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Hip-Hop’s Most Impactful Black Founders And Moguls

Hip-Hop’s Most Impactful Black Founders And Moguls
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Shawn “JAY-Z” Carter, Damon Dash, Kareem “Biggs” Burke

Sean "JAY-Z" Carter, Damon Dash, Kareem "Biggs" Burke
Image Credit: Steve Granitz/WireImage; Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for Damon Dash Studios;

A list of dynastic Black music founders would be incomplete without the inclusion of Damon Dash, Shawn “JAY-Z” Carter, and Kareem “Biggs” Burke. In 1994, Dash and Burke, both natives of Harlem, joined forces with JAY-Z to help the Brooklyn rapper secure a record deal, first landing the upstart a singles deal with Payday Records. Failing to garner a serious offer from another label once their contract with Payday was up, in 1995, the trio took it upon themselves to launch their own imprint, Roc-A-Fella Records, which would become one of the seminal brands in Hip-Hop over the subsequent decade. Inking a distribution deal with Priority Records, Roc-A-Fella released JAY-Z’s debut album Reasonable Doubt in June 1996, which was hailed as a critical success and stamped the newcomer as one of the premier wordsmiths in rap. 

The buzz surrounding Reasonable Doubt helped earn Roc-A-Fella a 50/50 partnership with Def Jam the following year, with Def Jam purchasing a 50% stake in the label for $1.5 Million. Returning with JAY-Z’s sophomore album In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 in November 1997, the trio capitalized on the momentum from the platinum-certified effort. Dash, Burke, and Hov took things into overdrive in 1998, topping the Billboard album chart with JAY-Z’s Grammy Award winning Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life album, which has sold over six million copies in the U.S. to date. The trio also released their first film, Streets Is Watching, which was accompanied by a soundtrack and marked the launch of the label’s film division. 

In addition to R&B acts Christión and Rell, Roc-A-Fella signed rappers Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel, Amil, and DJ Clue, all of whom appeared on his solo albums and released their own debuts on Roc-A-Fella. The label’s first artist besides JAY-Z, Bleek was introduced on the Reasonable Doubt song “Coming of Age” and released his Gold-certified debut Coming of Age in 1999. Beanie Sigel, and Amil, who both appeared on Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life, released their debut albums The Truth and All Money Is Legal in 2000, with Sigel earning a Gold plaque. That year also marked the return of Bleek, whose sophomore album The Understanding also reached the Gold mark, as did DJ Clue’s The Professional 2. By 2002, JAY-Z had become among rap’s most esteemed emcees, while Dash and Biggs were renowned for their business acumen.

Building his legend with the chart-topping, platinum-selling albums Vol. 3… Life & Times of S. Carter, The Dynasty: Roc-La-Familia, and Blueprint 1 & 2, JAY-Z capped off his epic run with The Black Album in 2003. Dash’s reputation as a fiery deal-broker was well-earned, as moves like the launch of street wear brand Roc-A-Wear, Roc-A-Fella Films, and other offshoots of the label were credited to the Harlemite. The acquisition of new talent like Philadelphia’s State Property and Kanye West and free agents like Cam’ron and The Diplomats, M.O.P. and Ol’ Dirty Bastard was also indicative of The Roc being an attractive destination.

In December 2004, it was announced that JAY-Z, Dash, and Burke had sold the remaining 50% stake of Roc-A-Fella Records for a reported $10 Million, ending their decade-long partnership. In addition, it was also revealed that JAY-Z had accepted a position as CEO and President of Def Jam Recordings, retaining control of Roc-A-Fella, as well as his master recordings. He would bring along Roc-A-Fella artists Kanye West, Memphis Bleek, Young Gunz, and Freeway to join him at Def Jam, and sign Foxy Brown, Jadakiss, and Uncle Murda. JAY-Z also resumed his music career, releasing several more studio albums, all of which debuted atop the Billboard 200 and surpassed one million units sold. 

Stepping down as President of Def Jam in 2007, JAY-Z inked a 10-year, $150 Million deal with Live Nation for his Roc Nation venture the following year, buying out his recording contract with Def Jam for $5 Million in 2009. Under Roc Nation, the rapper has helped shepherd the careers of Rihanna, J. Cole, Meek Mill, Jay Electronica, and others. In 2017, the rapper re-signed with Live Nation for another 10-year agreement, this time worth $200 Million. Now a billionaire and philanthropist, JAY-Z owns several businesses, including Armand de Brignac champagne and Monogram, and is the wealthiest musician in the world as of 2023, with an estimated net-worth of $2.5 billion. Dash has also found success post-Roc-A-Fella, founding DD172, BluRoc Records, and Damon Dash Studios, the latter of which has aired content on FOX Soul. In 2018, Burke executive produced the film, O.G. which premiered on HBO, and was nominated for an Emmy for his work on the film It’s a Hard Truth, Ain’t It, which he co-directed and executive produced. His management company, Circle of Success, has a roster that is headlined by rapper/singer/songwriter SAINt JHN and podcast host/media personality/rapper, N.O.R.E. of Drink Champs. It’s all still the ROC.



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