His name may not immediately ring a bell for everyone, but Damon "Dame" Dash is an American music mogul who's best known for launching the Roc-A-Fella Records label with hip-hop rapper Jay-Z back in the 90s and the numerous businesses he's helped launch over the past couple decades.
Diagnosed at 15 while growing up in New York City, the 46-year-old entrepreneur is now launching his namesake Dash Diabetes Network (DDN), a "lifestyle network" geared toward raising awareness and encouraging a healthy existence with diabetes. In the spirit of "You Can Do This," the new network will reportedly invite actors, musicians, doctors and everyday PWDs (people with diabetes) to appear on a variety of shows to discuss their experiences and promote the network’s slogan, “health is wealth.”
"(Diabetes) is not a weakness, it's a way to showcase your strengths," Dash says. “Some people think it's a death sentence or that they’re doomed, and many people with diabetes get depressed… that’s what I wanted to do differently, to show that it doesn’t have to be that way. You can be happy, manage it and live.”
Fame, Fortune and T1D
Dash is a man of many talents who wears multiple hats. He's probably best known for partnering with Jay-Z the 90s to started Roc-A-Fella Records (which eventually became part of DefJam), before eventually selling his shares to Jay-Z and parting ways. After that, he ventured into everything from music and movie production to screenwriting, acting, and pushing a number of business enterprises ranging from clothing, shoes, art, a media company and lifestyle TV streaming network, and even vodka and a motor oil company bearing his name. In recent years, he's been in the celeb gossip circles in regards to a heated custody battle for his two kids with ex-wife fashion designer Rachel Roy (who's famously friends with Kim Kardashian and clan).
As noted, Dash was diagnosed with diabetes in his mid-teens and there was no family history, though his mom had asthma and ended up dying of an asthma attack not long after his diagnosis with T1D. He says he remembers the common symptoms -- going to the bathroom a lot, losing his appetite and weight-loss -- and rumors starting circulating about him around school.
"In my brain, I thought I was dying,” he recalls. “I thought I had something much worse and was afraid to go to the doctor. When my mother finally made me go to the doctor and he told me I was diabetic, I was actually ecstastic because I felt I had another chance on life. I honestly thought I’d caught a break, and I was happy.”
Still, the beginning was tough, he says, and it took his family years to adjust and adapt to the new lifestyle. While he did not let his diagnosis stop him from living his life, Dash says he deliberately kept it secret for many years.
"Everything I’ve done -- from being in the street and making Roc-A-Fella records and signing Jay-Z and discovering Kevin Hart – has been since I was diagnosed with type 1. I was always aware of that, and conscious that I had to do better," he tells us.
Of course leading up to the launch of his new network, Dash has been talking publicly about his T1D, making appearances and giving interviews like the one with us recently. In one online Q&A, he told the story of having a hypo during the taping of a Tyra Banks show, when he felt himself going low. He always makes sure his assistants keep candy on hand just in case, but in that moment they unfortunately didn't have anything. Dash says one assistant managed to find some juice to get to him on stage, and though he felt sweaty and had to recover on live TV, it wasn't too severe.
Dash's Diabetes Regime
In the past 36 years since his T1D diagnosis, Dash says everything’s evolved – he’s gone from needle shots, to insulin pens and the insulin pump, and most recently Afrezza inhaled insulin. Dash talks proudly about managing his diabetes like he would a business: do what you need to do, and look good while doing it. He uses the Dexcom G5 CGM, and describes the Dexcom-Afrezza combination as so "invincible" that he sometimes doesn't even feel like he has type 1.
But it wasn't always that way, and his many D-struggles over the years are what led Dash to pursue his own TV network devoted to diabetes.
The Dash Diabetes Network will consist of ten 20-minute-long episodes that will be in the form of talk shows -- with fishbowl discussions, cooking-based episodes that offer recipes and wellness tips, and interviews. But don't let that description fool you into thinking this will resemble Dr. Oz or other stereotypical diabetes discussions on TV. Nope, Dash says he plans to bring much more "real-life conversation" based on his own T1 and use of modern D-treatments, such as the Dexcom CGM and Afrezza insulin.
Looking Cool with Diabetes
"This is a 24/7 thing, but there is a lot you can still do while you’re diabetic and still look cool while you’re doing it, and I think I’m a perfect example of that," he says. "I wanted to use my platform to showcase everything I’ve learned and how I’ve gotten to this point."
Dash tells us he plans to invite a plethora of different people to his show -- actors and musicians with diabetes, medical doctors, nutritionists, and everyday regular folk to talk about their own diabetes and health experiences.
Here's a two-minute teaser for his new network, with that catchy slogan, "Health is Wealth":
Perhaps not surprisingly, MannKind Corp is sponsoring this show -- the second such deal for the maker of Afrezza inhaled insulin; MannKind is also sponsoring the nw reality TV show "Reversed" created by T2 PWD and celebrity chef Charles Mattocks. Leading up to his network, Dash has now also been named an "Afrezza Ambassador," promoting the inhaled insulin and traveling around to talk about it.
Dash says he's very aware of the societal stereotypes and misconceptions about diabetes, and that's something he hopes to address with his network. He wants to help people distinguish between the types, and understand that T1D isn't something you can manage with only lifestyle choices, because insulin is necessary. He wants viewers to hear a variety of different viewpoints to decide what might work for themselves -- whether it be food, exercise, medications, or even fashion that offers "all the pockets you need when carrying your diabetes stuff around." But he's not going to allow any spin on "reversing" diabetes that can so easily mislead the public.
He fully believes every aspect of diabetes needs to be acknowledged -- from the medical, exercise, and food sides, to the fashion and economic aspects, given how costly it is to live with diabetes (especially when it comes to affording insulin).
"Everyone with diabetes who I know is always interested in someone else's diabetes story -- because it's relatable, and it can bring hope... If people can see me winning with diabetes, I want them to know they can win too."
"I'm going to promote this like a record, because I think it's that important," he says. "I like the fact that at this point in my life, I can use my platform to help people. It feels good to be able to turn what many view as a weakness into a strength for other people. That's something I never felt as strongly with music."
Aside from this launch, Dash also says there are several movies coming out later this year that he's proud to have produced -- and another one that starts filming at the end of August that will have a lead character with T1D (!) We pressed for more on that, but Dash says he's under contract and not able to speak about that movie yet.
Very cool! We're definitely eager to see all of this come to fruition!
The new Dash Diabetes Network certainly sounds more interesting than what we've seen before in diabetes TV shows, so we'll be watching with interest. It's good to know the focus is on educating and inspiring with personal stories, rather than scare tactics or stereotypes or some sense of "battling" diabetes to kick it to the curb. In other words, we like how Dash is recognizing that diabetes is a permanent part of our lives, and taking such a dynamic spin on it.