After thirteen years in hip-hop, Joe Cartagena, a.k.a. Fat Joe, is going for broke on his sixth LP, All or Nothing. Never known for his lyrical dexterity, Fat Joe has improved immensely on the mike, even joking on Ja Rule’s “New York”: “Now we killin’ them Howard niggas/ who said I must have found Pun’s rhyme book.” Regardless, Fat Joe is more concerned about commanding that pop money than peers’ props. He’s flirted with star status with “We Thuggin'” and “What’s Luv,” but nothing compares to the grip and impact the Terror Squad’s “Lean Back” had on hip-hop in the summer of ’04. With All or Nothing, Fat Joe is inching even further toward the mainstream, switching up his style and adding more accessible vibes to the formula. The result is a compromised sound that will appeal more to causal hip-hop listeners.
The album starts promisingly with Just Blaze’s banger “Safe 2 Say (The Incredible),” featuring a Chuck D sample that highlights Joe’s vast improvement as an emcee. Check these heavenly bars: “On my waist you know I got to keep that oven/ for you ginger-bread-pie-ass niggas the heat’s running on high/ Joe Crack, I bake the cake and serve you niggas humble pie.” DJ Khaled keeps the pot cooking with “Beat Novacane,” which plays like a superhero anthem for Joey Crack and the corners of the Bronx.
Mostly, though, All or Nothing is littered with tracks for the masses. Fat Joe re-ups with Scott Storch and recruits Nelly for “Get it Poppin’,” a catchy club track that is marred by a synthesized beat without any distinctive character. The hits keep on coming with “So Hot” featuring R. Kelly, an obvious attempt to rehash the past success of R. Kelly and Jay-Z’s collaboration “Fiesta Remix.” But the album hits rock bottom with “Hold You Down,” a track featuring Jennifer Lopez that will surely (and only) receive heavy spins at sweet-sixteen parties and senior proms across the country.
A song like “Hold You Down” would have most other hip-hop artists’ ghetto passes revoked, but Fat Joe still has legitimate claim to New York City throne. With an upcoming D.I.T.C. project in the works, he still holds a place in his heart for true-school hip-hop. All or Nothing may not elevate Fat Joe to superstar status, but you can’t blame a brother for trying.