Joey Fatts Previews "iLL Street Blues" & Stresses Creative Control
Exclusive: Joey Fatts shares details on his work with A$AP Rocky, Freddie Gibbs & Action Bronson. The Long Beach native also breaks down the importance of unity.
Twenty five miles south of Los Angeles, Joey Fatts is perfecting one of the many musical projects that have been locked up in his head. iLL Street Blues is scheduled for release on March 27, but that isn’t the only piece of work keeping the 23-year-old emcee busy. For the past two years of his musical journey, Fatts has kept a steady work ethic mastering his skills on the mic and behind the boards. He understands the importance of being sonically well-rounded and continues to depict stories as seen through his own eyes, not only through words but also through self-directed visuals like he did for the Chipper Jones Vol. 2 track, “Lindo.”
Long Beach, California, home to West Coast Hip Hop legends Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg and Warren G, serves an important role as the hometown setting for much of Fatts’ storytelling. Tales of street struggle (“Get Paid,” “Curfew,” “Picture Me Rollin”) can be heard throughout the Chipper Jones series. It serves as a reminder that keeps the Cutthroat Boyz member grounded and willing to share different points of view in order to depict real life. It is also another reminder that he must use his steps to success to help the community around him.
While he belongs to the younger–at times, indecisive–half of the Rap age spectrum, Fatts is clear about the independent direction he’s taking. His manager A$AP Yams and Yams’ slightly more-famous Hip Hop affiliate A$AP Rocky have each helped round him out as a businessman and talent. The producer-slash-rapper got his reps late last year when he traveled as an opener on the “Turnt x Burnt” tour with A$AP Ferg and the Mob. Europe, 50,000 A$AP fans, enough to toughen up the performance of any emerging artist on the scene and to make new fans overseas. That’s just an example of one of the opportunities Fatts has seen in his two-year career span.
Back home, he’s one-third of the Cutthroat Boyz, consisting of Joey Fatts, A$ton Matthews (Lakewood, CA) and Vince Staples (Long Beach, CA). The crew has already started slowly rolling out individual projects, all of which include production and verses from Fatts. He believes in his home team. It shows in his discussion of each talent and when he simply-yet-firmly states, “It’s Cutthroat year 2014.”
Joey Fatts On Balancing His Subject Matter With Exhorting Unity
HipHopDX: On “Get Paid” you say, “My mama said all I do is chief / And that’s the shit she don’t like / But she don’t mind me runnin’ in a nigga house and movin’ white.” How do you draw the line between telling your story and letting people know they can overcome some of the things you did without glorifying it?
Joey Fatts: Music goes to a certain extent. It goes only so far, because you get a lot of people that have good music that’s a fucking piece of shit in person, and because they’re a piece of shit nobody wants to even hear their music. So to some, they probably perceive it as, “Damn, every time he’s talking about killing, and stuff.” But every time they see me in person, I’m shaking hands and teaching them about unity and shit like that. It’s more me trying to be motivating as a seeing guy not a hearing guy. I don’t want you to hear me say, “Oh, I’m doing this.” I want you to be like, “Oh, that’s Joey Fatts, and look at what he’s doing. He’s actually doing it. I would expect him to be completely different from what he rapping about. He’s talking about murder, but look at what he’s doing.” So I really make action. My music is just what I’ve seen.
It feels good to open the doors for my brothers and everything. That’s why I try to teach unity and stuff. I try to teach unity, so we can all come up together, ‘cause it’s just more money for everybody, and I’m trying to turn a tide because I come from nothing. I’m not just trying to be rich. I’m trying to turn a tide for generations in my family.
DX: You touch on that autobiographical aspect right on the tape’s intro. How did you end up at Jordan High School?
Joey Fatts: I’m from Long Beach; well, I’m from the East side.
DX: Usually, people from the East side end up at Poly, right?
Joey Fatts: My brother and them—we were getting into a lot of shit, and we were just getting into so much beef on the East side that my mom was like, “I don’t feel safe with you going to Poly,” because a lot of enemies lived there. And my cousin Gino was a big football player at Jordan, so it was only right. But the North side is way nicer than East side… East side is grimy. Long Beach just be poppin’ in general on all sides.
DX: In line with that, in your OnSmash interview, you talked about rappers losing touch when they remove themselves from the streets. How do you find a balance?
Joey Fatts: I’m always going to be in the streets. That’s how I feel. In a way, I choose to be involved. I’m not involved in the streets in violence and breaking the law. I go in the streets and try to provide ways for my brothers to make money, making merch and doing things like that. That’s what we choose to do. We try to feed the streets because that’s where we come from.
Joey Fatts Speaks On Work With Freddie Gibbs & Action Bronson
DX: Switching gears a bit, after coming off of the Chipper Jones series, what direction did you want to go in with iLL Street Blues?
Joey Fatts: It’s basically like everything up to this point. It’s not really a storyline. I kind of missed everybody’s... I kinda missed trying to do that in Chipper Jones Vol. 2, because I didn’t have enough time to put skits and stuff and really show people that it was blended as a project. That’s why I was rapping like that—more monotone. It was like a Morgan Freeman narrative. That whole Chipper Jones Vol. 2 was supposed to be a narrative. It wasn’t supposed to be like rapping. It was a narrative like, “This is what goes on.” I shot the video, “Lindo,” like that. It’s all like mini movies. So that’s where budgets and stuff come in, because we’re all independent acts coming up. Some stuff don’t fit in, and we can’t afford some stuff, so we just made do with that and some people missed it, but it’s alright. I’m just really gonna work on the music and see where it goes from there.
We’ve been working on A$ton’s new stuff and Vince [Staples] is finishing up his mixtape, so it’s dope to finally get a chance to work on my stuff.
DX: You work with them on the production side, features side or both?
Joey Fatts: I work with A$ton on both, everything, ‘cause that’s my man. We work on everything with each other. Vince has a mind of his own, and he’s like a little genius. He likes to go off into a cave, but I got a studio session with him sometime this week. I’m going to be on Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2 hopefully on production and features.
DX: As far as your relationship with A$ton Matthews, you guys met through a stolen iMac, right? Do you guys ever bring that up and joke up about it?
Joey Fatts: We don’t really bring it up. That’s a regular thing we did back then, so it’s good that we’re out of the streets now. We don’t really look back about it. It’s crazy that we laugh about it. It’s crazy that that’s how we met.
DX: Do you still have it?
Joey Fatts: Yeah, that’s what we record off of still. I’m incriminating myself, man.
DX: A$ton is Central American and, given some of the tension between the black and Latino communities, does that ever come up?
Joey Fatts: We always… He calls me black boy. We speak freely about it, ‘cause we could joke like that. We joke about race all the time. We joke like, “You black as hell today; you shouldn’t be in the sun.” We joke, and it’s funny. It’s good that we have that relationship, and we don’t have to take it that serious. Nah, that’s my guy. He has other little Mexican friends and little Mexican friends that have other little Mexican friends. They all cool. I’m cool. It’s just something that’s been going around Long Beach for a minute. I never got hip to that shit. If you cool and you about your money, then I’m with it.
DX: You talked about iLL Street Blues, being more personal. The album cover itself definitely speaks to that...
Joey Fatts: It’s actually my nephew. It’s a picture...I took the picture myself. I seen him, he was in the high chair, and he looks exactly like me. Dead on. He’s short, little and compact like I was and everything...looks like a little butterball.
Where iLL Street Blues all started from was, I was thinking how I always had the baby idea. I just thought about it off the bat. That’s the first thing I thought about, and then I thought about it having Crip tears…Crip, blue rag tears. I started from there, and we had it zoomed out at first. He was still in the high chair, and I still have the picture. I told my graphic designer, HK to put some stuff in his eyes.
How “Ill Street Blues” Led Joey Fatts To Jay Z & Kool G Rap’s Music
DX: How much of that visual mentality factors into you directing your own videos?
Joey Fatts: I just feel like nobody can tell me where I come from. What do I do music for? I’m not no mainstream artist. I don’t need no booty shaking, no people doing nothing crazy or to be in the sky or do something. I’m speaking, and most of the time I’m speaking about things that I’ve been through or things through my eyes or the perspective of minorities. I’m never showing glamour towards being a rapper or talking about having chains. I’m really talking about being a minority, because that’s what affects people around me.
There’s some people that come up with dope ideas, but then again I’d rather do my own stuff. That’s something I actually want to do. I actually want to get into directing. The plan that I have for iLL Street Blues is that I want to do a mini movie—a 15-minute documentary—and it’s gonna have three songs built into the documentary. I’m going to release certain clips.
DX: Before iLL Street Blues was announced, there were rumors that you were releasing a self-titled project, and there was another rumor about Born Broke, Die Rich. Were those the ones that were in talk?
Joey Fatts: The self-titled album was supposed to be HOF, but Big Sean ended up coming out with an album titled Hall Of Fame. If anybody ever remembers me rapping, period, since I first came out, I had this album cover. It was like angels and engraved in stone. I’m not saying anybody took anything, that’s a big saying. That was before [Chipper Jones] Vol. 1, and that was before I dropped anything. That was going to be the name of my first tape, but then I came up with the Chipper Jones idea, and I’m like, “Chipper Jones is getting old. He’s gon’ retire soon.” I started watching ESPN, and I’m like, “He’s gonna retire, so I’m gonna do 1, 2 and 3 tapes.” And then HOF was going to be Chipper Jones dying and his legacy living on to HOF. I had a crazy idea for it, but the timing was just fucked up, and Sean came up with this great idea of calling his album HOF. I just Harlem Shook my way out of it.
I have a lot of stuff in the works. I work all over the place. I got songs with Action Bronson and songs with Freddie Gibbs that nobody’s ever heard. That’s what I was gonna do for Born Broke, Die Rich—five tracks with me just rapping over everybody else’s beats, then five tracks with all my production with all rappers rapping over my beats. I had the concept behind it, and I don’t want to reveal it. Me and Freddie are working on a collab tape. I have a lot of stuff. I’m telling you.
DX: In terms of iLL Street Blues, where did the title come from?
Joey Fatts: First of all, I’m not gonna sit here and front like I just know about Hip Hop or I knew it was a Kool G Rap song. I was listening to Jay Z, just getting my fucking history on, making sure I was on top of my shit and listening to everything… “Hard Knock Life,” everything. I ran across “Feelin’ It” and he said, “The ill street blues got you hunger painin’.” And I’m like, “Damn, that’s dope. Ill street blues.”
DX: You eventually found out. Even though you said you aren’t a super Hip Hop historian, how much studying have you done?
Joey Fatts: I did it right away, because I’m like, “Ill street blues. It’s so dope that I’m sure somebody else… It’s too much of a good saying.” So I just Google’d it. Google tells you everything. Kool G Rap was the first song that popped up, so I’m like, “OK, let me check out this Kool G Rap song, because this is where it comes from.” And of course, a lot of people had their projects named after iLL Street Blues. HipHopDX has a big fan base, so when you guys tweeted my album cover, everybody was like, “Oh that was my album’s name.” I’m like, “Dude, shut up. How many albums are named iLL Street Blues? It’s a popular saying.”
DX: Have you found that you studied Hip Hop more since you’ve grown in stature?
Joey Fatts: Yeah, yeah. Like I said, I don’t really lie about Hip Hop. I didn’t listen to much of Jay Z two years ago, because I’m from the West. I was raised on Snoop Dogg and stuff of that sort, so I didn’t listen to too much of Jay Z until like two years ago. And I started like, “Damn, he’s dope.” Of course I liked “Big Pimpin,” but those are commercial hits. He raps better on the shit that’s not on the radio, so [I was] actually getting behind the hits and seeing what he did to make his shit go platinum.
Why Creative Control In All Aspects Is Important To Joey Fatts
DX: You also produce. What do you think the benefits are from having your hands in everything?
Joey Fatts: It’s easy. Music is easy, and I produce too. I pick things apart, and I think that’s how I got good at rapping. I’ve only been doing music for two years. I think that’s what’s making me get better, because you learn how much a beat means to lyrics. A lot of people take credit away from the beat. You come in aggressive at one part of the song, stylizing things, so a lot of that means me stripping apart a beat. I really just have everything orchestrated. I just know how everything is put together, so it’s easy for me to format. I think me being able to produce gives me that leg up. I don’t think it’s because I make more money [doing my beats], but because it teaches me more about the game. I have a leg up on rappers.
DX: Another rapper who does that is A$AP Rocky, and you guys have had a working relationship and a friendship. Did he give you advice or did you just do it on your own?
Joey Fatts: Me and Rocky are close, but he lets me do my own thing as far as the music. He never calls me or nothing to say, “Do this,” or that he would never do that. They trust my vision, and that’s why they started messing with me…they trust my vision with everything that I do. It’s never like, “Oh, you should do this in your video,” or, “You should do that.” Everything is all my concept. The “Cutthroat” video, I actually first put out, and I directed it, but it was so horrible. I was like, “I don’t want no credit for that.” It got a lot of views, but it still sucked though.
DX: Maybe you’re being a little hard on yourself.
Joey Fatts: No, that shit sucks though, because the song is dope, but [the video is] all off-sync and everything. The song is dope, but the video is trash. You learn. You get better. I can look back and say, “Damn, this lip sync was all fucked up, now look at this.”
DX: In a previous interview, you said you were working on Rocky’s sophomore album. Do you have any idea how that project is turning out?
Joey Fatts: He’s a caveman as well, and Rocky’s doing a lot of traveling. I think right now he’s in British Columbia. He does a lot of traveling, so I don’t think he’s even recording right now. He’s always working, but he may not be recording, so I’m pretty sure he has a lot of songs done. I heard like three songs that we did personally. We produce things together, but I produce a lot of it myself.
He’s getting real good. You know, shout out to ya boy and all that. My brother threw me the alley oop, and I helped him do production. Yeah, he’s great though. He’s teaching me some shit now, because he’s traveling and working with other producers, and he’s coming back like, “Yo, I’ve seen this.” He’s getting real good. He’s a crazy man with brains.
DX: You mentioned him throwing you the alley oop. In terms of rapping, when did it go from, “I have to do this” to “I like doing this?”
Joey Fatts: When you learn it. The only time I feel like, “I have to do this” is when you’re learning the program. That’s when it sucks. I have to do this because I have to learn it. I have to rap because I want to learn. Once you learn, it’s fun. You start saying, “Let me switch this flow up” or, “Let me switch this beat up. I want to sound like this.” It’s really easy. You just gotta know what you’re doing.
DX: Is that part of your daily routine?
Joey Fatts: Actually, I’ll be asleep. I wake up, smoke a blunt, and go back to sleep. I wake up, and I like to eat chocolate donuts. That’s why they call me Fatts. I eat a lot of chocolate donuts. I’m not a day person. I hate sleeping in, so I’ll wake up and then by 12:00, I’ll be drowsy like, “I’m ready for the day to be over.” And then I go to sleep, and at 9:00 I’ll be awake ‘til 4:00 in the morning.
I think the tour fucked me up. I had never been in an airport before traveling for Rap music. Rocky threw me into the deep end…that wasn’t fair. During the Long.Live.A$AP Tour in Europe, it was like 5,000 people in London. We were the only openers. It was a lot of people. It’s crazy. That’s how my fan base grew so big. Those are a majority of people from overseas. We did a show in Hamburg, Germany, and it was like 50,000 people. Rocky was really looking out.
DX: So your first experience was this totally wild scene overseas…
Joey Fatts: They are crazy. Toronto is crazy too. I dislocated my ankle in Toronto. I popped locked and dropped it. It was after my performance on the last show of the tour. I was turnt up, and I got in the crowd while Ferg was performing. It was right before he dropped “Work,” and you know that’s a turnt-up ass song. Nobody noticed me in the crowd because I had my hood on. I was in the front. And then Ferg sees me, and he was like, “Oh shit, look at Joey everyone.” And they turned on the lights. Everybody started going crazy, then he dropped “Work,” and then he said come out. The crowd thought I needed help, so they threw me, I landed on the security’s foot and I rolled my ankle. It just popped and went dead.
At first it knocked the wind out of me. It hurt so bad, so I just couldn’t breathe, and then I was hopping around on one foot. The security had to throw me on stage, so I hopped over to a chair and sat down. I’m all fucked up and looking ugly. It’s the last show on tour, Rocky’s there, we in Toronto and I’m over here with one leg.
DX: That’s a rough note to end on. On a separate note, I wanted to talk about your biggest inspiration artist-wise.
Joey Fatts: Right now, I fuck with ScHoolboy Q. He’s one of my top favorite rappers. He comes from nothing like me. He speaks from my... Before I was rapping, he had a song like, “Tick-tock, this is for my niggas on the Fig block, 51st street.” He was basically talking about how they live day to day, and you can relate it to how I was living—selling drugs and being with my friends. It was just dope. I’m like, “Damn, this nigga is me all over again.”
DX: As far as everything that’s been happening so far, what do you fee like you’ve learned since it’s still early in your progression as far as being an artist?
Joey Fatts: Friendship is everything…relationships not just friendships—relationships with your parents, girlfriend. Don’t get lost in the money. Money isn’t everything. A lot of people are sad with money wishing they was chillin’ with the friends they had 10 years ago. There’s a lot of people wishing that. They would have given up all the money in the world to be back there. You got to value that.