Although the iconic recording studio on the fourth floor of 320 West 37th Street has traded under the name of HeadQCourterz since DJ Premier and Charles Roane took over from its original owners, Douglas Grama and David Lotwin. It will forever be remembered as D&D Studios by rap fanatics everywhere. Closing its doors for the final time on December 31, 2014 to make room for what will surely be some over-priced condos, yet another legendary part of hip-hop history has been erased by the constant demand for real estate in Manhattan.
The decline of professional recording studios has been in progress ever since consumer technology became powerful and affordable enough to produce, record and mix music in the comfort of your own home. Yet it’s hard not to feel a tinge of sadness with the news that the walls that birthed albums such as Gang Starr’s Daily Operation, Group Home’s Livin’ Proof and Black Moon’s Enta Da Stage will soon be torn down. While many other classic studios are no longer with us (Power Play closed its doors in 1998, while 1212 Studios shut up shop years before that), the fact that Premier felt that it was something worth preserving since the original owners stepped away in 2003 speaks volumes about its significance. Ironically, Doug and David decided to concentrate their efforts on the D&D Record label, which stopped releasing records by the close of that very same year.
This is the same studio where Preem walked in on a naked Notorious B.I.G. getting his ‘duck sicked’ by a couple of eager young ladies before recording his vocals. It’s where the timeless lyrics of ‘NY State Of Mind’ were laid to tape. It’s the birthplace of Jeru The Damaja’s 1994 anthem ‘Come Clean’. And it provided home base for every Gang Starr LP after Step In The Arena. D&D also played host to great records from M.O.P., Jay-Z, KRS-One and D.I.T.C. In fact, it was Premier’s first trip there to record scratches for Lord Finesse’s ‘Return of the Funkyman’ remix in 1991 that first introduced the legendary producer to his new haunt.
There was also the time that GURU, who loved to hit the booze almost as much as he loved rhyming, engaged in a bout of fisticuffs with his Gang Starr partner just before they recorded ‘Now You’re Mine’ for the amusingly titled White Men Can’t Rap, leaving the acclaimed DJ with tooth marks scarring his fist to this day – a fond memory of his fallen comrade’s boisterous temper. For all the convenience and cost-saving of home studios, it’s hard to match the energy and spontaneity of the traditional grimy recording studio, where on any given night any number of characters could drop by to smoke, drink and contribute background vocals to a session.
There’s also no dispute that the rooms of D&D are a huge part of the signature raw aesthetic that Works of Mart have been associated with for the past 24 years, also serving as Showbiz’s base of operations for much of that time. This marks the loss of an important part of New York hip-hop history that will be forever associated with the second ‘golden age’ of rap – an exhilarating time which can never be repeated but will long be cherished by those who were lucky enough to experience that run of classic records. But for a genre that prides itself on constant reinvention, perhaps our energies are better spent looking forward to – screw it, who am I kidding? The ’90s aren’t ever coming back. All we can do at this point is weep into our bottles of Henny and laugh about when Walker Wear was a thing.