Damon Dash recently took MTV News on a tour of his new Lower Manhattan art gallery/ studio compound, DD172. It's weird to think that the shirtless guy exposing his six-pack abs and splashing models with Armadale vodka in the "Big Pimpin' " video has an art gallery, but Dame would like to broaden the definition of a hip-hop mogul.
"I've always loved art and wanted to get involved in it," he said. "I'm always trying to do different new things and things that don't define what the perception of a hip-hop cat is. We don't only do the things they perceive us to do. We're pretty sophisticated."
One artist Dame said he's a big fan of is Graham Gilmore, whose work he's been buying since he made his first couple of dollars. Dame was excited to show MTV News Gilmore's work around his studio compound, saying that he finally ran into the Canadian artist at another friend's art studio.
"I felt, like, some special artist connection to him. ... [I said,] 'It would be an honor, actually, if I could have some of your art in my gallery.' All of them have a real specific meaning and come from a place in his heart. I wish he was here to explain all of these, because I can't."
Dame is more comfortable explaining the musical side of things. Once you get past the art gallery in the front, the DD172 space is devoted to music, a television network and a magazine. Another of the intellectual properties coming out of Dame's studio compound is his collaboration with Ohio blues-rock group the Black Keys, BlakRoc.
The project features Mos Def, RZA, Jim Jones and Q-Tip, and will be released on Black Friday, November 27. Dame said each artist had proven himself as a brand in hip-hop but had never worked with the others.
"People don't work together in the hip-hop community, but right now I'm working with Mos, I'm working with Jim Jones, I'm working with RZA, I'm working with Raekwon, I'm working with U-God, like why not? We're always supposed to share our resources."
He said there are all kinds of different artistic people teaming up at DD172. New Orleans rapper Curren$y, Mars Volta drummer Thomas Pridgen and Voodoo Farm guitarist Sean O'Connell are collaborating under the name the Muscle Car Chronicles. On any other day, Curren$y could be working with Mos Def and Jay Electronica.
"I'm a home body," Curren$y said. "I be in the N.O., but I've been out here for a month, just chilling, just grindin', just because of the vibe of this."
"We call this 'The 24-Hour Karate School,' 'The Super Friends,' all that. It's really a place where dudes can come kick it, get artistic, catch a vibe," Dame said. "We just get to build and chill and grow."