This week I got into a discussion at work about the legacy of “The Roc.” I’ve got a coworker who is probably the biggest Jay-Z fan that I know. She loves Jay-Z the way that I love The Roots: she’s got all of his albums and appearances, she can recite all of his rhymes and she’s been front row at his shows when he comes to town.
OK… maybe she loves him more than I love The Roots.
Anyway, she threw up the “Roc” diamond and I, rhetorically, asked, “what’s that mean?” Actually it wasn’t really rhetorical. I mean, I knew what it meant, but what I meant was what does that sign mean now? The Roc is in shambles. As a brand, it’s as strong as Cash Money, No Limit, Bad Boy, Ruff Ryders, Rawkus or Loud.
Her response was to school me on Roc-A-Fella history. I stopped her short and redirected her to “What’s ‘The Roc’ mean now?” She stammered about Rihanna and Kanye and while they’re both huge talents, let’s be honest; Kanye makes more headlines than music and if it wasn’t for the Chris Brown incident Rihanna would have suffered a backlash from market over-saturation.
Now, my thing is that if you’re going to throw up a sign you should be versed in its history. So I asked my coworker what was up with Rell and Sauce Money? And as predicted, she missed those curveballs.
But at that point I began to ponder—what was the peak of The Roc and when did the fall-off begin?
For me, I’d say that The Roc hit the plateau in 2000. One particular case would be the song “1-900 Hustler”, which featured the most prominent members of The Roc and was produced by part of the nexus of the in-house production team that really cemented the label as a powerhouse. That’s when the label really began firing on all cylinders. Or at least as close to “all” as you can be with Memphis Bleek holding down the talent curve.
Roc-A-Fella could have been the dynasty they claimed to be. They had Just Blaze and Kanye West behind the boards. Beans was a force to be reckoned with and Kanye and Freeway were both on-target to be stars for the future. Plus they had Cam’ron and Jim Jones at the peak of Dipset hysteria. But in 2009, what remains of The Roc are just shards.
As much as I want to remember Roc-A-Fella in its prime, anytime I hear the name I just think about how ugly things got over the years. I think about Kanye planting that knife in Dame’s back. I think about Dame being petty and not giving Jay what he wanted. I think about Jay letting nonsense overshadow friendship.
But mostly, I wonder if things would have been different if Aaliyah hadn’t died in that plane crash. I mean, maybe she was a stabilizing influence in Dame’s life and in the end, maybe her death lead to the demise of The Roc.
Eh, who knows? But “what if” can be a fun game to play. The only thing that’s known for sure is that “The Roc” doesn’t mean what it used to.
That, and “Young Forever” is possibly the worst Jay-Z song ever.
Tags: Chris Brown, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Rihanna