Roc-A-Fella Records was once one of the most storied labels and rap crews in the business. Under the guidance of Jay-Z, Damon Dash and Kareem “Burke” Biggs, artists like Kanye West, Beanie Sigel, Cam’ron, Memphis Bleek and Freeway were able to carve out careers for themselves that would carry on even after the label disbanded.
On Wednesday’s “RapFix Live” with host Sway, Free discussed the last days of the Roc, the separation that existed between the record label’s subdivisions and how he was able to bounce back.
“At one point in time we were a family. The whole thing about Roc-A-Fella that they pride themselves on is the family structure,” Freeway said of the label that was composed of a number of sub-crews like the Diplomats, State Property and Bleek’s Get Low clique. Free then went on to describe how the once-united crews came to be divided.
By 2005, the Jay-Z/Dame Dash feud was dominating headlines, but for Free, the reality didn’t set in until after he dropped his 2007 sophomore album. “It definitely was a point in time when I was like, ’Oh sh–, what am I gonna do?’ ” the bearded MC recalled, saying that it was former Roc-A-Fella A&R Lenny Santiago who broke the news to him and State Property. “I think it was the time when it was really over and everybody got dropped, after [’07’s] Free at Last, probably like a couple of months after that, that’s when we realized. Lenny S. came to Philly to talk to us.
“He was like, ’Look, man, it’s gonna be some changes again; everything ain’t how it was,’ basically, ’It’s over.’ ”
Without a hint of bitterness in his voice, the street-hardened MC described his mind-set. “What I did is go back to what I normally do,” he told Sway.
According to Philly Freezer, when he first appeared on Jay-Z’s “1-900-Hustler” in 2000, he wasn’t actually signed to Roc-A-Fella: His deal came after a series of radio freestyles and battles in which Free proved himself. So when his deal with the legendary label dissolved, he went back to what he knew, grinding on the underground level. Free’s 2010 Stimulus Package, produced with Jake One, helped cement his status as a formidable MC and should nicely set up his Diamond in the Rough LP coming later this year.
To let Freeway tell it, the transition from being under the Roc umbrella was relatively easy. “When the whole breakup came, I just went back to what I know,” he said. “It was actually better for me because I already had a name established from the Roc-A-Fella brand.”