By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
You shoulda been with me last Saturday. I was at Diddy's house for his birthday out on Star Island," says local music impresario Bigg D. He leans back in the leather seat of his new Bentley as he drives south on I-95. "You ever eat lunch at Tootsies?" he asks. The car's sound system vibrates as he pulls up to the valet station in front of the famous strip club.
"Ah, Bigg D," says a grinning valet as the six-foot-eight, 280-pound, bald-headed giant opens the car door and steps out, adjusting his diamond bracelet. Patrons glare at the black Bentley as sunlight reflects from its dark tinted windows. "We'll eat lunch here, have a drink, and then head over to the studio," he says. Two strippers lead Bigg D upstairs to the club's "Skybox" section, where he is seated at a reserved VIP table. "I tell a lot of young people comin' up in this game, man, don't ever give up," he says, sitting down. "Don't ever feel like you not gonna achieve. You know what I'm saying? God will just flip it like that, and I'm a spiritual person. I'm the type of person that ... I know in myself that I am supposed to be successful, because that is the path God has set for me. I don't want to be number two. I want to be number one. That is exactly how I look at this whole game."
Songwriter and producer Derrick "Bigg D" Baker was born and raised in Liberty City. His career as a professional musician began in the early Eighties, when he played back-up guitar for Grammy-winning gospel and R&B artists like Shirley Caesar and BeBe and CeCe Winans. In the late '90s and early '00s, he began producing local rap artists like Trick Daddy, Trina, and Pitbull. Today he's responsible for the music of numerous Billboard chart toppers. "I have made hits for Jamie Foxx ['Unpredictable'], Jennifer Lopez ['Wrong When You're Gone'], Pretty Ricky ['Grind on Me'], Mike Jones ['Cutty Buddy'] ... the list goes on. I call the studio my laboratory. You'll see."
He has pulled the hottest names in the business together for collaborations: Jamie Foxx and Ludacris, Chris Brown and Kanye West. Most recently he produced the hit song "Hello Brooklyn" on Jay-Z's American Gangster, featuring a collabo between Hova and Lil Wayne. "It's the first record Jay-Z and Lil Wayne ever did together — two of the biggest artists in the game right now. To me that is an ultimate achievement. There are a lot of producers in this world that would've loved to do that.
"I'm gonna tell you something I've never told nobody," he continues. "I gave this record to Fabolous, and he declined. Then I gave it to this upcoming artist Lil Mama, and she declined it. You are blessed to get a song to not only the right artist but to Jay-Z and Lil Wayne. Think about it. You know? My management [Hustla, Inc.] also works with Scott Storch. They take the beats I make and shop them to different labels and A&Rs. The artist may hear something they like and write something for it. That's how it's really done. This game is just so competitive."
Asked how he brings artists of that magnitude together, he says, "It's really God's doing. When I finished that particular beat, I knew it was for Jay-Z, but he already had a new album, so we couldn't get it to him. Me and Wayne, we work together on a lot of projects.... We are currently working on a rock and roll album together. Every time I see Wayne, I give him a beat CD. Wayne reminds me of Tupac — he can rap on anything."
Scantily clad women wearing dark red lipstick begin to form a semicircle around the table. "I've always been a fan of Jay-Z, same with Kanye West," D says. "God just sets it up like that. I gave Chris Brown one of my beats. While he was working on it, Kanye walked into the studio and they started working on it together. I had nothing to do with none of that. Kanye walked in the room and said he wanted to get on the record. I wasn't even there, but I got the call."
Bigg D's friend James, owner of Take One Cocktail Lounge on NE 79th Street, approaches the table. D stands up and they hug. James whips out a wad of hundred-dollar bills and hands one to a stripper as she whispers into his ear. They sit down and Bigg D continues. "That song was supposed to be the next single, but based upon Kanye West's mother just dying, we don't know what he's gonna do. I can kinda feel Kanye right now, because I had a younger brother that died. My brother was on the ValuJet flight that went down in '96 over the Everglades. That was my only brother." He pauses as large plates of chicken wings, dumplings, and other appetizers are brought to the table.
"You never get over it. Kanye's mother was all he had, and my brother was all I had. The only thing that really kept me focused and kept my mind straight was this music, this game. Me and my brother used to do it together. To not have him here made me angry enough to do this for him," D says. He bites into a chicken wing. "It could do two things to you. It could send you into a shell and you never come out, or it can make you stronger. My brother's death really made me stronger. I am praying for Kanye, man. I hope he pulls out of this. Can't nobody relate to that unless it done happen to you. I know what my dog is going through right now. I sent him some flowers, you know what I mean?"
Eventually the plates and glasses are cleared away, and after some more drinks and various strip club activities, Bigg D is back in the Bentley and driving to Audio-Vision Studios in Opa-locka. Once inside the large, dark room, D becomes like George Lucas editing Star Wars. Sitting behind the mixing console, he turns knobs, frequently holds up his thumb, and watches meters on the wall-to-wall apparatus. Two of his employees sit in front of their laptops, bouncing and mastering the tracks. The Miami native's hypnotic orchestrations blast from large amplifiers around the room and pulverize the sound-proof walls as people cram inside to witness this mad scientist at work.
Numerous socialites enter the room as if reaching Mecca after a pilgrimage. They offer Bigg D gifts. He slides on a pair of dark sunglasses and an expensive-looking hat as some representatives from the Ed Hardy clothing company thank him for the endorsement. He stands up and saunters over to an electronic piano on the other side of the console. The beat is booming as he hits the keyboard like Thelonious Monk. He loops various sound effects from the piano, and then he bends over and picks up a white Ibanez guitar. "That is the guitar you hear when you listen to that new Kanye song," says D's personal assistant, Zoe. He puts down the guitar and goes back to the mixing console. The room sits in suspense as he tweaks out the tone and resonance of a future hit song. "This one is for Janet Jackson," says a man bobbing his head.
After several hours of music-making, D stands up and announces he is going to the Heat game. Zoe gives me a ride in her car. She turns the radio on to 99 Jamz, as a Lil Wayne song plays. "Hear that music in the background? That's Bigg D."