Interview: Combat Jack Talks Dame Dash, Jay-Z, And Peter Rosenberg By Joe La Puma
Photo By Alexander Richter
After I read Reggie “Combat Jack” Osse’s reflection piece on working for Dame Dash, I immediately became interested in the stories this O.G in the game had to share. Working with Dame for several days on the Complex cover story I did with Jim Jones last year, I got to witness the dice-throwing Dash personality first-hand and it’s an experience that I’ll never forget. But this isn’t about me.
I wanted to learn more about the Dame of the past, and after I hit up CJ for an interview, I got all that and a whole lot more [II]. Combat has had a long tenure within the rap industry, first cutting his teeth in the legal department of Def Jam, and then going to work for Hip Hop legends like Chuck D, Flavor Flav, LL Cool J all while rubbing elbows with Russell Simmons and a young Lyor Cohen. Nowadays, Combat is taking the blogosphere by storm (yeah, he can write too, pick-up his book “Bling: The Hip Hop Jewelry Book”), both with his flagship site Daily Math and as a regular blogger on XXL. In this interview, Combat and I talk about the behind the scenes story of what it was like shopping a deal for Jay-Z, the gift and the curse that is working with Dame Dash, and Combat’s beef with hot 97 personality Peter Rosenberg.
JLP: People who were around Dame and Jay said that Dame was much more about looking after his friends than Jay. With your experience being around both of them, is that fair to say?
Combat Jack: I can most definitely cosign that. Roc-A-Fella was small at the time, and Damon was the one handling all of the business. Jay was an artist. Damon was making sure Jay got a lot of shows, it was Dame that was doing all the talking, all the negotiating. We did a licensing deal for Jay to ghostwrite lyrics for the Bugs Bunny character for the Space Jam’s soundtrack. Warner Brothers took some time in getting Jay’s fee to him. Damon used to pressure the shit out of me to pressure the shit out of Warner Brothers. He used to complain that Jay didn’t care how slow it took for industry money to come because he was accustomed to how fast drug money came in. Dame used to say how much Jay, as his artist would stress him out for money. How he advocated for Jay was how Damon advocated for all of his artists. Hard. Even back then he would go ape shit on anyone he felt was trying to diss either his artists or anyone in the Roc-A-Fella collective.
JLP: You were a part of the Jay-Z deals, and people rejecting him, what was that like?
Combat Jack: Clark Kent, Dame Dash, Jay-Z, these were young men that believed more in how Jay-Z was the greatest rapper of all time than they were sure that tomorrow would come. On top of that, Jay, Clark and Dame both have some really BIG personalities, especially the combination of Dame and Clark. They “Knew” that the entire industry had not yet heard what they were hearing with Young Hov. They felt that every other artist, every executive in the industry were corny. With regard to Jay, they were right. All the rejections only made them work harder, push further. Clark already had experience as one the youngest A&R men out in the game, with the proven success of Das-EFX under his belt, and Damon already made a shitload of money before his twenties so what the fuck was the industry going to tell them? If anyone had any doubts, it was most likely Jay.
JLP: Talk about Clark Kent and his role in getting Jay-Z signed, people on this site know Clark as a sneaker-god, but not many people know how influential he was in Jay and Dame’s success…
Combat Jack: Where Damon was a hustler true and true, Clark was the seasoned record man. He was a known DJ as well as a producer, and he had A&R experience. When he was at East/West, he was already hyped on how hot Jay was, but for some reason his label wouldn’t sign Jay. When he met Dame, he peeped his hustle, and as they got tighter, Clark felt Damon was the right guy to manage Jay. He felt Dame could be the outside hardnosed guy to go head to head with the labels. Clark also had a studio in his home in Brooklyn, so as a producer, his studio was like the head quarters in terms of laying down mad tracks for unsigned artists like Jay. Other than being ears for Jay’s music, Clark acted as the co-signer to Damon and Jay, extending the scope of industry connects Dame had inside the industry.
JLP: And not many of the sneaker-set know that Clark Kent really discovered Jay-Z…
Clark Kent truly saw the greatness in Jay first. He discovered Jay-Z. He went all out in making others believe in Jay, even before Jay believed in Jay. I think he also understood more than any other people the type of person Shawn Carter was, and because he knew, he was able to maintain his relationship with Jay, even after so many others have fallen out with him. What I respect so much about Clark is that he was truly the first music cat to wholeheartedly invest in Jay’s career, on the strength of how dope Jay was, without ever considering what was in it for him financially. He’s been a stand up dude in never saying how much he deserved from discovering Jay, how much he deserves on so many levels today for putting that whole Jay, Dame, Roc-A-Fella dynasty together. For as big of a personality as Clark has, he remains completely humble in his role.
JLP: You’ve said that Foxy Brown saved Jay-Z’s career, why do you feel that way?
Reasonable Doubt was a very dope regional record that was just about complete before Foxy Brown came in with the song ‘Ain’t No Nigga’. The majority of that record is about the hustle, about the drug deal, about friend or foe. It’s basically another typical New York drug rap record from that period with a very dope rapper. I remember when Dame first played ‘Aint No Nigga’ for me, shortly after Foxy Brown started catching buzz in New York. Clark went way back with Foxy, I think they’re cousins or something like that, he made sure she was featured on Reasonable Doubt. Jaz-O, Jay’s former mentor produced that song, he also sang the hook with Khadejia Bass. When Dame first played that song for me, I was like “that’s the only club record that I’ve heard on the album”. ‘Brooklyn’s Finest’ was incredible, but that wasn’t the song I was trying to hear in the club like ‘Aint No Nigga” was. I pictured dancing with some chick I’m trying to score with and that song playing. I was in a club shortly after that, with my girl who later on became my wife.
JLP: Wow, that’s ill…
Combat Jack: We were in the club when the DJ dropped that record, and the whole place gravitated to the dance floor. Chicks were drunk and singing the hook and dudes was making sure they were grinding up on the chicks. It was a hit. It was a song that helped some cats get sex later that night. I always felt that if a song came on at a party, or in a club, and the chicks dug it so much as the dudes that it ended up with some people sexing later on, then that was a hit. ‘Ain’t No Nigga’ was that hit for the album. That was the record that took Jay from being just another New York drug rapper into being a New York drug rapper with a hit record. That song was the reason Def Jam came knocking, years after they turned Jay away.
JLP: Even young rap fans have been exposed to Dame wildin’ out, with videos like the one in the Def Jam board meetings surfacing online, what situation was the craziest you’ve seen him?
Combat Jack: The craziest? There’s this one incident that centered around Reasonable Doubt’s first single, ‘Can’t Knock The Hustle’ featuring Mary J. Blige. Dame and Jay recorded that song with Mary because Damon knew her before she blew up. As I recall, they dated briefly. Damon paid Mary’s people some cash for clearing her to be on the record. Even though Mary was squared away, we didn’t have any clearance from the label, Motown, Universal. When I sent a request to get clearance in an expedited manner, the label flat denied her appearance. Labels took great care in cultivating some of its promising artists and Mary was one of them. The label’s denial of that record was devastating because the single had already been pressed up. Paid ads were appearing in publications like The Source introducing Jay’s first single featuring Mary J. Blige in bold bright letters. Dame’s back was against the wall, which meant that my back was against the wall. I was very cool with a brother that was very high up in the chain of command over at Universal. A good cat that I felt if I ever needed that one favor from him, it would get a pass.
JLP: Did you hit your connect up?
Combat Jack: Damon wanted me to set up a conference call with my guy at Universal. So I’m thinking all three of us will come to some gentlemanly understanding, especially since I’m using my one big favor on Jay-Z’s first ever single, my stakes in making this deal happen is high. The minute we get on the phone, my guy is telling Dame the best Universal could do. Without skipping a beat, Dame goes in on my dude by asking him if he’s the president of Universal, is he the top man that calls the shots at the label. When dude replies that he’s pretty high up but not the CEO, Dame spits out “Oh, so I’m on the phone trying to negotiate this deal with peon!” He just called my dude a peon, on my favor, and we’re in the position of begging. My dude is very politically firing back and Dame is straight ridiculing him, joking him out and shouting down to him like how he and Cam did on that Bill O’Reilly segment, with me in the middle trying to peace shit out and it’s going from worst to worser to worst as it’s fucking going to be, and quick, so I drop Damon’s line.
JLP: Wow. You talked about him humiliating people without going into too much detail, can you give us some examples?
Combat Jack: There was this artist K-Yze, that had this hit song “Stomp”, who was on the same label as Dame’s first two acts, Original Flavor and The Future Sound. K-Yze and Dame’s groups had to do a lot of promotional shows together. K-Yze’s signature look was these giant ass chain of colorful wooden beads he wore around his neck. Damon hated K-Yze. So there’s this one show, and Damon’s been plotting for weeks on how he was done with dude and was going to finish him. At this show, they start beefing about whose closing and Dame decides, “Fuck it, I’m swinging.” So now him and K-Yze are tussling backstage, crowd out front waiting. Dame had been trained as a boxer and had this rep for being nice with his hands, I think this added to his ego. So after cats jump in to break the scuffle, Dame launches his main attack, and as they’re being separated, he reaches out and firmly clasps K-Yze’s beads in his fist. He yanks with all his might and naturally the chain pops and there’s beads flying. K-Yze has a scuffed head and his beads are bouncing every which way. To hear afterwards, how Dame told the story, how he plotted and planned to snatch them “stupid ass beads” off K-Yze’s neck, shit was funny, but shit was mad mean too. When Jay dropped ‘Super-Ugly’ during his beef with Nas, I knew that one had to come out of Dame’s book.
JLP: Did Dame get into scuffles a lot?
Combat Jack: Dame was never a street cat, he went to private school, , even though he might have had it rough growing up in Harlem. The Dash family is very remarkable in their legacy of successful relatives. He had hustle, and he had that sense of entitlement. At the same time, he repped Harlem hard, so he knew a lot of street cats, older cats that saw dude for the promise that he showed. Dame loved to scrap, so he wasn’t a punk. He had this one fight with Terror Squad at a night club. The TS cats were another set that Dame hated. So during this fight, one of the TS cats grabbed hold of a champagne bottle and was steady clocking Dame in the dome as he fought back. Dude must’ve clocked Dame three, four times straight. Dame is laughing about it a couple of days later, head swollen, bandaged up about how much he respected the other side for how they kicked ass. He was laughing about how dude kept clocking him in the head, how he was just thinking how hard champagne bottles hit because it hadn’t broken against his head, and how them blows hurt to the point that he was wishing the fucking bottle would just break. He most definitely got his hands dirty.
JLP: It seems as though people are feeling Dame’s work on the BlakRoc project, it seems like there might be room for success there.
Combat Jack: Dame is a hustler true and true. He’s an incredibly smart guy, one of the smartest I’ve ever met, with a lot of energy. He may have burned a lot of bridges but that’s the kind of cat you could never count out. Plus his ego, how one of his strongest suits is that he is an asshole, in a good and bad way. That alone will not allow him to have cats joke him out on how far he’s fallen for too long. Knowing him, he’s steady plotting on how he’s going to have the last laugh. Once one makes millions, one always knows how make more. Knowing him, his life depends on him being back on top.
JLP: Shifting gears, you’ve had issues with Hot 97’s Peter Rosenberg, where do they stem from?
I dropped a post about Big Pun’s widow Liza Rios claiming Fat Joe conducted funny business. In my post I listed an estimated tally of what the monies might have looked like and how Rios might have miscalculated what Pun’s estate might have received, how said monies were spent and how Joe might not have been at fault. I negotiated more than my share of deals to pretty much have an educated view of what went on. Apparently Rosenberg read my post and twitted how he didn’t see any validity in my numbers, my math being fuzzy and worthless. So now he’s firing shots my way and I’m like “who the fuck is Rosenberg to know how deals are structured and how the monies are distributed?” I called him out on it, he tried to fire back but I was relentless.
Combat Jack: Then, this past summer, during Michael Jackson’s widely viewed memorial ceremony is on air and everyone is glued to the set and Twitter, Reverend Al Sharpton starts speaking and Rosenberg lets a tweet fly about how Rev. Sharpton was spoiling the ceremony because he’s an ambulance chaser. Sharpton is a lot of things to a lot of people, especially in the Black community and when I read his tweet, I was deeply offended. Not that I personally hold Sharpton as “THE Black leader”, but still, I respect that man for where he’s come from, where he is, and some of the things he’s done to support the Black community. To hear a white kid joke about Sharpton during this ceremony did not feel right to me. Rosenberg’s comment showed me that he really didn’t understand the position he was in and the responsibility he had as a voice for Hip Hop. I called him out on it via Twitter, but he hadn’t responded, still I felt dude was out of line and I let him know.
JLP: When did the conflict between you two really pick up?
Combat Jack: One morning he’s on the radio trying to stir anger and hate towards Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi who’s in New York for the United Nations Assembly. I’m like “hold up, this lil’ know-it-all is at it again”, speaking on something from solely his perspective and not respecting, not realizing that his views might not necessarily resonate with the demographics of this stations listeners, and with an arrogant tone as if he was talking down to his listeners, like they should know better. Once again, I’m not an advocate for Qaddafi, but I felt that whatever background Peter came from allowed him to have opinions that weren’t necessarily the opinions of the community to which he now spoke to, spoke for. I hit him on Twitter about how he needed to slow his role, nothing slanderous, just calling dude out on his judgments and where it stood with regard to others guilty of similar crimes. The next thing I know, Rosenberg threatens to “smack the shit outta me in front of my kids!” in broad daylight on Twitter. So now his arrogance, his sense of privilege has him thinking he can speak any way to a Black man whose not on as large a public platform as him? Get the fuck outta here, B. Not that I’m thugged out or whatever, but I don’t play that.
JLP: Yeah, I remember that exchange, how did that end up?
Combat Jack: He starts reaching me via direct messages wanting to work shit out, knowing I got him under pressure. He’s reaching out to people we both know, asking all types of questions about me. Then in public, maybe to regain some type of support from the public that’s observing our beef on Twitter, on the nets, dude pulls the lamest shit yet. As he’s trying to backpedal on his threats, knowing a lot of eyes are peeping his meltdown, he tries to throw me off by claiming I’m an anti-Semite. Come on son, I’m not having that. New York radio may have fallen off but as long as he’s around, I’m going to be waiting right there to check his Pudge Nubby candy ass. [||]. I have great fun pushing Peter Rosenberg around for breakfast.
JLP: With all that being said, are you willing to resolve issues with Rosenberg?
Combat Jack: Well, it’s nothing personal with Rosenberg. So sure I’d be willing to resolve my issues with him. I’d be a hypocrite to shun any types of dialogue, that’s where true democracy begins. He’d just have to be willing to see how he crosses the line, fall back from assuming his listeners should agree with his views that come from a different perspective, originate from a different culture, he’d have to be willing to be rehabilitated in learning how to move in certain circles. He’d have to be man enough to come from hiding behind the Hot 97 shield and realize he’s in no way bigger than me or anyone else in this game. Yeah, I’m open to having a beer summit for shits and giggles. Though I’d still check him when need be, afterwards.
JLP: I know you’re blogging at XXL now, what blogs do you read?
Combat Jack: I read a lot of blogs. Too many to mention, plus I don’t want to leave out any blogs that I really respect.