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Jim Jones and Damon Dash on Their New Play and Making the Next ‘Reasonable Doubt’

Renate Aller's Seascape 8 (2006)

In the early part of this decade, when people still cared about Harlem's the Diplomats, Jim Jones was known as the crew's capo, the cartoony second-in-command to Cam’ron. But in 2006 Jones shifted to the spotlight with his hit single "We Fly High, then, to the surprise of most people familiar with his music, managed to parlay the modest success into a jump from independent Koch Records to a 50-50 deal with Columbia. Which makes sense given the support of Damon Dash, who's been as active a partner in the "Jim Jones for Superstar" movement as Jones himself — together, they’ve worked on a documentary, a coffee-book travelogue, a workout DVD, and … a play! Before tonight's closing performance of the Hip Hop Monologues, a slightly ill-advised (we saw it) stage adaptation of Jones's life story, Vulture spoke with both Jim and Dame to figure out just what, exactly, they were thinking.

Could you see that Dipset was falling apart, that Cam’ron wasn’t going to maintain his place in the industry?
Jones: I just know there were a lot of things going on. You find out who really wants to be around one another once money comes into play. See, for a minute, it was one-sided. He was the breadwinner, obviously. For the most part, I was just trying to stay above water, because I wasn't in the streets hustling anymore. I finally figured out what I needed to do to get enough money to control my own destiny in the industry. [But] we were like brothers. That was a hard blow. They see [Cam] in Harlem all the time and stuff like that. I don’t think he’s hiding underneath a cave or anything like that. But the communication between us doesn't exist.

Now the high-profile partnership is between you and Dame.
Jones: To be here right now and be able to work with him, have him consulting me for the moves I make in the industry, so I don't fuck up? He's already made history.
Dash: With me, I was so focused on the fashion that I didn't even really hear what people were saying about me in the business. On the ego side, I want to show motherfuckers, look, I left the business, it’s not because I had to. And when I come back, I’m gonna change the economy as well. Since I’m coming from fashion, I understand the concept of building a brand. I have these resources that most rappers at this point in their career don’t have: He’s not the kind of guy that people expect to be in the same room with the likes of an Anna Wintour or do records with groups like MGMT. If I had these resources when I was doing Reasonable Doubt, I would have made a billion dollars.

Jim isn’t really considered a lyrically gifted M.C. How are you gonna change that?
Dash: If you come down and listen to his album [Pray IV Reign], and I’m not sure if I’m too close to the music or the project, but shit sounds like a classic. I’m a make a bold statement and put it in the same league as Reasonable Doubt and The Chronic.

Dame, are you gonna stick around in music after this project is done?
Dash: You never know what opportunity will present itself. It’s a component to everything I want to be doing. We also did a documentary, a movie, a play. I don’t have a Tony, and I don’t have an Oscar. I need those things. We’re gonna reinvent the way you sell records. And we will get copied. We’re gonna change the economy of the music business. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, but it seemed like the day I stopped doing music was the day the music business went down, not to sound arrogant or cocky

What about the Dipset brand? Is that something you’re going to build back up?
Dash: I feel that it’s never reached its top potential. What I smell right now with the Dipset is Death Row, Bad Boy, and Rocafella combined. Because they’ve already been through all the stupid shit, and they work hard. All they need is organization, and that’s me.

Are you worried about the play being an embarrassment?
Jones: Definitely it’s a gamble. But let’s do it. Shit, if it don’t work, what are they gonna say? He bombed? All over every newspaper, media, press, everything? Shit, it’s all for the publicity at the end of the day. Hopefully, they hail me like a genius.

Photo: Getty Images