On “22 Twos,” one of the most memorable cuts from Jay Z’s 1996 magnum opus, Reasonable Doubt, Maria Davis can be heard urging the young MC to “put that champagne down and kick a little freestyle.” Registering somewhere between a comedy sketch and a master’s class on lyrical precision, the song is meant to recreate the now-infamous Mad Wednesdays parties Davis would host in Harlem, club nights that gave up-and-coming artists like Hov and Missy Elliott their first breaks.
Today, as Reasonable Doubt celebrates its 20th anniversary, “22 Twos” can be experienced as a window into the Uptown party scene of the mid-1990s. But as it turns out, Jay Z—then 26 and just beginning to launch his empire—was rarely compelled to put down a glass of champagne. According to Kareem "Biggs" Burke, an executive producer on Reasonable Doubt and the co-founder of Jay’s Roc-A-Fella Records, the rapper’s entourage used to clean out the club’s stockpile of Cristal every Mad Wednesday. By 2006, Jay Z’s own Club 40/40 was selling bottles of the champagne for between $450 and $600.
“That actually built a huge fanbase for us at the time, because we would kind of go there and take that over,” Burke told Genius’ Rob Markman in an interview earlier this week. “At that time we had picnic baskets in the club, and garbage pails full of Cristal. We would go in there and buy a hundred bottles. So we were kind of go before Wednesday and [be] like, ‘Yo stack up on cristal, ‘cause we’re going to buy everything,’ you know what I’m saying? Make sure the owner had enough, and just buy out the bar.”
Most famously in the song, Davis can be heard scolding the crowd for “smoking reefer” before kicking a customer out because he told her to “shut the eff up.” Apparently back in the 90’s, Jay wasn’t a big smoker.
“We were drinkers,” Burke said. “We drank heavy.”
Despite hip-hop’s long love affair with high-end champagne, Jay Z boycotted Cristal in June of 2006 over racially-charged comments made by the company’s leadership.
“It has come to my attention that the managing director of Cristal, Frederic Rouzaud views the ‘hip-hop’ culture as ‘unwelcome attention,”’ the rapper said at the time. “I view his comments as racist and will no longer support any of his products through any of my various brands including the 40/40 Club nor in my personal life.”
In 2014, Jay Z bought a stake in his own champagne brand, Armand de Brignac.