Not Just Another Barbershop: Brick Barber Boosting Musicians' Dreams

BRICK, NJ — In the fall of 2022, Brandon Burke was looking for a fresh start.

He had been living with his father in North Jersey and was working as a master barber, renting a suite at a local salon. In his off-hours, he was working to make and grow connections in the world of independent music as he worked to build his profile as a hip-hop artist.

Then on July 26, 2022, Brandon’s father, Robert, died in the condo they shared in Mahwah.

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“I found him dead in his bed,” said Brandon, the owner of Unscathed Cuts, the newly opened barbershop and music store in the Town Hall Shoppes shopping center.

Robert, who was known as Bobby, died of complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, after a rapid progression in the disease, Brandon said.

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It was traumatic, and soon Brandon, who turns 27 in February, tired of being alone.

“One night I thought, There’s no reason for me to be up here anymore. There’s no one keeping me here,” he said. So he picked up the phone and called his mother, Jeanine Wudke, who was living down at the shore, and said he wanted to come live near her.

The transition was not completely smooth.

“I shut down everything,” Brandon said, including closing his salon suite. It cost him a significant amount of money, Jeanine said. When he arrived in Brick, he struggled to find a place to work.

“He was working for a local shop part-time, and then the shop closed,” Jeanine said, and while he tried to go work for other shops, nothing worked out.

Finally she suggested he think about opening his own salon. They looked at a few places and in December 2022 saw a small storefront in the Town Hall Shoppes.

“At the time I wasn’t mentally ready to own a shop yet,” Brandon said. But as time went on and frustrations mounted over trying to work for other shops, he decided to pursue his own salon.

“I decided I’m going to open my space for real this time. I’m doing it for my dad because he would want me to do it,” Brandon said. “I feel wrong not trying at least.”

There has been some negativity, Jeanine said. “Oh, another barbershop?” has been the response.

That’s why mother and son are both quick to note it’s not “just another barbershop.”

That’s where the music comes in. Brandon has been making hip-hop/rap music since he was 16, and in recent years has found success as an independent artist, reaching 100,000 streams of his album with C-Lance, “Hell Above the Graveyard,” on Apple Music.

“For a small artist coming out of the woodwork that’s pretty good,” Brandon, whose stage name is Unscathed, a name suggested by a classmate.

“I was in class, sophomore year in high school, and we were doing work. I turned around to my friend and said what should my rap name be?” Brandon said. “Dude, I’m doing work,” the friend replied, “but I kept pestering him. Finally he said, ‘I don’t know, how about Unscathed?’ ”

Brandon first was drawn to rap and hip-hop after hearing a song by 50 Cent when he was about 11 years old. “I thought, this is cool,” he said. Not long after that he discovered there was an extensive underground music scene dedicated to hip-hop and rap.

“I was always interested in the art form of (hip-hop and rap),” he said. “I always liked the creative and artistic way of doing things.”

The underground artists weren’t produced by big-name record companies, and Brandon said the upside of that is they aren’t pressured to change their music or their approach.

The downside is the underground artists don’t have the marketing power of a multimillion-dollar company to drive attention to their work.

That’s where Brandon hopes to make an impact for other independent artists trying to break through. Collaborations with other artists helped him get noticed and get people listening to his music on a regular basis, he said.

“My biggest inspiration is Vinnie Paz. He’s pretty big in the underground hip-hop world,” Brandon said.

Among the collaborations is with C-Lance, who produces Paz and now is producing Brandon’s music.

Brandon said he reached out to C-Lance on Instagram, seeking permission to buy a beat that C-Lance was playing in his Instagram story. One direct message later, and a door had opened to a bigger world.

Since then he also has collaborated with other bigger names, including Celph-Titled, Apathy, RJ Payne, Termanology, Jarren Benton, and Lord Goat, among others, giving Unscathed exposure to a wider audience.

That’s why Brandon wants to open the doors for others through the barbershop/music shop combination.

“I don’t feel like there’s enough support for independent artists,” he said. “That’s the whole premise of the shop– to showcase independent artists who don’t have the backing of a record label.”

The shop is showcasing what Brandon hopes will be a growing number of independent artists, playing their music, showing their videos and selling their merchandise (on consignment).

“I feel like a lot of them don’t really understand that networking and having certain relationships helps a lot,” Brandon said. “I’m proof in the pudding.”

“If anyone has a chance to get their music heard, even if it’s one person I’d take that chance,” he said. “One person can turn into 10, 10 into 100, a hundred into a thousand.”

The shop also is a chance for him to show off his own music, including his newest album released in October 2023, titled “My Dad’s Favorite Album,” which pays tribute to his father.

“I’m very particular with the details,” Brandon said. “You will find good music while you’re coming in for a haircut.”

The barbershop is a full-service salon, including buzz cuts, precision cuts, line cuts, beard trimming, face masks and hot towel treatments. They serve children ages 5 and older as well as adults.

“Brandon is all about quality, not quantity,” his mother said. “He takes his time with his clients/”

She’s hoping the shop fills a niche in the community and in her son’s life.

“He has been through so much,” Jeanine said.

The shop is looking for barbers. You must be willing to work on the books. You can follow Brandon’s music on the Unscathed YouTube channel and follow his Unscathed Facebook pagefor updates.

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