Our favorite Hip-Hop nerds’ rap to the Roc
By Icy Johnson aka William I. Holla aka Icillio Sparks “bbrrraaaap brbraaaaaap bbbrraaaaaappp”
Record labels come and go without leaving a mark on the music business, Roc-A-Fella Records wasn’t one of those labels. “We wanted to give one of our favorite record labels flowers while they can still receive them” said Eric Rosenthal aka ItsTheRealEric as he and his brother Jeff Rosenthal aka ItsTheRealJeff were interviewing some of the people who help build Roc-A-Fella to the one of the most beloved record labels ever.
No, we didn’t get to see Jay and Dame on the Highline Ballroom stage, Eric & Jeff aren’t miracle workers. However, they were able to secure Biggs, Hip-Hop, Guru, Lenny S, Chaka, Just Blaze, Free, Chris & Neef and Jim Jones—if I have to explain who any of these people are go read something else.
The show was scheduled to start at 8pm and it was a packed room. Podcast OG Combat Jack—and the Loud Speakers Network folk family, writer Paul Cantor and other industry people sprinkled around the venue. Roc-A-Fella brought people from as far as Alabama, Virginia and Baltimore. I mean “It’s the Roc!”.
Eric & Jeff do their trademark intro of aka’s & gunshots and then they introduce 1/3 of the founders of the Roc—Kareem “Biggs” Burke. The crowd erupts with applause. I felt I was seeing an OG for the first time in years. That’s what Biggs, Dame & Jay were like for me and some of my friends, they represented the guys who made it from my neighborhood because I knew guys like them. The guys who were doing things the other dealers weren’t like going on trips, driving luxury cars or wearing the clothes that nobody knew existed and we the fans soaked it all up. Roc-A-Fella was lead by three guys who didn’t have business degrees and they used their savvy street knowledge to start Rocawear Clothing & Roc-A-Fella Films. Urban legend has it that Biggs provided the capital to start Roc-A-Fella Records, during this podcast taping he stated that Dame & Jay invested as much as he did. The audience were hanging on to Biggs’ every word, you can see that he and Roc-A-Fella were all about black enterprise and becoming successful entrepreneurs.
Eric & Jeff then bring out Hip-Hop, Lenny S, Guru and Just Blaze who go on to tell these great Roc-A-Fella stories. Eric is asking great open-ended questions allowing these guys to tell fascinating behind–the–scenes stories that everyone seem to remember differently than Just Blaze sometimes. Whether you have watched interviews on YouTube or listened to a podcast with any former Roc-A-Fella artist, producer or employee you know as Neef Buck explained “we all busted on each other” (pause). It’s well documented that Dame liked to crack jokes all day, I Just Blaze mention this in previous interviews and seeing these guys on stage it was like they were all were back in Baseline Studios.
From Hip-Hop & Lenny S. telling A&R stories or Guru & Just giving us studio gems, Eric then introduces Freeway, Young Gunz & Jim Jones to the stage—Jeff asks Jimmy an important question. Freeway shares how he was eager to put out music and how he had to be persistent with Just Blaze to get beats—apparently just like everyone else at Roca-A-Fella except for Jay and maybe Beans. We also hear how Free snuck on 1-900-Hustler and he gives us a short performance. Around this time, we get to see Just Blaze nerd out by telling us the story behind some of his most famous beats—always mentioning the equipment he used. Biggs and Lenny S proceed to crack jokes on Just every time he doesn’t name drop any equipment. That became running joke throughout the night. Guru would step in to try to help summarize the story but Just Blaze being Just Blaze he couldn’t help himself. It was pure entertainment. Eric manages to get Young Gunz to deliver a short performance for us before they tell funny stories about Big Face Gary.
Chaka Pilgrim then makes an appearance and tells stories about how Biggs & Dame allowed her and other employees to become entrepreneurs behind the scenes with projects they were working on. Unfortunately, scheduled guest Emory Jones had to cancel last minute. Biggs shared with us that it was Tone Hooker who came up with the name Roc-A-Fella, he came out to the stage for applause.
Through my experience recording a podcast for almost a year I know how tough it is to interview multiple guests at the same time, so I really commend The Brother’s Rosenthal of the job they did of moving the conversation forward with bringing guests out in chronological order and just letting them segue to the next topic organically. We were treated to a slideshow of old Roc-A-Fella pics to start the show and then the logo you see above. Eric & Jeff represented all of us fans with timely and appropriate questions throughout the night.
[insert Eric & Jeff fake gunshots]