Interview: We Go Back In Time With Bronx Hip-Hop Legend Fat Joe
The King of NY speaks.
Music 3y

With over two decades in the rap game, Fat Joe has been responsible for countless movements and success stories in hip-hop. In New York, he was part of the legendary D.I.T.C and Terror Squad – two stables who were pivotal to the city’s relentlessly raw sound. He was also a mentor to the late great lyricist Big Pun, who would become the first Latino rapper to reach platinum status with his classic Capital Punishment.

When Joe moved to Miami, he was instrumental in the careers of DJ Khaled, Rick Ross and other Southern stars. All of this was on top of his solid solo catalogue – and while many of us will associate our favourite clubbing memories with crossover bangers like ‘What’s Luv?‘ and ‘Make It Rain‘, Joe’s dedication to hardcore hip-hop has been longstanding and unwavering. Plus, you’ve got to respect a rapper who’s collaborated with everybody from M.O.P. to Jennifer Lopez, right?

Currently on his first Australian headline tour, we sat down with Fat Joe to talk us through his extensive career and future plans. He plays at Hotel Chambers in Sydney this Saturday January 23 – grab your tickets right here, and see the remaining dates on Facebook.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AiwvPmRTv6M

You came up in the 90s when New York hip-hop had a distinct sound. Do you think that New York still has that now?

Yes it does. If you listen to Peter Rosenberg or Kay Slay or a couple of other DJs, they always play that signature New York sound. Now, is New York leading the way globally? Other areas such as the South and LA have a real strong movement. You got some new up and coming artists in New York, but that sound isn’t the dominant sound no more. In the 90s, we were the Number. 1 region.

You’ve spoken about people criticizing you for moving to Miami and making songs like ‘Make It Rain’. What is your reaction hearing rappers from New York and all over the world rapping on Southern beats now?

I’ve always been an unsung hero. I’ve always been a trendsetter who never got recognition for what he does. When music evolves, I move with the times – like “Alright, it’s going to the bounce – let me represent Fat Joe and my sound with that bounce.” I don’t have a problem adapting. I just completed an album with me and Remy Ma, we’re dropping the single in three weeks and it’s called ‘All The Way Up’. It’ll show you that it’s the new sound that everybody loves, but it’s Fat Joe and Remy Ma. You just got to find that perfect marriage between the two.

There was talk of Remy Ma signing with We The Best. Is that still happening?

I don’t know. What I do know is that we just completed an album, we’ve been together everyday. She’s my business partner in this venture, she’s not Fat Joe’s artist – she’s a 50/50 business partner. She came out of jail and she’s proving to be an entrepreneur and a boss lady. So I figured, you know what? Let’s break bread.

One of my favourite tracks of yours is ‘King of NY’ with Buju Banton. What’s your take on Kendrick Lamar calling himself the King of NY on ‘Control’?

It’s hip-hop, it’s meant to be provocative and it was. We’re all the way across the world talking about it now, so it worked. It’s another hip-hop moment.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNRcmtVl8f0

Terror Squad were one of New York’s big crews from the 90s. What was your relationship with other stables like Ruff Ryders, Wu-Tang and the competitiveness of New York at the time?

I wasn’t competitive with them at all. We had something to bring to the table, representing the Bronx – the birthplace of hip-hop. I started out with Diggin’ In The Crates – which was one of the most legendary hip-hop groups of all time – then I created Terror Squad. I never viewed Wu-Tang or Ruff Ryders or any of them as competition, I always embraced them and love what they did.

Speaking of D.I.T.C, I hear there’s a new record coming out from them too?

Yes sir. It’s all about legacy and giving the fans what they want. I’m excited. As a matter of fact, I wrote a song for D.I.T.C on the plane coming over here yesterday. We’re a couple of songs in, that’s my crew. I get excited when everybody’s on the mic and Finesse is back, Diamond is back. I think the fans need that.

Can you tell us about giving Biggie Smalls his first show and your proposed joint album with him?

I met Biggie at the Lyricist Lounge, and the first day my song ‘Flow Joe’ was Number. 1 in New York – actually it went Number. 1 in the country. He battled like 20 rappers. Funny thing, Biggie had a backpack on and Puffy was acting stupid onstage – this was before anybody knew who Puff was. He was acting crazy onstage, “Give him another one! Give him another one!” Biggie was killing all of them niggas. And I was in the back, I met him and we became cool ever since that day. I used to go to his house in Brooklyn and chill, we was good friends and I was like “Yo Big, let me give you a show, come Uptown.” I think I paid him 1500 and a bottle of Moet, and that’s how we got the first show.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajmI1P3r1w4

About the record together, Biggie had all the beef with Tupac, I was coming off my second album. He was like “Yo what’s up. You could be the Spanish, I could be the black – Twin mafia bosses! We could kill this shit!” We cut like four records. I know what I know now, Atlantic Records played the ‘divide and conquer’ game: I was doing the album with Biggie so they gave me a record deal that was too good to be true, offered me my own label and everything in their world, because Biggie and Puffy was really fucking with Fat Joe and they was the hottest in the game. Let’s steal Fat Joe from them – Record Business 101.

What are some of the style trends in hip-hop you like/don’t like in 2016?

I really can’t comment on that, there’s a lot of weirdo shit going on. Once again, I’m evolving with the times and being fly and being dressed nice – but some of these guys are doing extra shit that Fat Joe don’t co-sign.

What do you think is the best Fat Joe outfit from a music video?

I think we shocked the world when I wore the sky blue fur with R Kelly, and I jumped into the water with the fur on. That would be my biggest fashion moment.

What about the khaki suit in ‘Don Cartagena’?

That was incredible, man. In ‘Don Cartagena’ we really looked like we was Al Capone’s cousins!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KsUCWtxvBis

In recent years you have made amends and ended feuds that you’ve had with other rappers. Moving to Miami and raising a family, how have your priorities and relationship with rap changed over the years?

I’ve always been a pretty sociable guy, I’ve always gotten along with everybody, I’ve always supported everybody. With that being said, I’ve gotten into my bumps and bruises with artists. I don’t ever really think that they were ever my fault, it was always someone pushed me to react like that. I would live in a land of peace before war anyway, it’s just that when I’m being tested, I always stand up for myself.

Aside from the D.I.T.C album and the Remy Ma album, what’s on the cards for Fat Joe?

Man, who knows, but I’m excited about both projects. They’re not just regular projects, they’re projects that I put my life, my soul, my heart on the line to make sure it goes right. I’m in an incredible space as far as making music goes – you hear every rapper say it, but very rarely do you have a rapper who’s been in the game as long as me, that elevates and gets better every time… I’m like a college professor of music, going through different theories, thesis and degrees.

This one right here is serious. There’s never been an album from an OG rapper that sounds this fucking hot and hard as the shit I just pulled off with Remy Ma. It’s sick, it’s a classic. Usually I’m humble about my rap skills, but I can’t be – I just got the let the world know that this album is sick. Pound for pound, you can put it against your favourite rapper’s album all day. We really went crazy.

Head image by Mariela Lombard

Words by Christopher Kevin Au January 22, 2016
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