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Artist-clothier has it all, and wants more

Record mogul turned entrepreneur tries his hand at film writing, directing in ‘State Property 2’. By Brian Balthazar
/ Source: NBC News producer

Damon Dash has a hard time buying things. This is not to say he's financially challenged. In fact, he's a millionaire several times over. The problem he faces is that he'd rather not give someone else his hard earned money, when he could be getting the profit for himself.

Now 33, Dash first became known through his formation of hip-hop label Roc-A-Fella Records, with fellow rapper Jay-Z. But in the years since, and following his split with “Z” and the label, he has built up a multi-million dollar clothing line, founded his own “Jay-Z”-free record company, started his own signature sneaker business, teamed up with a famous watchmaker, even bought a stake in a vodka brand. He's also the force to be reckoned with in an upcoming, “Apprentice”-like reality show in development for the BET network.

Somewhere in all that dealmaking, he also forged a film career. In the current feature, “State Property 2,” now in theaters, his name barely leaves the screen during the credits — director, co-writer, producer, and, oh yes, lead actor.

Damon, help me understand this — for “State Property 2,” you directed, co-wrote, produced and starred. Most people tackle just one of those, but you decided to do all of them. Which was most difficult?

Well, being the director was probably the most time-consuming because you have to prepare.  So whether I was writing or not, I was gonna be sitting with the writer anyway. And, you know, you have to edit, and you have to shoot. The acting was the easiest. That was fun.

So, when you've got your director's hat on,  do you ever have to say to yourself, “I kind of stunk in that last take?” How do you deal with that?

Absolutely, I just gotta deal. I mean, it's harder to watch yourself than to watch other people, you know what I mean? But I'm pretty decent. Still, I wish I could prepare a little more.

A lot of people believe that to be successful, you have to give 100 percent, you have to give everything you've got to one thing, but you have been successful in movies, music, clothing, merchandising, the list goes on...

...electronics, sneakers...

Exactly, so, why do you think that it's worked for you doing so many things? Do you run the risk of overextending yourself?

I mean, I just look at it like this: if someone has 5 or 6 kids, they can raise their 5 or 6 kids; it's just proper time delegation and knowing how to delegate your attention, so that's basically all it is. I love everything that I do, and I wish that I could spend more time on certain things, but if not, I try to facilitate whatever demand it is to get someone in there to take my place, but I'm more of a micro-manager, really. I just don't sleep, really, know what I mean?

So who's your favorite “kid”?

How could you ask a parent which is his favorite kid, know what I'm saying?

You must have one that is always gonna be...

...the most profitable one?

Aha! So your favorite is the most profitable one?

That's the only way I can equate it, know what I'm saying? I love them all, but the most profitable one is the clothing business right now, but I think they'll all be equally profitable if not more; one will be more profitable than the next.

Speaking of the clothing line, it's been around since 1999. So, a good portion of time has passed and styles change. Is there an item that you look back on and say, “Wow! I can't believe this item did as well as it did” or “I'd never wear that now?”

Iridescent jeans. When they first came out, I didn't want to make them. I was like, “I'm not making iridescent jeans.” And that was the biggest seller.

Now they're trying to fight with me to put velour suits back out, I'm like “I don't know about that...”

You bought Armadale Vodka back in 2002. So is the idea basically that if you like just about anything, and you think it will be profitable, you're gonna go for it?

I drink vodka, so...

You have a thing for vodka?

I have a thing about buying things and not owning them, ya know what I'm saying?

You have a hard time buying things and not owning them?

Yeah, like if we're promoting something we don't own ... we know what we like, and if it's real, we could do the research and make it better and then we could market it and sell it. I have a problem with making other people money.

I'm surprised you haven't bought “Mrs. Dash” seasoning.

I should ... or I'll just make Mr. Dash, know what I'm saying?

You seem pretty passionate about making more money — but do you ever have moments when you look around and say holy cow... I'm really rich!?

The funny thing about that is the more money I make, the more I want. On my first vacations, I'm going to the Bahamas or something. Then, you make money, then you go to St. Tropez. And what you notice is everybody's richer than you in St. Tropez, so I don't feel rich. I can't afford to just frivolously buy a $30 million yacht, you know what I'm saying? So I aspire to have what everybody around me has and more...

I'm never trying to be a big fish in a little pond. I wanna be a big fish in the ocean.