Rappers are, ultimately, mythmakers. Jay Z’s myth started 20 years ago, when his debut album, “Reasonable Doubt,” was released by Roc-A-Fella Records —the upstart music label he formed in partnership with Damon Dash and Kareem “Biggs” Burke. The album and label went on to find historic success, not only cementing the erstwhile Shawn Carter as a rap titan but also earning him a reputation as a gifted and prescient businessman with a loyalty to those who helped in his achievements.
Now, in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the album and venture’s enterprising success, Roc-A-Fella co-founder Burke and fellow label veteran and Carter compatriot Emory “Vegas” Jones have continued the Roc-A-Fella tradition by collaborating with the rapper once again — this time on a fashion collection commemorating “Reasonable Doubt.”
Burke and Jones have coordinated limited-time pop-up shop events in 14 cities nationwide to showcase their Roc96 capsule collection, with each site being pegged with a “Reasonable Doubt” track that is then reflected in the exclusive gear. Alongside Hov, the team picked “Feelin’ It” for Boston, and earlier this month (Dec. 4, which any “Black Album” fan can tell you is Jay’s birthday) the two were on hand at the Concepts streetwear store in Cambridge’s Harvard Square to discuss the collection, their latest business dealings and to reflect on life as Hov’s BFFs.
Burke, who had wished Jay Z a happy birthday earlier that day, shared that Jay had told him he was pleased the two had taken the lead on the project, because while the rapper would have been satisfied celebrating the anniversary at the home with the gang and a bottle of wine, this way allowed the public to better understand what the album meant to the group of friends overall.
“That album was ours just as much as it was Jay’s,” Burke told a gathered crowd of rap and fashion aficionados. “It was a whole team. Jay did that to album impress us,” he added. “It was a piece of everybody on each track.”
Burke admitted to not loving Jay’s rapping at first. “It wasn’t until I head ‘95 South’ (an unreleased demo that was recently made available on Tidal) and the time he battled DMX that I was like, ‘This dude is incredible,’” Burke said. “He was talking about things we were living at that time. I’d never heard something like that, the way he explained the stories, and the cadence and timing and lyricism.”
Sporting the “Feelin’ It”-branded apparel exclusive to Boston which featured the classic lyric “If y’all brothers ain’t talking ’bout large money, what’s the point?” Jones explained how the music had inspired the clothes, saying, “We used graphics that came from the audio and wanted to bring that vision to life.”
“I’m far from a designer, but I’m a dot-connector, so sometimes you’ve gotta take someone that’s talented and help them become great,” Jones sagely pointed out.
The collection includes a “Feelin’ It” hoodie, a baseball hat emblazoned with the “Reasonable Doubt 20th Anniversary” logo and a number of T-shirts showcasing that logo and other weight-moving iconography that will be familiar to longtime Jay Z fans, and is available at Concepts at 9 JFK Street in Cambridge while supplies last. If you’re feeling it.