Dame Dash Outsources Himself To China
Say what you will about Dame, but he’s always been hustling entrepreneur so in folloiwng the example of other sucessful businesses, he is outsourcing himself to China!
Damon Dash was once a living, breathing vision of hip-hop extravagance. You may have seen him in rapper Jay-Z’s music video for the smash hit “Big Pimpin’,” dancing on a yacht in the middle of the Caribbean, one hand holding a bottle of Cristal, the other clutching the waist of a scantily clad woman.
Today, years after a falling out with business partner and friend Jay-Z – the two founded Roc-A-Fella records in 1996 – and a humbling bout with personal and financial troubles (a divorce and the foreclosure of his Manhattan loft in 2009), Mr. Dash, 40, cuts a noticeably low-key figure, with ambitions that are less hip-hop mogul than creative entrepreneur.
His three-year-old company, DD172 – an amalgam of his initials and a former street address – is part business, part passion project. Mr. Dash and his crew of creative staff (each one an artist, musician, photographer or designer) work on a slew of projects, from indie-music albums to short films to art exhibitions. But perhaps the most ambitious initiative, one that Mr. Dash and his crew have worked on for the last year and a half, is about to be realized: the launch of a DD172 branch in Hong Kong.
Aiding the former rap mogul in the process, and representing the Hong Kong project, are Chan Kwong-yan, best known as Hong Kong rap pioneer MC Yan, and American expat Shelly Pecot. Together with Mr. Dash, their goal is to create a “talent incubator” — a record label and studio space where they can host live shows.
Mrs. Pecot – a 45-year-old mother of two who relocated to Hong Kong in 2009 after her husband, a banker, transferred to the city – is an unlikely partner in the project but played a crucial role in kick-starting Mr. Dash’s Asia venture.
“Shelly was my neighbor in New York a few years back,” Mr. Dash said. “We shared the same rooftop and our kids played together.”
When Mrs. Pecot informed Mr. Dash of her Hong Kong relocation, he suggested she look into setting up potential shows for his performers.
Intrigued by the idea, Mrs. Pecot began contacting music promoters after she arrived in the city.
In May 2010, she met local music promoter Justin Sweeting – who was organizing a concert for U.K. folk singer Frank Turner – and inquired about potential stage time for McKenzie Eddy, a petite blonde singer and one of Mr. Dash’s partners at DD172.
“Justin was super helpful, and he gave us a slot,” Mrs. Pecot said.
Mr. Dash flew in to attend the intimate show, which took place at a bar on Luard Road in Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district. It was his first time in the city, and according to Mrs. Pecot, he was hooked.
For DD172, she said, “that was, essentially, the first Asia moment.”
Mr. Dash and Mrs. Pecot have since organized several shows across Asia over the last year and half. Members of DD172′s U.S. crew – including, among others, Ms. Eddy, rockers the London Souls (watch their music video, “Old Country Road,” set in Hong Kong) and producer Sean O’Connell – have performed alongside mainland bands Re-TROS and Hedgehog, and former Chinese DMC Turntable champion DJ Wordy, in Thailand, Beijing and Shanghai. In Hong Kong, Mr. Chan, a founding member and chief lyricist to seminal rap group LMF, bonded with Mr. Dash over their shared love of hip-hop.
The talent went both ways – a year ago, Mr. Dash set up New York gigs for Re-TROS and Hedgehog – two bands that have toured extensively in Asia but had never been to the U.S.
“The point of these shows – these collaborations – is to bridge the gap between Western and Eastern music,” Mr. Dash said. “Music can break any barrier, be it cultural or language.”
Currently, Mrs. Pecot and Mr. Chan are seeking venues for Hong Kong’s DD172 space, which they hope will nurture local artists and promote creativity. Mrs. Pecot said theWest Kowloon Cultural District had been a potential venue, but an abundance of red tape and restrictions got in the way. They tried several locations in Sheung Wan, but were outbid.
“Hong Kong land is notoriously hard to secure unless you’re opening a mall or a restaurant,” said Mr. Chan, adding that the space will likely end up somewhere “ghetto,” such as a warehouse in the Kwun Tong industrial area.
In the meantime, the group has settled on a temporary solution – a pop-up space inside an established venue – until they find a permanent spot. Mrs. Pecot said they have support from independent studio Red Room Sound & Media in Aberdeen and XXX Gallery in Sheung Wan.
Mr. Dash, meanwhile, has found support for the project via business partner Adidas. The sports apparel giant had previously sponsored DD172’s music division, BluRoc Records, and art exhibitions in the U.S.
Upcoming shows in Hong Kong are in the works, with Hedgehog and U.S. indie band the Mystery Lights set to playing alongside MC Yan and DJ Prepare this March. And they won’t just feature music.
“The old model of music, where artists try to get on the radio and then sell albums, is dead,” Mr. Dash said. “We want to do multimedia, with short films and art exhibitions on top of the beats.”
Mr. Chan, an established graffiti artist in Hong Kong, said he’s excited about a planned project that will showcase his work as MC Yan alongside works by New York street artists.
“It’ll be good to show the world how Chinese street artists thrive,” he said.
For Mr. Dash, DD172 has been a comeback of sorts after his heavily publicized departure from Roc-A-Fella records in 2005. (Kanye West famously addressed the controversy with a line in his Grammy Award-winning song, “Diamonds from Sierra Leone”: “You know the next question: Where Dame at?”)
“That stuff I did with Jay-Z and Kanye [West] before, it was about ego – who had more girls, who had more cash, who had more power – I don’t think that’s the right message for me now,” he said. “I’m getting old.”