By The Voice
Hip Hop Vibe Staff Writer
Sixteen years ago, Jay-Z was a street hustler trying to go legit. He had teamed up with Damon Dash and Kareem “Biggs” Burke to launch his own record label. Jay-Z had attempted to get signed by major labels, but none of them saw his vision. The trio’s hail mary attempt was starting their own record label, Roc-A-Fella Records.
In 1996, Jay-Z released Reasonable Doubt and Roc-A-Fella Records took off. Memphis Bleek also signed to the label, while Jaz-O, a mentor, of sorts, to Jay-Z, and Sauce Money were expected to. For one reason or another, they never signed to the label. Roc-A-Fella Records soon established a distribution deal with Def Jam and hit it big.
Before the end of 1997, Jay-Z had a platinum album under his belt and was quickly becoming a big name in hip hop. By 1998, Jay-Z became the biggest rapper on the planet, propelled by his “Hard Knock Life” single. Soon, Def Jam was using Jay-Z to spin off the careers of DMX and Ja Rule. Because of Jay-Z’s initial flame, both rappers went on to achieve much success. Back at Roc-A-Fella Records, the label added several rappers from Philadelphia, which became State Property.
When the 2000s emerged, Roc-A-Fella Records had become the biggest hip hop label in the game. Every rapper in the game wanted to be a part of the movement. If an artist did not want to sign to the Roc, they wanted a beat from one of the in-house producers. Due to the success they were having, Damon Dash decided the company should branch out, which led to the 1999 launch of Rocawear. Corporate giants were watching Roc-A-Fella Records, as they had become much more than an independent record label.
Most independent record labels were founded when an artist had trouble getting signed. After creating one hit, the label gets picked up by a bigger label and the star makes hits. Roc-A-Fella Records bucked the trend and continued to sign more artists. Not only was Roc-A-Fella Records signing artists, they were also helping artists out with their movements. Beanie Sigel created State Property Records under the Roc, Memphis Bleek’s Get Low label was founded in 1998, under Roc-A-Fella Records.
Roc-A-Fella Records’ biggest move came in 2001, when Cam’ron was signed. Being from Harlem, Cam’ron knew Damon Dash and the two were friends. Cam’ron was also the head of his own label, Diplomat Records and he came to Roc-A-Fella for a deal. Unlike other artists signed to Roc-A-Fella, Cam’ron had buzz before signing to the label. Previously, Cam’ron had a deal with Sony Records. But, in 2002, he had the biggest hit of his career with “Oh Boy” and his only platinum album, to-date, Come Home with Me.
By 2003, it was clear Roc-A-Fella Records was much more than hip hop, with a film division, a clothing line, subsidiary labels, and a liquor brand. The major corporate players had watched long enough and they decided it was time to make an offer. Def Jam offered to buy complete control of Roc-A-Fella Records and offer an executive role to Jay-Z. Already worth well over $100 million, Jay-Z would have been well without the role with the company.
However, a behind the scenes beef with his partners prompted Jay-Z to move with Def Jam. But, had their not been any beef, Roc-A-Fella Records could have either turned Def Jam down, or made a counter-move. Either way, the label could have continued to run the game. Had Roc-A-Fella Records turned Def Jam down, they could have easily established a new deal with another label, which could have been much more lucrative.
A bigger focus could have been placed upon the sub-labels, building their stars. With Kanye West emerging, the Roc-A-Fella movement could be what the Cash Money movement currently is. Cash Money Records has big names, such as Bow Wow and Lil Wayne and is also the head of the Young Money movement. It could have been the same way for Roc-A-Fella Records and Jay-Z could have been just as rich, if not richer, had the partners been able to stay together.