With two major releases over just a few days, June is basically a debut party for 4th & Broadway, the legendary Island Records imprint that is now helmed by LaTrice Burnette.
The label, named after Island’s former location above Tower Records in New York’s East Village, originally was launched in 1984 and focused on hip-hop and dance music by artists such as Eric B. & Rakim (the 1987 classic “Paid in Full”), Dream Warriors, Stereo MCs, Bomb the Bass and others. It was shuttered in 1998 when Island was absorbed into the company that became Universal Music Group and was briefly revived as a dance imprint in 2013. But this new incarnation was relaunched last November by Burnette (who has served as Island EVP since 2018 after years at Epic, Atlantic and Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records) in the spirit of the original.
“It’s important that artists in the New York area and the Northeast have a voice, so for me the focus was searching for and identifying talent in our own backyard and then expanding from there,” Burnette (pictured above with label artist Young Devyn) tells Variety. “Obviously 4th & Broadway has deep roots in New York and I wanted to bring back that essence — it started with Eric B and Rakim, and I want to carry that torch and represent for New York, especially being from Brooklyn myself.”
Still, the label’s initial releases are from all over the map. It led last year with a pair of albums from international divisions of parent company Universal Music Group (by Nigerian artist Tekno and South London rapper Giggs), and has followed with 19-year-old Brooklyn-reared Trinidadian rapper Young Devyn, whose “Baby Goat” EP drops on Friday; L.A.-based group Emotional Oranges, whose album “The Juicebox” arrived last Friday; GLAAD-nominated Chicago rapper Kidd Kenn; and Canadian singer-songwriter Chiiild, whose “Hope for Sale” arrives on July 23. All of the acts have festival appearances and tour dates ahead, but just as importantly, they also fit Burnette’s concept of the label.
“My vision is to establish a strong brand identity through cultural moments and physical experiences,” she says. “I want true artists who have a voice and a message as well as being serious about music and their craft, but I’m also looking for an entrepreneurial spirit, because I’m one at heart. Also, the brands that we partner with are very important, through the merch we make and wear, the lifestyle and obviously live events. Culture is woven into everything we do.”
Indeed, keeping it in the Island family, the label has partnered Devyn with Tuff Gong Collective, which is overseen by Cedella Marley, CEO of the Bob Marley Group of Companies, and will represent the rapper and her repertoire in the Caribbean.
As for the torch she is carrying, Burnette has researched her label’s legacy with a crate-digger’s zeal. “I was talking with Funkmaster Flex about Young Devyn,” she recalls, “and he said, ‘You should bring back those original 12” single sleeves,’” which were bright pink and stood out in a stack of vinyl.
“I told him it was so crazy he’d say that, because I’ve been scouring our archives and getting with the U.K. team and anybody I thought would have info on the original label or original pressings. So I went on eBay and some record sites and I found a bunch and ordered them — and one of them had a note in it. It said, ‘Congratulations LaTrice, make good use of this’ — I guess they’d looked me up online — and it actually brought tears to my eyes. So I told Flex, ‘Yes, we will be utilizing the pink sleeve for our 12”s!’
“You have to respect the legacy and the people who paved the way,” she concludes. “You can’t have a future if you don’t know your past.”