After a strong start this year with albums by Kanye West and the Young Gunz, Roc-A-Fella hasn't put out any product. M.O.P. have had to turn to rock and roll to keep their names out there, and despite a mean buzz, Beanie Sigel's LP has been pushed to late September and Cam'ron may not drop until the end of the year.
Plus, due to some recent staff restructuring, there have been rumors that the unfathomable is about to go down — that the Roc is about shut down. Other chatter has the Roc leaving Def Jam and finding distribution elsewhere.
On Friday the label's mouthpiece and CEO, Damon Dash, stopped by MTV and denied that his company was closing its doors. "It ain't like Roc-A-Fella could ever fold," he scoffed. "We've made too much money to fold. That's impossible." But he did say he may be putting up a "for sale" sign in the future.
The Roc is at a crossroads.
"After a decade of success and consistent good music and quality individuals, there comes a time when you can extend your contract or you could sell your company and you can still run things like Russell [Simmons] did with Def Jam and Jimmy Iovine did with Interscope. That's what's happening with us now. The question is, if we do decide to sell the rest of the equity in Roc-A-Fella, how do we move forward?"
Dash said he and his partners, Jay-Z and Kareem "Biggs" Burke, have talked about the company's future, but even if they sold their equity in the company, Dame still wants to call the shots.
"All that is paperwork. We'll never break up," he insisted. "It's Roc-A-Fella for life. I would never pass the torch or leave any of my artists. I look at them like my family, almost like my children. I would never leave them with anybody else. Who else could run Roc-A-Fella but me?
"I signed Kanye personally. I'm just gonna walk away from my man? Couldn't happen." added Dash, who said he and his company have been negotiating with Def Jam for years. "Who else could deal with Beanie Sigel's life and Cam'ron? They have to be understood. We're very unique individuals, and each person get marketed a different way. That's impossible. All we can do is expand and get more money. The purpose of business is to build equity in it and sell it and start another one. But the Roc is something that's my heart, my life, my soul."
On Sunday in New York, Dame had most of his family and a few friends in tow during the city's annual Puerto Rican Day Parade (click for photos). Dash assembled three floats, and by noon he and the Roc were lined up and ready to roll out. The float in front was was supposed to carry Dash, Biggs, West, Juelz Santana and new Roc artist GLC; the second was for artists from Roc-A-Fella's soul division, NBA baller Carmelo Anthony and middleweight boxing champ Winky Wright; and the third was for Beanie Sigel's chain gang of Philly rappers, State Property.
As the day started to progress, the floats lined up on 45th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue just sat there, but the activity was poppin' nonetheless as the Roc's stars interacted with each other and the fans.
"Of course I got a little bit in my blood — I'm Puerto Rican — but I just came out to support [Roc-A-Fella]," said Carmelo, who was the first to arrive. When the Roc arrived, it was anarchy. Kanye, Dame and Beanie were swarmed by fans seeking autographs and hugs.
"It's not the Puerto Rican Day Parade, it's the entire world," Dame said with his arms around Sigel and West. "We're paying appreciation to everybody that pays appreciation to us."
Kanye was drained from performing at Summer Jam and then filming the third version of his "Jesus Walks" video until 7 a.m. that morning, but he still found time to come out and show team cohesion.
"This is the reason why I'm able to stand here and do a parade," he said of his Roc-A-Fella brethren. "My whole family helps me out with so many situations. [Roc-A-Fella] helped with my respect and validity I needed to move to the 2 million units I'm at now."
While the floats remained stuck on 45th Street, the party remained in full swing. Christina Milian, Nina Sky, MTV's La La and members of the Terror Squad danced to "Lean Back" on the Hot 97 float while Fat Joe walked around in the street hollering at fans.
"I was the first person to bring hip-hop to the Puerto Rican Day parade," Joe said, wearing a Big Pun T-shirt. "I'm proud of that. The youth is out here crazy. We always have a great time."
Down the block on the Roc float, DJ Envy spun records, but Dame wanted to give the fans a little more, so he had Peedi Crakk and Beanie Sigel perform their new record "Flatline." "Fresh out the federal, cases I got several," Sigel lip-synced as the music blasted, using hand gestures to add emphasis to his raps.
After about the third time the duo performed the record, the police came by and said the music was too loud, then shut the power down for several minutes. When the juice came back on, Freeway and Young Chris of the Gunners stood at the bottom of the float and joined in. "Frontline of the Roc take over your block!" Freeway rapped.
About 45 minutes later, the floats on 45th Street finally joined the parade, and at the end of the procession, Dame and Biggs presented organizers with a check for $15,000. "As you can see, I'm tired, I'm hoarse, but we put it down," Dash said before leaving. "We're all one big family, and whenever you need us we'll be there."