Kareem 'Biggs' Burke Talks Recreating Iconic D&D Studios for Jay Z 'Reasonable Doubt' Pop-Up Shop in New York
After honoring the 20th anniversary of Jay Z's seminal debut Reasonable Doubt with a pop-up shop in Los Angeles in June, the Brooklyn rapper's close friend and Roc-A-Fella Records co-founder, Kareem "Biggs" Burke, is bringing back a piece of the album's history for the New York celebration this week.
After getting a hold of the D&D Studios owner, Douglas Grama, and its original graffiti artist, Biggs replicated the iconic studio for the East Coast pop-up shop, including the original sound board used in the recording of Reasonable Doubt. "We wanted to create something special," Biggs told Billboard over the phone. "[Douglas Grama] had one piece of equipment left from that era, and it was the actual board we used to record Reasonable Doubt. This was the one DJ Premier used all the time in the [Studio] B room." The shop, conceptualized by Biggs' associate and chief marketing strategist, Anel Pla, will also incorporate Reasonable Doubt's original masters and two-inch reels.
Powered by Fancy.com, the Roc96 exhibition pop-up store will also unveil five exclusive collaborations with high-end designers, commemorating the songs off Reasonable Doubt in partnership with Biggs' Fourth of November clothing brand. Among the merchandise will be an Akita Kodate military jacket collaboration, LSTN sound ebony wood headphones featuring the Reasonable Doubt 20th anniversary logo, a unique Reasonable Doubt vinyl turntable from VYNL, a luxury duffel bag with the signature Hov phrase "Can't Knock The Hustle" from Moreca Atelier, and specially designed t-shirts for men and women.
"I'm very humbled that so many hold this album in such a light," Jay Z said in a release sent to Billboard. "It was made for those who understood it. I never imagined it would capture such acclaim."
The preview party will kick off on Oct. 19, before the shop opens to the public on Oct. 20 through Oct. 23 (from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.), at 347 West Broadway between Grand and Broome Street. Upon purchase, tickets will also come with a credit towards a T-Shirt, and can be copped here.
Biggs also talked with Billboard about the significance of D&D Studios in recording Reasonable Doubt, as well as the artists today who embody Roc-A-Fella's entrepreneurial spirit, in the full interview below.
Looking back 20 years later, what was it about D&D Studios that made it the perfect place to create Reasonable Doubt?
The atmosphere. Going in there and seeing all those plaques with all these artists that had made it already. We would play pool and hang out in the lounge and see all this history, just hoping one day, we would be on that wall. Working with DJ Premier, who’s arguably one of the best producers of all time, giving us that sound and that grittiness, and that knock that his room had, it was designed so perfectly. It was comfortable too, so even as gritty as it was -- and that block was a little dark at times, we used to come with a few extra guys because you never know what could happen on any night -- the actual recording process was fun.
How important was it to recreate D&D Studios in New York City itself?
It’s real important. New York City is the birthplace of Reasonable Doubt. Jay being from Brooklyn, Dame [Dash] and I being from Harlem, we wanted to make sure New York was done right. That’s why we took our time with it and we wanted this museum piece to be a part of it. We even have some footage from Jay that nobody’s ever seen before, of him talking about the album and D&D. We gonna have a lot of surprises there, and teaming up with Fancy and then bringing these luxury brands, it kind of shows that we evolved, and how we’re still relevant today, and how we’re pushing forward with the different collabs and things that we’re doing.
It’s just that Reasonable Doubt was the album that changed the way business was done, because it was the album that was used as a platform to launch fashion, tech, spirits, jewelry, and I don’t think it’s ever been done [before] on that level. And to see that it’s still relevant 20 years later, and still pushing forward and breaking the mold, doing these collaborations that we’re doing, I think is real exciting.
1996 was such a landmark year for hip-hop releases, and 2016 has seen its share of major releases in the genre as well. Could you even compare the two or put them on the same plane in your opinion?
Not in my opinion. Hip-hop is broadened, and it’s gotten really big, which is really good. But going back to ‘96, it was an era, it was a feeling, there were movements. I think that’s what missing now. We're trying to bring the lifestyle and the movements back to the brands. Right now, there’s a lot of one-offs, and I don’t feel like there are complete movements. There’s like one or two, but back then, there were a lot more.
Are there specific aspects of the music business today that you feel have been influenced by Roc-A-Fella?
There’s certain artists, like Pusha T, for example. For an artist to rebrand himself from being in a group to solo artist to becoming the president of G.O.O.D. Music, but at the same time, having a clothing line and doing the things that he’s doing. That’s what we represented. The entrepreneurship, the spirit of independence and ability to do business beyond music. Pusha’s a real prime example for what we’re doing today, and of course, the artists that are on our Reasonable Doubt family tree -- like Kanye West, with what he’s doing outside of music. We always knew that music would be a good platform for us, but we always looked beyond that.