EXCLUSIVE: Old rumors about Roc-A-Fella Records may soon be laid to rest and, in some cases, confirmed. Music and film producer Damon Dash has partnered with Preachers Of L.A. executive producer Lemuel Plummer for a TV series that will tell the story of the storied rap label co-founded in 1996 by Dash, Kareem Burke, and rap superstar Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter.
“It means a lot that Damon trusts us to tell the story – the true story – of how two global music icons got their start and did nothing less than redefine pop culture,” Plummer said. “That story is so unbelievable and yet so true that we know we have an awesome responsibility as storytellers to get things right.”
Envisioned as a series that Dash and Plummer specifically liken to HBO’s Vinyl or The People Vs OJ Simpson, the show will examine the meteoric rise of the company that established Jay-Z as a leading voice in hip-hop, and later launched the career of Kanye West, while looking at the high cost of fame and the pursuit of it.
Dash, Burke, and Carter established Roc-A-Fella to release Jay-Z’s first album, Reasonable Doubt, after it had been rejected by several labels. The timing turned out to be both fortuitous and tragic — Roc-A-Fella and its growing roster of artists built around Jay-Z helped, as Dash puts it, “save hip-hop from itself” after the murders of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G in 1996 and 1997, respectively, upended the state of rap and the hip-hop community at large. By the early 2000s, Roc-A-Fella had grown into a boutique empire with a roster of artists including DJ Clue, Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleak, Cam’ron, and West, along with other ventures that included the Latin-music imprint Roc-A-Familia, as well as film and fashion units.
However, by 2005 tensions between the founders crystalized as Roc-A-Fella was sold to The Island Def Jam Music Group. In the process, Jay-Z became president and CEO of Def Jam, while the now-ousted Dash and Burke went on to other ventures, including their own label, Dame Dash Music Group. Roc-A-Fella continued to release records as a Def Jam imprint for several more years, but since 2010 the name has largely been associated only with releases by Jay-Z and Kanye West and is widely considered to be defunct.
Even before the split, rumors of tensions at the label were hot gossip, and former associates have dished about the split for years. Although Dash has expressed disappointment about Roc-A-Fella’s trajectory in several recent interviews, the principals have never publicly spoken ill of one another and the full story has never been told.
The proposed series could change that, as Dash and Plummer insist they’re planning what they call a “brutally honest account” about the rise of Roc-A-Fella touching on everything from Dash’s relationships with Aaliyah and Rachel Roy, to an in-depth look at Dash’s departure and the severing of his business relationship with Jay-Z.
Speaking to Deadline, Dash was coy but optimistic about the music that might make up the proposed show’s soundtrack. “As much music as I could get, I know what I own, and there’s a lot of different artists that would probably not have a problem with participating,” says Dash. “And hopefully Jay doesn’t either, but as of yet we haven’t crossed that barrier. I’m not worried about that.”
However, he and Plummer were quick to clarify the series won’t be focused on the music, but instead on the behind-the-scenes highs and lows, beginning from Dash’s private school upbringing and street hustling period to becoming Jay-Z’s manager and beyond. “What defined what we were doing is everything that was in my life equals Roc-A-Fella … there was a point of view at Roc-A-Fella I’m not quite sure people knew what it was. We had so much going on,” Dash said, citing the label’s film and fashion enterprises.
“It’s not about the music that you hear,” Plummer added. “It’s about the actual [behind-the-scenes] story that’s never been told.” The series won’t be a straight biopic about Dash or any of the label’s principals, however. “Roc-A-Fella as a movement wasn’t revolving around one person, but that’s the way it was made to look,” Dash added.
Even so, Dash’s perspective will define the show’s point of view. “My experience is colorless. The reason why Roc-A-Fella crossed and became so essential to pop culture is that we were probably the most authentic people that were also so sophisticated,” Dash told Deadline. “My experience doing white people sh*t is just as heavy as my experiences doing black people sh*t. Actually I think I’ve done white people sh*t better than white people.”
Damon Dash Studios and L. Plummer Media are jointly developing the project, with LPM overseeing production. It’s the second collaboration between the pair, having previously worked together on Plummer’s BET series Music Moguls featuring Dash along with rap moguls Birdman, Snoop Dogg and Jermaine Dupri.
Plummer’s other credits include Preachers Of L.A., Preachers Of Detroit, Preachers Of Atlanta, #The Westbrooks, Living With Funny starring Brandon T. Jackson, and Vindicated hosted by Morris Chestnut. Dash served as producer on the Mekhi Phifer-Wood Harris starring film Paid In Full; Shadow Boxer starring Oscar winners Helen Mirren and Cuba Gooding Jr; and executive producer on The Woodsman with Kevin Bacon.