dame dash

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In May, Aaliyah hosted a bash for Dash’s 30th birthday at a New York City club where they were spotted together; one person said they were “inseparable” – he even walked her to the bathroom. “I think rumors are hilarious,” she says. “I don’t pay any attention. It goes in one ear and out the other. When you’re in the business, you hang out with people, and people are like, ‘I wonder, are they seeing each other?’ I never dated Jay. I never dated Ginuwine. Damon and I are very good friends. I’ll keep it at that right now.” It’s hard to believe her when she’s wearing a small platinum and diamond Roc-A-Fella pendant on her neck. She claims that it’s hers and that it’s “just a little symbol of a record” and changes the subject, insisting that she’s briefly dated just two men in her whole life.

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“It’s such a painful thing for me. Not to say painful, but to relive it is painful. Even if I see a movie where someone else has lost their girl, or their husband or their wife, I know how that feels. Heavy. I just went through this movie with my daughter — The Fault In Our Stars. And the shit had me emotional for a couple of days. And I know how that feels, even now talking about it I don’t even be liking to feel that shit no more. But that’s what happens when you lose someone you love. It happens to every one. Death is apart of life, that’s a definite thing. Everyone’s going to experience it in some point in life. But you have to deal with it a certain way, you never get over it, but you live with it. It defines you. It makes you strong. It’s like it evolves you on another level. To experience that kind of pain made me very focused, because you have to think a lot when you’re in pain, you do a lot of reflecting. You do a lot of reading. It’s a very psychology thing.”

Jaÿ-Z, Kareem “Biggs” Burke and Dame Dash, photographed for his debut album Reasonable Doubt by Jonathan Mannion on April 1, 1996.

When Jonathan Mannion first met Dame Dash he offered to charge the Roc-A-Fella Records team $300 less than their current lowest quote. At the time the album was known as Heir to the Throne, so Mannion prepared a regal-themed board to present to the Roc team. Just hours before the shoot Hov switched the title to Reasonable Doubt, feeling that the original was perhaps too presumptuous for a debut album. The title switch gave the listener the opportunity to decide if he was throne-worthy.

After hearing of the title change Mannion would be the one to convince Jaÿ to move from Scarface-influenced, Versace linen, Miami drug-running visuals to the now-classic New York Mafia crime theme. Mannion encouraged Jaÿ to “keep it Brooklyn” and used John Gotti collections and old police photos and murder-scenes from the 1930s and ‘40s as inspiration points. Hov, Dash, and Kareem “Biggs” Burke went and fitted themselves out in $3,000 suits for the shoot, and brought along large amounts of cash ($150,000) and various handguns to be used as props.

The photo shoot took place on the roof of Mannion’s old apartment building, located under the Westside Highway on 72nd and Riverside in Manhattan: “Back then, it was all busted and beat up, and it fit the vibe. I knew I could get some beautifully composed shots, based on traditional cameras. So I was shooting with Hasselblads and Rolleiflexes, like press photographers did back in the Civil Rights era.”

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Damon is my best guy friend, and I set him up with Aaliyah last Fourth of July. I never saw a relationship like theirs. Like that first day when you meet someone, that was every day for them — no expectations, no jealousy, no judgement, just unconditional love. — Natane Boudreau