“Has Damon spoken to you about Wack World?” Nyssa Frank, the space’s gallery curator and Cyndi Lauper look-alike, asked me at one point.
That’s the name Mr. Dash, and most of the other people in here, use to describe everything outside these walls. “Everything is wack world out there,” Mr. Dash said. “Every corporate infrastructure—it’s like we’re a bunch of circles trying to fit in square pegs, and it doesn’t work. And that’s what everyone here feels. Like, I don’t fit in that world. Because the way it’s built, only a certain amount of people will win, and everyone else will lose and get exploited.”
It’s Mr. Dash’s own reality, where he is the unchallenged philosopher king. And to go along with it, he’s concocted his own business model. “Every business model created before the recession is defunct because it’s based on a healthy economy,” Mr. Dash explained. “Now there’s a new economy, all these business models are completely brand-new.” But he added, “We’ll make money, though—we gonna pay the bills.”
Toward that end, he’s seen to it that he’s a 50 percent partner in everything that goes on in this building. DD172 is essentially an umbrella organization housing a number of different projects, among them Creative Control, Mr. Dash’s online-content-production arm; America Knew, a forthcoming culture magazine; and VNGRD79, the Web-design arm. There’s also a gallery on the first floor.
Though Mr. Dash was vague about his financial arrangement with the landlord, he said he’s renting the space. (McEnzie said that, rent-wise, they’ve worked out a “creative deal” with the building’s owner.)
He’s already seeing some money come in from the BlakRoc album, a collaboration between indie band the Black Keys and various hip-hop eminences, including Mos Def, Ludacris and Wu Tang Clan’s RZA that came out this past September. “Look,” he said, “you don’t come out of financial troubles over night. But, I guess, if this is financial trouble, I like being broke.”
AT AROUND MIDNIGHT, Mos Def made his way up to a makeshift recording studio on the second floor to lay down an impromptu track. Earlier in the night, he’d told me it was his birthday. Now he’d had a few drinks, like most everyone else, and he was in the mood. I wandered around for a couple more hours, and soon the indie band Darlings in the basement was on.
On my way out, I caught up with Mr. Dash one last time. A ushanka sat squarely on his head as he sipped a red drink from a clear Dixie cup.
A joint went around, and I wondered if a place like this could really last long. Mr. Dash smiled, inhaled deeply, as if sucking in the entire room.
“I’ll tell you in about three or four years if it’s worked,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen … but I don’t see any corporate infrastructure that’s living like this. So even though we’re indie, we still have an aspirational lifestyle.”
This is exactly what he’s always wanted, he continued, gesturing at the people around him. After years of compromising, he said, “it’s finally me.”
There was one more thing. As we stood on that staircase, I asked Mr. Dash whether, in his mind, all this could possibly be a reaction—against the old world he used to inhabit. “Probably,” he conceded, pressing his lips together in thought. But, he went on, “you can have that world—I don’t want it. That’s why I left.”