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As Jay-Z’s recording career took off with Reasonable Doubt in 1996, the Roc-A-Fella cofounders began to look beyond music, launching their Rocawear clothing line after they couldn’t get Iceberg, one of their favorite brands, to offer an endorsement deal. Rocawear gave Biggs his official introduction to the fashion industry, teaching him everything from how to build relationships with vendors to the impact of the Chinese New Year on production calendars. “I would identify Biggs as a gentleman whose versatility extends from the gutter to the boardroom, with integrity and morals,” says Branson “B” Belchie, a fellow Harlem entrepreneur , praising Burke’s “pulse for sharing his success with the demographic from which he came.” Indeed, while Jay-Z and Dash occupied most of the ever-growing spotlight on Roc-A-Fella, Burke mostly kept quiet—and in tune with the world his business partners were quickly leaving behind. “I did the boardroom meetings with [Jay-Z],” explains entertainment attorney Bernie Resnick. “But on the streets, it was Kareem who was an important liaison to the artists.” To some observers, he put a little too much effort into telegraphing his underworld credentials. Says music lawyer Donald David: “He tried to come across as someone who was dangerous.” And yet, Burke also made a name for himself as a big-hearted and supportive executive. Resnick remembers that, when one of his clients had a run-in-with the law—resulting in a crucial hearing taking place in Philadelphia—Burke came all the way down from New York to be there for the court date as an expression of solidarity (“That was not necessary, but indicative of the kind of guy that he is,” says Resnick). The Roc-A-Fella run came to an end in 2004, when Jay-Z accepted an offer to run Def Jam, a much larger label within the Universal family; in 2008, after Jay-Z bought out Burke and Dash's Rocawear stakes, Iconix purchased the brand, by which point each member of the trio was pursing his own projects. After Burke’s 2012 incarceration and subsequent release, the three were able to come to an understanding that allowed Burke to use the names of companies and albums they'd launched together.
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