Roc-A-Fella Records

The Roc Boys in the building tonight!

Kareem "Biggs" Burke, Shawn "Jay-Z Carter & Dame Dash in the early years of the Roc Dynasty.


Shawn Corey Carter December 4th, 1969 Brooklyn, New York City
Damon Dash May 3rd, 1971 Harlem, New York
Kareem Burke (unknown by author)

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.

1996-2000: Establishment

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.

2000-2004: Breakup

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. The 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.

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