Damon Dash brings his skills back to the big screen tomorrow when his latest film, Honor Up, of which he served as writer, director, producer, and lead actor, hits theaters. The drama follows his character OG, a crime ring's top dog, as he attempts to quell a wave of snitching that rises within the ring's ranks while still trying to remain dedicated to his family.
Per its title, the movie's message revolves around keeping the code of honor, in the streets of Harlem. But it also appears to be a mantra that both Dash and Kanye West chose to live by in order to mend their once-estranged relationship as Yeezy serves not just as executive producer of the project, but the designer of its merch and the organizer of its private Calabasas screening last month.
We spoke to Dash about their reunion, Honor Up's star-studded cast, confidence in creativity, and the kind of respect that leaves you speechless.
Honor Up's cast includes Cam'Ron, Stacey Dash, Styles P, Smoke DZA, Murda Mook and others. Whose acting skills surprised you the most? They all were really good. I'm not surprised, because usually a rapper is talented and has that rhythm. And I take pride in my directing, but the one that is not a rapper is Daniel [Dneiko], my OG, who plays Preemo. He stood out, because he never acted before, but he was able to stay in his character on action and cut. He did well with that. I always knew Cam could act. I expect Cam to be the best. He's been good since Paid in Full. I thought that Mook definitely did a good job. He has a great memory. I [like] the subtleties that Smoke brought. I was even surprised at Stacey's acting because she played a hood girl. Who would ever think we'd see the starch Republican on the car wearing bamboo earrings and baby hairs with one of the more dangerous people in Harlem?
What was most memorable about working with Kanye West again? The whole process. I gave Kanye the respect of an executive producer. I would bring him the movie in stages. From the mixtape movie to the cuts, I would show him footage. That experience was different for me: having me be the creator and he's almost like an administrator as an executive.
So, in a sense, the roles reversed? Right. I think, by far, the most surprising thing was him saying [that] he wanted to do a screening and then walking into the environment he created and [paying] all of the respect for me, my crew, my movie and my art. It was weird and one of the first times I ever was in an unsure place, because I didn't really know how to act.
Why were you in such an unsure space? Because I'm not really used to anybody doing the right thing. You know what I'm saying? I'm used to being tight because [people] are not carrying things with honor. [Kanye] carried it with honor, eloquent honor. [The screening] was very fashion. Then when he made the merch, I wasn't expecting that. I know what I did for my OG, so to see what he did for his and how happy it made everybody was really an indescribable feeling. I felt like the energy in the room, we all felt it. It was just the utmost respect that I thought someone had ever paid for me. I've always paid the utmost respect for other people's careers and that was the first time someone did something like that for me. All I had to do was show up. They took care of everything. My staff was able to just go. They are usually the ones that have to do all of the work for other people. I was also really proud because I felt like he had taken what I had taught him to a whole other level. Those screenings were magical.
Honor Up was originally scheduled to drop in 2015. What caused the delay? That was the mixtape version. When I go on a set, I make three different movies. I make the acting movie, because there's actors, but usually I have artists and rappers on set [too], so I'll say, 'Fuck it, jump in front of the camera, playback and shoot the video.' And then, because I have comedians on the set, I do the parody version. And then I have the behind-the-scenes version. Actually, I make about four different movies. So what I did was put out Too Honorable. I let the bootleggers do what they do. I thought it was a great form of promotion without me having to pay for it. They bootlegged it up and all of that. It was the mixtape version. Just like an album has a mixtape.
How will the Honor Up merch be released? More than likely, we'll do some cool bundle or something where you can buy the merch with the movie. We're putting that together as we speak. I'm trying to figure it all out. Again, I wasn't expecting all of that from Kanye, the fact that my art inspired him. I was telling my daughter that when I do something [that] a guy like Kanye is inspired enough by to showcase it in his house or his place of business, that means the work must be really good. I also know that I have confidence in the fact that if I make good work, it'll inspire people in a positive way. Like, how you look at a movie that is so gangster and at the end of it everybody is laughing and smiling? How does a gangster movie turn into a feel-good movie?