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Kareem 'Biggs' Burke walks the walk and talks the talk. The 45-year-old co-founder of Roc-A-Fella Records is an executive producer on HBO's new film, O.G., which is about an inmate (portrayed by Jeffrey Wright) who's in the final weeks of his 24-year sentence and the movie addresses the restorative change he's undergone. For Burke -- who was sent to prison in 2012 for conspiring to distribute 100 kilos of marijuana -- this is a story seldom shown on the screen, but is lived constantly.
"A lot of times when you think about restoration, you think about just the victim. No one knows the impact it has on the person who actually commits the crime," Burke told REVOLT TV.
Since being released from prison in mid-2015, Burke has been successful with apparel lines Roc96 and Fourth of November, signed a production deal with Valence Media; and most recently signed his first artist, SAINt JHN, to his newly launched management company, Circle of Success. Since O.G. premiered on HBO on Feb. 23 at 10:00pm ET, Burke spoke with REVOLT TV about how authentic O.G.'s prison portrayal is, his plans for a Roc-A-Fella Records biopic and what he thinks about Dame Dash's apology to him.
The public knew that you were the executive producer of HBO’s O.G. film since its world premiere at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival. How long and deeply were you involved in the movie and what drew you to it?
I’ve been involved months before the Tribeca Film Festival. Once they screened it for me, they spoke to me right away. One, me understanding the nuances of prison, my first question was, ‘What prison was this in?’ I knew it was real. I knew it wasn’t a set and done in Hollywood. The way the cells were, the things that were in the cell even down to the toilet paper was. There are certain things in jail that you just know. I felt that came across and I thought that would make it a powerful project on top of the explosive performance by Jeffrey Wright. I just knew it was something that was great and it made sense to me to want to be a part of it, and to amplify the message of social reform and social injustice. Also, the restorative part the film talks about, equalizing the plane for the victim and the inmate. A lot of times when you think about restoration, you think about just the victim. No one knows the impact it has on the person who actually commits the crime.
You were quoted in April 2018 as saying O.G. delves into prison politics. What are some prison politics in the film that aren’t normally shown in films that focus on prison?
The way you have to be part of this system. Once you go into prison, there’s a recruiting process. You have to choose sides right away. I don’t think it’s ever been shown of a person trying to dodge the traps. Usually, you see people sucked in. But, you don’t see anyone trying to get out of that knowing they have so much time ahead of them. We’re talking about guys with 30, 40, 50 and 70 years trying to avoid these problems, and I think that came out in O.G.
What scene in O.G. really stuck with you the most?
We actually showed it [at the O.G. experience in New York City]. It’s Jeffrey’s character confronting the person whose brother he actually killed.
Hip hop has a lot of stories of people being reformed after being in prison, yourself included. Is there any hip hop figure’s story, past or present, that you would love to put on film?
I’ve never thought about that on a hip hop level... of someone really going to prison. I guess, probably mine (laughs). You know, I went to prison because I wanted to go undercover, right? I wanted to find out the inner workings. I wanted to go really deep undercover (laughs).
The 'Undercover Inmate.' That can be your biopic title.
Speaking of your time in prison, you came out -- I believe -- in November 2015 and didn’t make any noise until January.
I actually came out six months prior to that.
OK. So, you went eight to nine months without really making your release known to the public. Why was that and what were you doing in those months?
I was actually on home confinement. Usually, if they give you six months early release, they put you in a halfway house or home confinement. What was I doing? Going to church, spending time with my family. Everything that happened [after I was off home confinement] wasn’t planned. Every single business I'm in, I didn’t plan to do. Everything just happened, and I took advantage of my circumstance or the platform given to me. I attribute it all to the Lord. I’m a firm believer in Jesus Christ. I believe He opened the doors and put all these things in front of me, and blessed me [so] that everything I put my hands on is thriving.
You’re delving deeper into films at a time when Hollywood is looking to hip hop for biopics. N.W.A, Bad Boy, the murders of Biggie and Tupac have all been the basis of biopics in the last few years. How would you do a Roc-A-Fella biopic? Has that come into your mind?
Yeah, I’m working on it now. It’ll probably be separate stories of JAY, Damon and myself. Showing us as kids to understand what we’ve went through -- the pain and hardships. The extenuating circumstances such as me living in a shelter, some people don’t really know that. Being evicted, living in a shelter, and staying in people’s houses and floors for two years. JAY losing his father at four years old when his father left him. Dame losing his mom at 14 years old and having to put himself through private school. So, there were a lot of hardships and things we went through that actually gave us strength.
Speaking of Dame, the O.G. focuses a lot on reformation. Do you see Dame Dash’s apology to you, JAY and others as a form of reformation?
I didn’t think about it as a sign of reformation. Usually, when people apologize, it’s not so much about the person they’re apologizing to. It’s more about them and relieving that burden or whatever is troubling them. For him to feel better and be in a better space, I’m really happy about that. I’m hopeful that his apology took him to a place, and a level of comfort and forgiveness.
You're back in the music business with your Circle of Success management company, recently signing SAINt JHN. In an Instagram post announcing the signing, you said the last two projects you worked on were Kanye West's College Dropout and Late Registration albums. What from your time with Kanye can you use to help you with SAINt in 2019 and beyond?
Yeah. Everything I do now, I take from past experiences. I know that SAINt JHN needs to be speaking more because he's just as articulate as Kanye. He has a great point of view, he's very fashion forward and he's very charismatic. That goes along with being this superstar that he is and the music speaks for itself. So, for me, it's about giving him the platform for everybody in the world to see what he has to offer.
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