Founders: Shawn Corey Carter, Damon Dash & Kareem Burke
Parent label: Universal Music Group
Roc-A-Fella Records is a hip-hop record label founded by Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, Damon Dash and Kareem “Biggs” Burke. The label is now owned by Def Jam; by the end of 2008, Live Nation will take over. A subsidiary of Universal Music Group. The label is in reference to American oil magnate and businessman John Rockefeller.
In 1996, Jay-Z and then-business partners Damon Dash and Kareem Biggs Burke needed an avenue to put out Jay’s music. With no luck signing to any major labels, they decided to found Roc-A-Fella Records and put out his first album, Reasonable Doubt, independently. They managed to procure distribution from Priority Records; though Reasonable Doubt was not a major commercial success, it was highly acclaimed critically, and (along with a cosign from The Notorious B.I.G.) helped propel Jay-Z to popularity. The early roster consisted of Jay-Z, Sauce Money, and Memphis Bleek; former friend Jaz-O, duo Da Ranjahz, and producers DJ Ski and DJ Clark Kent were also affiliated. The label’s next release was Carter’s second album, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1, in 1997; 1998 saw an increase in activity with the release of the Streets Is Watching Soundtrack, Memphis Bleek’s Coming of Age and Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life. Vol. 2 was Jay-Z’s first platinum release as well as the highest-selling, helping to secure Roc-A-Fella’s future as a record label. By this time, Sauce Money had signed straight to Priority to release his album; Jaz-O had become more involved with his own label and roster; and Da Ranjahz had gone separate ways from the label, as had Ski and Clark Kent. In their places a new roster was signed, consisting of Amil and Beanie Sigel. In 1999, Jay-Z embroiled himself and (to a lesser extent) the rest of the label in a verbal feud with rapper Nas which lasted until 2002.
2000 saw Memphis Bleek release his second album, The Understanding, the first appearances by Beanie Sigel and Amil, and the first Roc-A-Fella release to feature heavy production by Just Blaze. Understanding was followed by The Dynasty: Roc La Familia, a Roc roster album billed as a Jay-Z release. The album featured Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek and Jay-Z heavily, with appearances by Amil and Freeway, who was signed shortly thereafter. Production was handled largely by Just Blaze and Bink, with input by then-newcomer Kanye West, Rick Rock and The Neptunes. Earlier in 2000, Beanie Sigel released his first album, The Truth. Jay-Z put out his sixth album The Blueprint, in 2001, the same year Beanie Sigel released his second album, The Reason. Both were produced mainly by Bink!, Just Blaze, and Kanye West who influenced the sound of Roc-A-Fella to include sped-up or heavily chopped 70’s soul samples over an up-tempo framework of drums and bass. The label’s disagreements with Nas began dying down; Amil was dropped from the label; and up until 2003, more and more artists were being signed to the roster. Beanie Sigel and Freeway put together State Property, a group of Philadelphia-based rappers; Cam’ron was signed, putting out his platinum-selling album Come Home With Me in 2002, before bringing his own group The Diplomats to the label. From 2002 to 2003, Dame Dash signed several artists in response to Jay-Z’s talk of retirement after his 2002 album The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse. He signed M.O.P. and Ol’ Dirty Bastard, gave Grafh a joint-venture deal, and attempted to sign Twista and Joe Budden. Rumors of dissent among the ranks began to breed, as sources said Jay-Z wasn’t getting along with Dame or Biggs, and Cam’ron was gunning for a CEO position promised to him by Dame Dash, among other things. This ultimately led to talk that Roc-A-Fella was breaking up. Meanwhile, Beanie Sigel was going through murder trials, eventually leading to a year-long incarceration. Cam’ron’s Diplomats and State Property released Diplomatic Immunity and The Chain Gang Vol. 2 respectively in 2003, as well as Freeway’s first album Philadelphia Freeway, and Memphis Bleek’s third album M.A.D.E.; but the label’s highest-profile release that year was Jay-Z’s “final” studio album, The Black Album. After its release, Carter held a large retirement party-style concert in Madison Square Garden being the fact that this album was intentionally intended to be his last album.
2004 brought Beanie Sigel’s incarceration, rape charges against Dame Dash and Jay-Z’s retirement. While Cam’ron released his second album Purple Haze and the Young Gunz released their début, Tough Luv, Kanye West’s The College Dropout became the biggest success for the label that year; however, these releases were overshadowed by rumours of goings-on behind the scene. When Carter, Dash and Burke finally split as business partners, each artist was given an ultimatum: either stay on Roc-A-Fella, or move to Dame and Biggs’ Def Jam-subsidiary Dame Dash Music Group. M.O.P., Grafh, Cam’ron and seemingly Beanie Sigel opted to move off the Roc; while incarcerated, he released his third album The B. Coming on DDMG. There also sprouted controversy over the fate of State Property: while Dame claimed Sigel intended to move the group to his label, the rest of the group disagreed, leading to a temporary break-up.
While Jay-Z gained control of Roc-A-Fella, he also stepped up as president of Def Jam, and proceeded to focus more on the latter than the former. Kanye West’s second album, Late Registration, was released along with Memphis Bleek’s fourth album, 534. Only Kanye’s album reached Platinum status. During this time, Foxy Brown was briefly signed to the roster, but along with rumours of Cory Gunz joining the label, nothing materialized. Upon Beanie Sigel’s release from prison, speculation began on whether he would return to Roc-A-Fella Records. In 2006, only Jay-Z released an album from Roc-A-Fella: his return album, Kingdom Come Sigel’s status would not be made clear until 2007, when he would announce his next release The Solution on the Roc; he would later make clear that he had distanced himself from DDMG because of financial discrepancies. ‘07 also saw a huge increase in activity as compared to 2006; Kanye West’s Graduation, Jay-Z’s American Gangster, and Freeway’s Free At Last materialized, as well as the signing of former rival Jadakiss. The label is currently set to release Sigel’s The Solution, as well as a “Roc Boys” mixtape headed by Memphis Bleek and including the entire current roster.
In 1999, Damon Dash, Kareem “Biggs” Burke & Jay-Z launched the Rocawear clothing label. After the launch they took the clothing line on a tour across the U.S. One stop that they made which was not on the schedule was in Milwaukee, WI. Rocawear was on there way to Chicago for a fashion show at the United Center. In Milwaukee they went to a local night club where there was a small concert and fashion show. In the show as an honorary model, was a local high school age AAU basketball superstar by the name of Rich “FLASH” Kelly. Damon Dash was floored by the young man’s stage presence and was quoted saying “when FLASH took the stage he owned it”. After the show Dash and Jay-Z waited for Mr. Kelly to leave the local night club; here is when they approached him about coming to Chicago with them in the morning to be in their fashion show. Rich Kelly agreed to go, and was a smash hit. Jay-Z personally offered “FLASH” a contract with Rocawear. The only change made to his image has been instead of going by the name of Rich “FLASH” Kelly he appears as “Rich Breezy”. Rocawear has since removed him from all of their websites so that they can bring him out to take the nation by storm in the summer and fall of 2010. Since its launch Rocawear has announced annual sales of over $700 million. Recent expansion of its brand has led Rocawear to develop lines for children, juniors, socks and sandals, leather suede and fur outerwear, handbags and belts, loungewear and big & tall, headwear, jewellery, and sunglasses; as well as co-branded product with Pro-Keds. In March 2007, Jay-Z sold his rights to the Rocawear brand to Iconix Brand Group, for $204 million. Jay-Z has announced he will retain his stake in the company and will continue to oversee the marketing, licensing and product development.
In 2002, following the release of the Rocawear clothing label, Roc-A-Fella Records released through Lions Gate Entertainment, State Property. The movie while not the first for Dame Dash, would be the start of ROC Films/Roc-A-Fella Films. The film studio would go on to release Paid In Full the same year and follow up in 2003 with Paper Soldiers and the hip-hop satire Death of a Dynasty. In 2005 the sequel to the studios début release would hit theatres State Property 2, featuring rap stars such as Beanie Sigel and Damon Dash, who also produced and co-created the story. Cameo roles included musicians Kanye West, N.O.R.E and Mariah Carey, and Light Heavyweight champion boxers Bernard Hopkins and Winky Wright.
In 2002 Roc-A-Fella Records announced they will be taking over U.S. distribution rights for the Scottish, Armadale vodka, from the previous owner William Grant & Sons. The vodka is described as an 80-proof brand of “hand-crafted triple distilled vodka.” Burke describes the motivation for purchasing the label: “You always hear about us talking about the [vodka] in the songs so, like with the clothing and the music industry, we were like: ‘Why are we still making money for everyone else?’” It is believed the vodka was named after the town of Edinburgh, town of Armadale, due to its strong history of vodka distilling.
According to a recent interview with Philadelphia rapper Peedi Crakk on MediaTakeOut.com, he and the entire State Property family, including Beanie Sigel and Freeway, have been dropped from Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam. Peedi claims that Jay initially scheduled one-on-one meetings with each rapper to talk, but those meetings never happened. Instead, he sent an A&R from Def Jam out to Philly last week to deliver the bad news. “Which was a hoe move, to me. You could tell us some shit like that face to face,” said Peedi. “Niggas like Beanie Sigel and Freeway and Oschino and Sparks and Chris and Neef…they been there for almost 10 years.” Peedi goes on to say that he’s not 100% sure which other artists were dropped, cryptically claiming that “he kept one person.” However, he also says that the A&R who gave them their walking papers said, “There’s no more Roc-A-Fella. Everyone’s free to leave.” While he could not speak for the other artists, Peedi said that he’s happy about being dropped because he was tired of dealing with his album being delayed. “You won’t hear no Peedi Crakk diss songs,” he says. Despite these claims, Roc-A-Fella artists Kanye West, Beanie Sigel & Memphis Bleek remained signed to the label, and Freeway also recently released his album Free At Last on Roc-A-Fella. As of 3rd quarter 2008, Rocafella’s website shows that Beanie Sigel is the only original State Property member left on the label.
Freeway Diplomats Sauce Money
Foxy Brown Jadakiss Juelz Santana
Mecca Oschino Memphis Bleek
Cam’ron Christion Allen Anthony
Jim Jones Aztek Escobar Freekey Zekey
Nicole Wray NORE Omillio Sparks
Da Ranjahz M.O.P. Ol Dirty Bastard
Rell Grafh Diamonds In Da Ruff
Denim Jaz-O Samantha Ronson
Amil Teairra Mari S.A.S.
- 1998 Streets Is Watching
- 2000 Backstage
- 2002 State Property
- 2002 Paid in Full
- 2003 Paper Soldiers
- 2003 Death of a Dynasty
- 2005 State Property 2