Fat Joe: Blame It On The Beats
Few artists who have reached the commercial and celebrity success of Fat Joe have attained his respectability in the field of Hip Hop. Beyond just bringing Big Pun to our ears, Joe has played a role in super-group D.I.T.C., unified coasts at critical times, prompted awareness to veterans, and arguably remained the most consistent star from The Bronx since KRS-One stepped out of the mainstream limelight a decade ago.
With singles like "Make It Rain" and the newly-released "I Won't Tell," Joe's other side is rarely discussed by those who know, and rarely conveyed to those who don't. But as his new album balances the hits with tracks like the DJ Premier-assisted "Thank God For That White," the man who 14 years ago introduced himself as "Fat Joe Da Gangsta," is still true to form. In an exclusive interview with HipHopDX, Fat Joe manages his south-exploiting criticism, talks about his agelessness and blames producers, with a gangster's chuckle, for the "ignorant shit" that he continues to give his hardcore heads. Flow Joe!
HipHopDX: Being a hardcore Hip Hop guy, I wanted to ask you about this track from the new album Thank God For That White. What does it feel like, as fellow 90s hardcore Hip Hop guys, to work with DJ Premier on a song thats seemingly about what so many rappers today are talking?
Fat Joe: Premo isif not the greatest producer of all-time, one of the greatest. He is the definition of Hip Hop. So to work with him, you have no choice but to be honored, and be humbled that he would even do a beat for you. So whenever I team up with Premo, its like hes God. Its nothing but an honor to rock out with him, so I gotta bring my best to the table.
DX: Tell me what you can about the record itself
FJ: The record is just that hardcore, corner block slingin Hip Hopthat picks up where [Notorious B.I.G.s] Kick in the Door left off.
DX: Some folks have been critical of what they call your catering to the south with the last two albums. As I think about that, I cant help but remember when you extended a hand to the west in the late 90s when that sound was unfavorable in the marketplace. Do you think your pursuits of nationwide sounds are just misunderstood, or is it just musical experimentation?
FJ: What I do is I make music. I like to think of Fat Joe is from New York, but Fat Joe is universal. I make music for kids all over kids in Oregon, kids in Connecticut. I like to make hit records. First of all, when I drop my singles, theyre always hit records that can play everywhere. The album, I like [to fill] with that shoot-em-up, bang bang; thats what Fat Joe has always been since day one [with] Da Fat Gangsta. I got a big fan-base to please. I gotta make that hit record that the fans know me for, and I gotta make those Premo, those Streetrunner, those LV tracks that just get my core fans riled up. I dont like to think because I did a Make it Rain, which had a bounce with it, meant I was going south. I made a hit record that was relevant for the time. This new single [I Wont Tell] aint got nothing to do with the south. Like you said, I did joints with guys in the west coast too. Im just a universal artist; I dont like nobody to just put me in a bubble and force me to be one thing. I came in the game to be a superstar and make music for everybody.
DX: You mentioned some names in Streetrunner and LV. Both guys are getting a lot of acclaim right now for work they did this year. Starting back to 1993, you really showed that Diamond and Showbiz could bring artists out, or Scott Storch. Youve always been ahead of the curve with producers. Whats your process like when artists shop you beats? You gotta be your own A&R
FJ: I am my own A&R. I have a very good gift, which some of my favorite rappers dont have, and its beat-picking. I got the ear for beautiful beats. I got the ear for working with new and upcoming producers that no one has heard of before they turn into stars. Its just a gift I got, and I think thats whats kept me in the game so long. Its not only always advancing my skills, lyrically, but just being able to be ahead of the curve in knowing what hot beats are.
DX: Dr. Dre always plays his beats in his car. When you get these beats, any special practice you do?
FJ: I listen to beatsit can be from somebody as big as Scott Storch or somebody little, and I listen to the beats, and if I hear [something] that I love, it starts talking to me and telling me what to say. It literally starts telling me what to say. So blame it on the beat if [I say] I killed kids on record, or Thank God For That White if Premo comes and gives me a Kick In The Door, am I supposed to rhyme about Gospel? The beat is telling me what to say. Blame the producers!
DX: Im not on that Imus tip [Laughs]
FJ: [Laughs] Yeah, I know, blame the producers for giving me that crack cocaine.
DX: Hey, I love the ignorant shit.
FJ: I love the ignorant shit too! In fact, thats that one record I love from Jay-Z right now is Ignorant Shit. [Laughs]
DX: I dont think there is an independent artist in Hip Hop who finds more success and support from radio than you do? Besides just good music, how do you prove to do what so many independent artists consider to be the impossible?
FJ: The radio has a lot of success from me. I make the kind of records that girls get involved with; I make the kind of records that people want to hear all day on the radio, so they request them all the time. So my track-record has been pretty great with radio. Of course they play stuff that the people want to hear, and they want to hear the Fat Joe singles. That, and me, I own my own independent label, so I hired my own radio team, which happen to be some of the best people. See, Fat Joe used to put up his own promo stickers and go to jail for putting up his own posters and promote, standing outside clubs, giving out flyers about my records. I did all that; thats where I come from. So in order for me to hire, anybody on my team has to be able to roll up their sleeves and work. I dont hire guys who just look nice in fancy suits. I hire the guys who really get the job done.
DX: Youve got a younger generation really behind you. Have you found that these younger audience are doing the research and buying your first three albums?
FJ: I cant tell you. I really dont keep track of that. I hope so. I dont know. I rather them just likin my stuff now, cause Im so much better now than Ive ever been.
DX: Doing some research, I realized that all but two of your albums were released in cold weather months in the year. Last year, it was good to hear Make It Rain on snowy, messy days in the northeast. Is there a strategy behind this?
FJ: Youre actually right. Boy, youve done some good research. [Laughs] I guess thats just my timetable, my frame of work. I notice that. Yesterday I was doing my album cover artwork and I was wearing a skully and coat on. Its got that vibe. Im always a diehard New Yorker, always!
DX: One thing about you is, youre like the Dick Clark of Hip Hop. I say that respectfully, because despite being a consistent veteran, you look the same and still get new fans. In music and in image, what makes that possible?
FJ: Cause I stay fly! For one, Im one of the flyest guys as far as dressing. I take a lot of time out to make sure my wardrobe is up to par. I make sure anytime anybody ever sees me, my haircut is right. I take care of myself. As far as being in the streets, I never left the streets. Im in the streets. I risk my life going to the clubs where no rapper can go. Im in the hood. I know what the people want. I know what they sayin about me. I know what they want to hear. I have never been able to be bougie. No matter what. Tonight [November 29] Im being honored at a charity event for something I do for kids, and Im almost fighting the fact that Ive got to wear a suit. I justhavent changed. In my heart, Im 18 years old. Thats the big thing about it. I still act like an 18-year-old. I get a new gold medallion and feel like, Oh God, I wanna walk through the whole Bronx with it. Theres a lot of adolescence to me.
DX: What is the charity with children that youre being honored for?
FJ: Leave it to Fat Joe to have a gangster charity. [Chuckles] Kids with incarcerated parents, theres no ways of getting them to visit their parents. We try to generate money to have that family bond. As well as, when it comes Christmas time, these kids parents are obviously in jail, so well play Santa Claus for em and stuff like that. Theyre honoring me for just helping out.