Biggs spoke with Rspect Mag about the early days of Roc-a-fella records:
Dame Dash, Kareem “Biggs” Burke & Jay-Z: The Men Behind Roc-A-Fella Records
“Brooklyn’s Finest,” Jay-Z is one of the greatest rappers of all time. His influence on hip-hop culture and lifestyle is beyond measurable and surely has made history. He made “The Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can,” made striped button-ups and throwbacks a “thing,” had everyone rockin’ platinum jewelry and brushin’ the dirt of their shoulders. Not to mention, Hip-Hop’s most beloved couple wouldn’t exist: Beyonce & Jay-Z. But, if it weren’t for the men who recognized his talent from the beginning, none of that would’ve occurred. With it being the 20th anniversary of Jay-Z’s debut album, Reasonable Doubt, let’s learn more about the men who created Roc-A-Fella Records and history.
Starting with a more common name many of you have heard, Roc-A-Fella Records wouldn’t have happened without entrepreneur, Damon “Dame” Dash. In his earlier days, Dash got out of the drug-dealing life and ended up launching a mini business throwing parties and promoting clubs. Eventually, this led him to a career path towards management, in which his first client was a rap group called Future Sound. He arranged for Future Sound to sign a deal with Atlantic Records under a record executive named Rodolfo Franklin aka DJ Clark Kent.
DJ Clark Kent was the one who first told Dame Dash about a former drug-dealer in Brooklyn aspiring to launch a rap career – Shawn Carter which would come to be known as Jay-Z. Dash was blown away by Jay-Z’s talents and immediately took to managing him. He handled all business-related duties, and after some thought with Jay-Z, wanted to form Roc-A-Fella Records. Dash was in a crew when he was younger called Best Out, with his friend Kareem “Biggs” Burke. Burke was in St. Thomas for a few years but moved back to NYC after a huge hurricane hit. It was when he came back to NYC when Dash & Jay-Z approached him about starting Roc-A-Fella Records. Dash was the guy taking care of business for the label, while Biggs was in the studio bringing the lifestyle to the table.
Many would be surprised to know that Biggs was actually a huge inspiration to Jay-Z’s music and lyrics in his earlier days as a rapper. In an interview with Complex
, Biggs said before they started in ’96, “I had a Range and a platinum Rolex, so then Jay would talk about that in the songs. We were drinking Cristal. By the time we shot the “Ain’t No” video, we were already trying to stop drinking it. We were drinking so much Cristal, we wanted to find a new champagne.” Not to mention, Biggs had so many connections out in St. Thomas that the “In My Lifetime
,” music video was filmed there.
Biggs recalls not being sold on Jay-Z when he first met him. He told RapRadar
it wasn’t until he saw Jay-Z battle DMX
uptown when he really started believing in his skills. Today, if you go back and listen to many of Jay’s earlier records, you can hear him reference Biggs and Dame quite often in his lyrics. These two heavily influenced Jay-Z’s music while at the same time helped him shine in the spotlight. Although there were some instances of Roc-A-Fella growing apart, it was always a plan of theirs to build their empire and sell it in the future. Today, Biggs says there is no bad blood between him, Dash or Jay, and says it’s all love still.
In celebration of Reasonable Doubt
‘s” 20th anniversary, Biggs is opening up a pop-up shop in L.A.
playing all the debut’s notorious tracks and merchandise such as t-shirts, hats, posters and cassettes in 90’s fashion. If you’re a Jay-Z fan on the westcoast, you should definitely go check that out. Otherwise, today is a day to celebrate not only Reasonable Doubt
and Jay-Z, but the men who made it happen as well; Roc-A-Fella Records co-founders, Damon Dash and Kareem “Biggs” Burke.
To read up more on Reasonable Doubt, hit up the respect-mag.com
site. It’s Jay Day, All Day Baby!