The star was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 15 years old. Shortly afterward, he lost his mother to asthma. That’s his motivation for his new venture: the Dash Diabetes Network.
Diabetes appears in two forms, each of which affects the body’s ability to maintain insulin levels. In Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas is unable to create insulin at all, while Type 2 happens when the body struggles to control glucose levels.
According to the American Diabetes Association (the focus of a sharp Netflix documentary What the Health, named for the group’s failure to provide proper dietary information by diabetes risk factors rather than the general population). African-Americans are disproportionately affected by diabetes. With 13.2 percent of all African-Americans age 20 or older diagnosed with diabetes, black people are 1.7 times more likely to have diabetes as non-Hispanic whites. The website also notes that African-Americans are significantly more likely to suffer complications common to diabetes, such as blindness, kidney disease and amputations.
That being said, millions of diabetic Americans live healthy and uninhibited lives maintaining their diabetes, and the 40-year-old credits What the Health for prompting him to make some serious dietary changes.
If the multilayered Dash had a traditional resume, it would list a wide variety of accomplishments. Music and entertainment executive — check. Talent discovery agent — check. Record company co-founder — check. Fashion and lifestyle expert — check. Art gallery owner and director — check. Reality TV star — check. Movie director and producer — check. Beverage brand manager — check.
“I might not be a doctor, but I’m in a doctor’s state of mind,” Dash says in the intro of episode one, which aired Aug. 7 on his streaming service at www.damedashstudios.com and on the Dash Diabetes app.
With the Dash Diabetes Network, he uses his influences, his career and his struggle with diabetes as an opportunity to fuse health care and entertainment. The ten 20-minute episodes feature other filmmakers, holistic doctors, musicians and artists to showcase new advances in medicine, recipes, and fitness and wellness tips. Shorter segments are available on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest.
The more Dash evolves, the more he makes history. He was co-founder of Roc-A-Fella Records in 1995 with Jay-Z and Kare “Biggs” Burke during an era when East Coast rap — some say — may have saved hip-hop. During his time with the then-flourishing label, new artists emerged and hits were made. He discovered Kanye West and had his hand in cultivating the careers of Cam’ron, Beanie Sigel, DJ Clue, Memphis Bleek and others.
Dash later went into the fashion industry developing the ’90s urban clothing line Rocawear. He was part of the team that outright purchased Armadale Vodka. He later formed the Dame Dash Collection, an upscale clothing line. He also created the clothing line State Property for Beanie Sigel. He produced the critically acclaimed independent film The Woodsman, starring Kevin Bacon and David Alan Grier, and worked with Lee Daniels on Shadowboxer, starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Helen Mirren. In 2009, Dash added theater producer to his resume. He produced the Hip-Hop Monologues for rapper and VH1’s Love & Hip Hop’s standout Jim Jones. Dash also opened an art gallery and a digital media company (Creative Control) and has had three stints in reality television (Ultimate Hustler, Family Therapy with Dr. Jenn and Growing Up Hip Hop).
Dash says he doesn’t consider any day for him to be normal.
“On average, I’ve worked really hard in architecting my life where I can take care of my children, and make my dreams come true at the same time, without compromise,” he explained. “When I wake up, I go test my blood just so I can recalibrate my Dexcom, which is my glucose monitor, and then I usually take the insulin that I need. Then I go work out. I gotta do a lot of 30- to 45-minute workouts.”
Every morning, Dash takes one shot of a drug that provides a long-lasting dose of insulin called Toujeo, which helps with blood sugar control. He also takes Afrezza, a fast-acting insulin that helps control postmeal blood sugar spikes.
“That’s the one I inhale. And they also sponsor the Dash Diabetes Network.”
Then he hits his pool and hot tub.
“I’m not putting on a shirt before 5 [p.m.]; probably it’s gonna be swim trunks, or until I’ve gotta pick my kids up. And it usually entails me looking at content, talking to the staff.”
The world has recently lost entertainers, including rapper Phife Dog and nationally syndicated radio host Doug Banks, to diabetes. According to ranker.com, the history of stars with diabetes dates back to affluent entertainers such as jazz artist Ella Fitzgerald, Gimme A Break! star Nell Carter, Good Times mom and actress Esther Rolle, boxer Sugar Ray Robinson and singers Curtis Mayfield, Mahalia Jackson and B.B. King.
Meanwhile, Dash and other stars are doing the work to maintain healthy lifestyles. Actors Halle Berry, Vanessa Williams and Anthony Anderson, Randy Jackson (American Idol), Sherri Shepherd, Patti LaBelle, actress and singer Della Reese and comedian Jay Anthony Brown have all opened up to the public about their diabetes diagnoses.
Dash spoke with The Undefeated about his journey, his health and how he desires to continue to inspire others.
How have you stayed so relevant in the entertainment business, and how do you continue to keep reinventing Damon Dash?
I think probably because I’m not so concerned about it. You know what I mean? And I just continue to make history, ’cause I’m only doing what makes me feel good. I just try to continuously do cool things. And I like to do innovative things. And I like to do things that are honest and authentic. And I think I tell the truth a lot.
So, if you talk to different people about who they know, and what they know about Dame Dash, you might get one age demographic that will talk about Roc-A-Fella, one age demographic that will talk about Rachel Roy [Dash’s ex-wife and mother of his two daughters, Ava and Tallulah] and the fashion, one demographic that might talk about the movie with Kevin Harder, Lee Daniels, one demographic that’s gonna talk about the information I distribute every time I’m in a public platform, like The Breakfast Club, and how I’ve been very upfront about who to look out for and what to look out for within our culture. And now, people will probably talk about my directing, and also the Dash Diabetes Network.
It’s just, as I evolve, the projects that I do evolve with me. And my mentality changes a lot. I tend not to try to stay … I get bored after I’ve accomplished something, or I get to a certain place … I want to do something different.
How do you balance it all?
I think laughter, and love. Because at the end of the day, that’s all that counts. Laughter, and love, and health. And I think that’s where the balance comes in, because everything I do, I enjoy. It’s like life. It’s not even like work. It’s just all me having fun. I don’t recall ever really getting up and feeling like I’ve ever had to go to work. I always look forward to my day.
How has life been since you first opened up to the public about living with diabetes?
I never really looked at it as an open up. Everyone knows I wear everything on my sleeve, like a tattoo. But I’ve always tried to be public about it. But I was never really famous enough for anyone to care. You know, my platform, me directly, it never held that much weight for me to be talking about what was wrong with me. But I think now, in this chapter of my career, of my life, I do hold enough weight where people will listen. And because of the fact that I’ve learned how to control it, where that was a struggle for me before, a bit. I thought that it was time to talk about it for long. But it was always on my bucket list. I would always include it, but people wouldn’t talk about it for some reason, almost like they don’t talk about the fact that I’m a single dad since my son was 8. And he’s 25 now.
By this being such a medically influenced project and you’re encouraging a healthy lifestyle, what do you want viewers to get out of it?
I want them to get healthy. I want people to understand that, No. 1, as relates to diabetes, don’t be ashamed of it. You should embrace that, and that being imperfect is perfection. Because no one’s perfect, and everyone’s dealt some kind of card, and everyone has to play them. And that if a guy like me can make his story diabetic, so can anybody else. And just to be fearless. That’s all, really. And to deal with whatever issue you have. Don’t push them to the side. You gotta deal with them.
And diabetes is a silent killer. It’s something that doesn’t kill you overnight. It takes a minute. So you always have to be constantly thinking about your future when it comes to taking care of diabetes. And I think people should always think about their future, as opposed to just worrying about their present and their past.
Has it been hard for you to incorporate a new diet? And what’s been some of the obstacles?
Well, I never really made a new diet. I’m indulgent. I was just happy to be living, so I was like, ‘Yo, I’m gonna eat whatever I want to eat. I’ll just take more insulin.’ But again, the innovation came, where I started to control it, was because the Afrezza is inhalable, and it works quicker. But, being that I’m educating about diabetes, I was looking for education about health, and I came to my diet recently, just ’cause I learned how bad mass-made and corporate food is, with the GMO [genetically modified organisms], and the tolerance for things that I find unsanitary in the food.
When you say recently, what was that time frame?
About three weeks ago, I watched What the Health and doing more research because Rocky [longtime girlfriend Raquel Horn] thinks diabetes is a lifestyle, so she was showcasing how she was cooking things that weren’t so carb-heavy. My agent actually told me about [the film] ’cause he saw it, and he knew that it was showcasing and it contributed to diabetes. And I watched it, and Rocky watched it, and everyone else that I know that’s watched it since then has become a vegetarian.
What were your indications when you were first diagnosed?
Well, I’ve been diabetic since I was 15, and I was urinating a lot and I was losing weight and I had no appetite, so I was thinking something way worse was wrong with me.
Were you quick to go to the doctor, or did you take a while?
No, no, no. I wasn’t trying to go at all, because I thought they were gonna give me a death sentence. So I was like, ‘Man, I’m gonna just sit this out and see what happens.’ But I got so sick, I was feeling so bad after a month, that my mom made me go. And I was actually pretty happy to find out that I had diabetes. I thought I had something much worse.
Was it difficult in filming the episodes for Dash Diabetes Network, and are you portraying what you want in the episodes?
It was exactly what I wanted. I was in control. I think the last couple of years, I’ve learned how to make content in the way that’s just as good as any other professional. And again, the subject matter is exactly what I wanted to talk about. Because it’s independent, we probably had to do a little more, a lot more in a lot less time, than most. But that’s the way I like to do things. I’m always taking pride in the fact that I am independent. But it really wasn’t difficult at all. The hardest part has been the editing.
When you say the editing, how so?
It’s the kind of thing where if the editor’s not on set, sometimes they don’t know exactly what your vision is, and your point of view. And it’s subject matter that’s important, but some people don’t have the talent or the attention span to sit through it, so you want to make sure that you’re adding things that keep your mind stimulated so people don’t get bored. Or if someone’s not a diabetic, and just cares about one and wants the information, that they stay engaged.
So editing on any level is always the toughest part. And I’ve learned that in being a filmmaker. I just directed and funded two or three movies, one coming out in November called Honor Up. And again, it took me three years to edit it. I had to learn it. Shooting is easy, but postediting is the hardest part.
What’s the best piece you’ve ever given?
My girl, Raquel, usually says things to me that make me think. I think one of her biggest and strongest things is she made me aware of, regardless to what, never become unconsciously inconsiderate, where you’re not caring about other people but you just don’t know it because you’re so full of what you’re doing. So I think I’ve been able to be conscious, based on that.
And then my OG Daniel [Daniel Dnieko, an actor from Kanye West and Damon Dash films] told me if someone never snitches, don’t mess with them at all. And don’t mess with people that mess with snitches. And I’ve always practiced that as well, because if you agree to a contract and you don’t abide by it, whether it’s business or in the street, then I don’t consider that honorable on any level. So always respect what you agree to, whether it’s considered right or wrong to other people. Whatever someone else and you all have signed to, you have to abide to that, to the letter.
Who do you surround yourself with and who helps inspire you day to day?
Raquel basically spearheads mostly because I don’t like to talk to so many people, because people don’t understand me. And sometimes my message, because it’s so direct, becomes offensive. And my methods to get to the chip — I get to the chip, but I usually ruin the relationship to get there. And in dealing with men, because of so much testosterone and ego s—, they can’t take constructive criticism or guidance.
So I tend to surround myself with women, because, No. 1, I don’t want my girl around a bunch of men, and I work with my girl. I don’t want my kids around a bunch of men, my daughters. And women somewhat tend to know how to take care of other people before themselves … I guess it’s a mothering instinct … where men always want a mommy qand feel entitled to get taken care of. And I have no time for a man with a vagina. So I’d only deal with a real woman if I’m gonna deal with that.
I would say the team that I have now, Rocky cultivated it, put it together. It’s about four or five really smart, forward-thinking and very millennial-thinking.
What are you watching?
Right now I’m watching Game of Thrones. I kind of like Insecure, too. I’m really big on Insecure.
I’m also watching Growing Up Hip Hop, ’cause I’m on it.