The people have spoken, and they want the fat gangsta back. In 2001, when Fat Joe caught a hit with R-Kelly on “We Thuggin’,” the one-time underground emcee found the greener and more lavish pastures of the mainstream. Fat Joe continued with the pop formula and found addictive success, culminating with the monster hit “Lean Back.”
But that track was on the Bronx emcee’s 2005 album, All or Nothing, which was resoundingly rejected not only by fans but the industry as well. To further complicate things, Fat Joe departed from Atlantic Records, settling on the independent route with Virgin Records. With a new label and his back firmly pushed up against the wall, you have to hope the fire creeping up on his ass will inspire him. Pressure makes diamonds, and Fat Joe may just have the right amount of weight to produce a gem.
Although Fat Joe caught a big “L” on the last album, Me, Myself and I is a promise to core fans that Don Cartagena is back and hungry for more. Joey Crack talked with us about a new D.I.T.C., his new album and a possible run for mayor of New York City.
I see you recently did the Hip-Hop Honoree Show on VH-1. Growing up in the Bronx, experiencing hip-hop develop firsthand, did you ever think it would make it this far?
Fat Joe: [mimicking Notorious B.I.G.] “Did you ever think hip-hop would take it this far? Now we in the limelight, ’cause we rhyme tight, getting paid, blow up like the World Trade.” Yeah, man, ’cause back in the day, I just had a love. To me, that was my life, my world.
At what point did you think you could make it in hip-hop and get off the streets.
Fat Joe: Well, you know Lord Finesse was from the same project and a good friend of mine before he had a record deal, so once he got signed I knew it was possible. He inspired me to take rapping serious.
I hear that Lord Finesse and everybody else in D.I.T.C. are working on a new album.
Fat Joe: If that’s the case, then I don’t know about it, ’cause I spoke to Finesse two days ago, I did two joints with Diamond D for his new album. But, you know, I am the one begging them to do another D.I.T.C. album. I want to man, badly. Back in the days, I was always the wackest one in the crew. And now my skills are up to par. So I am dying to get a look at a D.I.T.C. album.
I read that when you and Big Pun were recording “Deep Cover,” you really thought you had Pun with your verse. And then he dropped his, which later turned out to be one of the greatest verses in his career. Do you think Pun gets his credit due as an artist?
Fat Joe: No, he doesn’t get his credit due as an artist. To put in a sadder way, I see him get a lot more credit form Latinos than anybody else, and that’s sad ’cause we pride ourselves in being universal artists. So I ain’t gonna lie: I do see a lot more Latino kids with Big Pun shirts, lovin’ Pun, where it should be universal.
I heard that even after his first record dropped and he went platinum, he still lived in the Bronx.
Fat Joe: I used to beg him to move out of the Bronx.
Why was that?
Fat Joe: ‘Cause it was a more dangerous situation. Not only that, he had become rich. He was entitled to hearing birds chirp and not bullets shot right across the street, ’cause where he lived was right in the middle of the ‘hood. You know, he lived it and didn’t care.
You had played around with reggaeton. You did a joint with Don Omar, and Nore just dropped a whole reggaeton album. You’re getting involved in the movement, but at the same time, you’re away from it.
Fat Joe: What I do is hip-hop music. Reggaeton, I support anything my Latino brothers do, whatever movement they have. I may feature on a song or two, but for Fat Joe to do a reggaeton album would be a total jumping-on-the-bandwagon move.
I recently talked to Styles P about the 50 Cent situation, and I’m gonna ask you the same question I asked him: Why get involved in a situation that is an obvious publicity stunt? 50 couldn’t hurt your reputation or your standing in hip-hop, so why go after dude?
Fat Joe: Well, it wasn’t even our choice. Styles P and Fat Joe, it was a defensive move. We responded out of defense. We didn’t look for trouble with this guy. He went at us, and we did not have no choice but to go back at him.
Everyone is still talking about how we gotta bring New York back.
Fat Joe: Psssssssssh. That’s the biggest talk on planet Earth right now.
I saw Talib Kweli perform recently, and they were saying, “We’re here doin’ our music; where are the fans?” And the fans were like, “We’re here; where the artist?”
Fat Joe: He ain’t lyin’. Artists are here, we doin’ the music. Where are the fans to support the music? Seems like nowadays, only thing people respect is record sales. I love artists for what they bring to the table. They don’t have to be the biggest seller. I ain’t one of those guys who is like [in a voice that can only be described as a Puerto Rican impersonating of a white person], “Oh, really? She sold two million? I have to go buy her album.” I ain’t with that shit! I will love an artist if he brings it, whether he sells one copy or a million.
You had a hit with R. Kelly. Were you ever worried about alienating your core fans by switching it up?
Fat Joe: I was hoping that they’d just be happy for me. I was talking with another journalist who told me [DJ Premier] got signed on to do the Whitney Houston project. Is hip-hop going to say he sold out? It seems like they want you to be fucked up in the game. Like, “Oh he doesn’t compromise, he keepin’ it real. He’s fucked up in the game.” It’s the craziest shit, hip-hop. Instead of saying “Wow, Primo just produced some shit for a bitch that went five-times platinum. He’s gonna do the new Whitney-off-drugs album.” Instead, they like, “Fuck Primo. He ain’t keepin’ it real.”
Hip-hop fans like to see artists on their level.
Fat Joe: Hip-hop fans are real funny.
On Me, Myself and I, it seems like you came a lot harder than you did on your last few albums. Why’d you change up the vibe? Was it because of the reaction to your last album?
Fat Joe: It’s about being independent. I decided to take a more aggressive approach with my music. What I try to do is please the fans who really like Fat Joe. You would say the record I had with Nelly was a smash hit, but the fans who have been supporting me for thirteen years, they kept on telling me, “Yo, Joe, we want the fat gangsta back.” And believe it or not, the fat gangsta loves doing joints with Nelly, J.Lo, R. Kelly. But the fans spoke too loud. “We do not wanna hear another song with no bitch on the hook. We have been riding with you; you used to spit that hard shit and we want that.”
So I got a couple more questions
Fat Joe: But you didn’t tell me you loved the album.
Well the joint that I was really feelin’ was “The Profit.” That shit’s crazy. If you can’t release it as a single, you need to do an underground video for that. Just you rappin’ outside somewhere in the Bronx. You could tell off that track that you seemed hungry again.
Fat Joe: I wonder if you can hear that in an artist. Like, He ain’t tryin’ to lose.
You know who I say that about right now? Raekwon.
Fat Joe: I swear to God, I feel the same way [in a booming jovial laugh].
I think you can definitely hear hunger and feel it in an artist.
Fat Joe: You can be like, “Oh, no, this nigga is on some shit. He wants his shit back.”
Of late, you have been using a lot of producers based down in Miami: Scott Storch, Street Runners, DJ Khalid. What is it about these producers that you keep on going back to them?
Fat Joe: You know, workin’ in Miami allows you to be free. New York is pretty much just a robot. Every motherfucker sayin’ the same thing, rappin’ to the same kind of beat, same kind of basic chorus. And we wonder why the state of hip-hop is so bad in New York. Every rapper spits sixteen bars and thinks he’s the King of New York. I go down to Miami with producers willing to try new things from these other niggas. I start off every one of my albums in New York and I ask them to send me beats, and if I don’t get what I want, I am out. The guys in Miami are so hungry.
I think that’s part of the problem. New York isn’t as hungry as it used to be.
Fat Joe: They should be, because they starving. Everything New York is arrogant. I love New York, don’t get it fucked up. But they are arrogant about what they brought to the game a long time ago. Fuck that. I watch some of these rappers that haven’t been hot in years walkin’ around like they Fred Astaire. They can’t be serious. When was the last hit? You can’t be walkin’ around like you God’s gift.
Walk wit me for a minute: I have run into you a bunch of times and you always have a lot of people around you and you’re very personable. Have you ever considered running for mayor of New York?
Fat Joe: [booming laugh] Get out of here. Too much dirt in my closet. Fucked too many — nah, man, you crazy.