NEW YORK — Dame Dash and Kareem “Biggs” Burke laughed on Monday (October 15) when they came up with a new crew name on the spot: “Block-A-Fella.” The “Block” in question refers to their new social-networking Web site, BlockSavvy.com, which has also served as a platform for Dame to blog and, maybe most significantly, resurrect Roc-A-Fella Records material from when Dash and Burke were tight with Jay-Z.
They were so tight that a few years ago, Dame wanted to pay tribute to his onetime inseparable buddy by having several artists on the label remake some of Hov’s tunes from his various albums. The project was called Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.
“We made this a while ago when [we still co-owned] Roc-A-Fella,” said Dame, who later formed the Dame Dash Music Group with Burke after the three principal players sold their remaining 50 percent stake of the label to its parent label, Island Def Jam, in December 2004.
“We got Juelz [Santana] … Young Gunz … Rell, Jimmy Jones, Kanye West, Beanie [Sigel],” Biggs added of the Beyond a Reasonable Doubt collection.
(Hear the tribute tracks for yourself! Check out reworked versions of the Reasonable Doubt cuts “Politics as Usual,” “Regrets” and “Can I Live,” as well as a new rendition of the In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 song “You Must Love Me.”)
“At the time, I was looking for platforms to showcase the artists,” Dash chimed in. “This was my [mental] state three, four years ago. I was always looking for projects to showcase the artists and move as a team. We had the talent. Cam’ron did a record too. Everybody did renditions of Jay songs. Some from Reasonable Doubt, some from other records.”
The entire project was sparked by the original Reasonable reaching a milestone, its 10th anniversary, last year.
“Honestly, Reasonable Doubt was very important to us — despite the fact that people are paying homage to it without us, and I’m seeing stuff on television,” Dash said, referring to the “VH1 Classic Albums” episode that broke down the making of the classic Jigga debut. “[But] we’re not getting interviewed, which is cool.
“It’s a piece of us. It’s the only thing we still own that has anything to do with Roc-A-Fella,” he continued. “So back then, and being a part of the DNA of Roc-A-Fella, I was always trying to figure out a way to celebrate it. I knew the 10th anniversary was coming up. I said, ‘Let’s do an album with all the relevant artists doing a rendition of Jay records.’ But Jay said he didn’t like it, so we scrapped it. … You know what it was, he said the best record was Jimmy’s, so he didn’t want to put it out.”
Although there aren’t any current plans to release the album conventionally in stores, the duo have posted the project up on their Web site.
“We felt like we might as well, why not?” Dame shrugged. “I don’t know, I’m living more on the virtual/digital side.”
When he thinks back a decade, to the making of Hov’s first LP, Dame tells the story of how a couple of decisions and maybe one or two missed studio sessions could have changed history.
“Nas and AZ was supposed to be on ‘Bring It On,’ they kept not showing up,” Dash recalled. “That’s when we wanted to put out the Firm. They didn’t show up. We was meeting and they was saying, ‘Yeah,’ but they wasn’t showing up. We would be waiting and we would be getting offended. So we brought Sauce [Money] and [Big] Jaz on the song.”
“Jay didn’t want to rap over that beat,” Biggs offered of “Can’t Knock the Hustle,” “but I called him and said he should rap over the beat, because it would come out hot regardless.”
“He didn’t want to do it, so I had to get Mary J. [Blige], and [I] gave her 10 grand out of a paper bag,” Dash added. “She did it for us. I knew her when she was young.”
Some of the tracks on Beyond a Reasonable Doubt feature Cam’ron rapping over “Show You How” — which appeared on The Blueprint 2: The Gift & the Curse — while another has Beanie Sigel redoing In My Lifetime, Vol. 1‘s “Where I’m From” and Freeway taking on “Politics as Usual.”
“It was so ill, because he was talking about struggles in the street,” Biggs said about the Jay-Z original. “We did that song before Jacob [the Jeweler] was out. Remember the line, ‘to Tito in the district’? When we really started buying jewelry, we would go to Tito. Everything about Reasonable Doubt was [the] reverse of what you think. Like ‘Can’t Knock the Hustle’ — he wasn’t talking about hustling, he was talking about the music business [being] the hustle. He was talking to everybody else like, ‘Don’t knock us.’ ‘Cause that’s the new hustle. That’s why it’s so funny — people don’t understand the genesis. It was representation of us and our life together. ‘Regrets’ was my favorite song on the album. I liked ‘Regrets’ and ‘Cashmere Thoughts.’ He wasn’t gonna put ‘Cashmere Thoughts’ on there — he only put it on there ’cause it was my favorite.”
” ‘Dead Presidents II’ was mine,” Biggs said of his favorite Reasonable Doubt track.
Biggs and Dash’s post-Roc life, as you know, has also involved fashion and films. Their most current project is “Mr. Untouchable,” an upcoming documentary on the life of Harlem, New York, drug kingpin Nicky Barnes that arrives in theaters October 26.
But as far as music goes, it’s still up in the air how many more albums Biggs and Dash will put out. They don’t see the biz being lucrative anymore.
“We got heat. Nicole Wray’s album [Lovechild] is hot, ODB’s album [A Son Unique] is hot,” Dash said of the label’s two LPs, which have been kicking around for quite some time but haven’t been officially released. “Everybody acts like they doing us a favor by putting it out.
“We got deals everywhere,” he added when asked about a recent deal he struck with Koch Records to distribute his music. “It’s not about the deal, it’s about the frustration and hassle. We turned into real business men. We’re here to make money, and it seems like the money ain’t there.”
You can hear the entire Beyond a Reasonable Doubt LP on www.BlockSavvy.com.