Def Jam’s President, primary operations officer and talent scott. 

“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.”
— Lyor Cohen

In return for accepting the new position Def Jam would exercise their right to buyout the remaining 50% equity stake in Roc-a-fella from Jay-Z, Damon and Biggs, for $10 million in cash, plus another $20 million in assets.  After the purchase Def Jam would also give control of Roc-a-fella Records to Jay-Z during his tenure as President of the Label - and give him 100% ownership of the Roc-a-fella name and brand.

In the end Damon and Biggs would keep total ownership of Reasonable Doubt, Jay would inherit everything with the name or brand Roc-a-fella. The takeover had begun.

2005 Enter President Carter ( Def Jam )


In 2005 Jay-Z aka President Carter has ambitiously set up a new administration and reality at Def Jam. His former business partners Damon Dash and Kareem “Biggs” Burke have been ousted from Roc-a-fella. Victims of a perfectly staged coup Jay prophesied about in 2003 on the Blueprint album when he rapped “ The takeover, the break's over nigga / God MC, me, Jay-Hova/ Hey lil' soldier you ain't ready for war”. Indeed, no was ready for rise of what the XXL and Source magazine dubbed the Carter Administration.

During Jay-Z’s tenure as president of Def Jam he would oversee the development and release of 49 studio albums from over 20 different artists. Future superstars such as Rihanna, Rick Ross, Young Jeezy and Ne-yo would all flocked to Def Jam for the chance to work with Hov. Even legendary recording artists such as Patti Labelle and the Isley Brothers would consult the God MC on how to put out their projects. But with every new success would come new challenges. Toward the end of third quarter in 2005, murmurings about the lack of promotional spend on albums began to surfaced. Championed impart by an increasing disgruntled cast of Def Jam stars who were not use to seeing their production budgets slashed and albums shelved. The Carter administration was making enemies.

Not far from the offices of Def Jam, Jay-Z’s former partner, Damon Dash, is trying to make the next Jay-Z, partner with Floyd Mayweather and release a sea of independent films. In less than 12 months since the Def Jam buyout Damon Dash founds 10 new businesses. Bloated with cash from the Def Jam buyout, Damon goes out and investment spree. Tapping into everything from clothes, shoes, music, film, retail, luxury watches, vodka  and network television. Trying desperately to reinvent himself and prove he could be successful without Jay-Z, Damon would make the biggest mistake of his career - by selling the last of his stake in Rocawear to Jay-Z and company for $22 million.

2006 Kingdom Come ( Budweiser )


In 2006 Anheuser-Busch corporation teamed up Jay-Z, giving him the position co-brand director of Budweiser Select. As a brand director Jay-Z would help develop the Budweiser Select brand and marketing message. The partnership was intended not only to help Budweiser launch a new beer, but its prime intent was to jump-start the promotion of Jay-Z's newest album, "Kingdom Come," with a commercial that aired during "Monday Night Football" on ESPN. The deal marks the first time Anheuser-Busch had signed a celebrity to actively participate in the development of one of its beer brands.

Jay-Z’s return to the studio was unexpected and the set the music and entertainment world on fire. Jay-Z’s official last album, titled “The Black Album” was the highlight of 2003, and stayed on the charts throughout 2004.  A new album peaked everyone’s curiosity and left fans everywhere speculating about the album’s content, features and production. His new partnership with Budweiser would not only paid him a nice seven figure salary, but would also paid for the album’s production, marketing and promotion. Kingdom Come was released on November 21st, 2006 to moderate acclaim, but huge commercial success. Selling 680,000 units within its first week. 


U.N. Clean Water

Within that same year Jay-Z would become philanthropist. Discovering the epic crisis of Africa’s lack of clean drinking water, Jay would take his brand international. Bringing together the powers of the United Nations and different corporations, Jay-Z led a global awareness campaign to help build clean drinking wells in Africa. The campaign was iconic and incredibly successful. Spawning a 30-minute documentary, entitled the"Diary of Jay-Z: Water for Life," which debuted on MTV. The documentary follows Jay-Z during two visits to Angola, then Durban, South Africa.


Ace Of Spades

Jay's fancy beverage of choice in the early aughts was Cristal, but all of that changed in 2006, when Frederic Rouzaud, managing director of Cristal makers Louis Roederer, gave an interview with the Economist where he badmouthed rappers buying his product. "[W]hat can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it," he said. "I’m sure Dom Perignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business." Jay, incensed, announced a boycott of Cristal. Not long afterwards, he announced his own $300-a-bottle champagne, Armand de Brignac. It became known as "Ace of Spades" because of the logo on the bottle. Jay name-dropped it on a few songs, and the brand was off to the races. Earning Jay-Z millions in a matter of months.

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.