Earlier this month, HipHopDX met up with Bronx Hip Hop icon Fat Joe, in Midtown Manhattan's E1 Entertainment offices. The Terror Squad CEO and founder spoke about his July 27 release, The Darkside Volume 1.
After DX mentioned Joe's 2010 single "(Ha Ha) Slow Down" being potentially his best radio-supported work since 2005's "Safe 2 Say," the Diggin' In The Crates emcee pointed quickly to his latest collaboration with New Jersey multi-platinum producer, Just Blaze. "Wait till you hear this new joint with Just Blaze [on The Darkside Volume 1]. It's so crazy, man!," said an enthusiastic Joe on the song called "I Am Crack." "I'm describing myself as crack cocaine - like thee crack. [Everybody knows] they call me Joe Crack, but I'm like [reciting a verse], 'Down in D.C., shit got kinda scary / Almost lost my political connect with Mayor Barry / They mix me with embalming fluid, it's unreal / Jada said he cooked me on the Foreman Grill / Turn a happy home into a stash-house / Niggas smoke me all night, till they pass out'...it's crazy."
After providing readers and viewers with a sample offering of the rhymes he's selling on Darkside, Joe was asked how it felt to be releasing an album away from controversy. Previously, Joe had released music during a feud with 50 Cent and G-Unit, a T.S. fall-out with Remy Ma, and last year's media mayhem concerning royalties owed to Big Pun's widow, Liza Rios. Joe smiled and said, "For a minute, there was a lot of controversy involved, where, exactly like you say, it wasn't even about the musical content, it was more about the hoopla and all the shit goin' on. Now it's about the music, man." That focus on artistry was a key element in this album, "That's what [The Darkside Volume 1] is all about: showin' the world that I'm a legend, and just furtherin' the legacy."
To Joe, music will be the what fans and critics will be most drawn to as well. "This album right here, I fix my face to say it's a Hip Hop classic. I think this is what the game is missin' right now. I think this is gonna be a real eye-opener [and] reminder to the New York Hip Hop scene of, 'Yo, my man, this is what New York Hip Hop is.' I ain't compromised the music, I ain't take no shortcuts."
The rapper says that he's aware of his last several album's also trying to please too many fans at once. "Let's just say your favorite record from [2005's All Or Nothing] was 'Safe 2 Say,' but that was like the only one on the album that was like that, so you was like, 'Damn, I wish he would've did more like that.' That's not the case. [But with Darkside Volume 1], it's that shit the whole way."
Instead of taking the usual month to record, as has been the case in recent years, the 22-year Rap veteran took eight months to craft Darkside. "I had a lot to prove. It's called The Darkside 'cause it's comin' from the dark side, I don't know if too many of y'all have been there," said Joe candidly. "There's nothing like being on the top of the game, and people tryin' to knock you down, and people tryin' to act like you didn't contribute to the game or ain't a part of this Hip Hop legacy that's goin' on or whatever." As radio spins and early fan responses have indicated, Joe's hinting at a comeback. "You heard 'Slow Down,' and there was an automatic 'Oh, shit. He's tryin' to let you know that he's not playin' with you niggas.'"
However, to Fat Joe fans, there's nothing to come back from. The rapper was asked about last year's street single, "Hey Joe," that was changed on the J.O.S.E. 2 album's final version, due to problems clearing its Jimi Hendrix sample of the same name. "I wasn't mad at it," admitted Joe of the record's change. "There's records that I'm mad at. Right now, I got a record right that Buckwild produced, that's phenomenal, that's mothafuckas don't want to clear the sample. So we played it over, and it don't sound like the same record. I'm fightin'." Perhaps referring to Soul-turned-Gospel singer Reverend Al Green, Joe added, "Sometimes they fuck you with that - guys get born-again Christians, and they don't want you to sample their shit. 'Hey Joe' though, I wasn't mad at it. The video was crazy. I thought that was some real Hip Hop shit."
Fans telling Joe what they really wanted gave the star artistic clarity with Darkside Volume 1. "I make music for the fans. At the end of the day, I try to push the envelope," said Joe, perhaps referring to his dabbling with southern production, Reggaeton and other musical experimentation. "I try to make different kinds of music... just to say I made it, to be honest with you. [I do it] just to be creative and take it to another level. Unfortunately, I realized that the fans don't want certain things from me. They just want Fat Joe Crack that they fell in love with."
Specific conversations cemented Joe's understanding that fans wanted the Fat Joe they heard on the first three albums, and sporadically since. "As I'm touring, [I'm talking to my diehard Fat Joe] fans. They say, 'Joe, we what that Fat Joe Da Gangsta. That's the Joe that we love. We need Fat Joe. I see all these people that really love me. Even if I slip and make some shit that they might consider corny, they still support me because they love me. They love me for the [hardcore music]. They're like, 'Joe, we need you. Stop playin'. You might not have us no more' if you don't go back to this.'" Depending on his fans, the rapper admitted, "It was a real eye-opener. So I went into this album and said, 'Yo, we goin' in, man.' I got with that [DJ Premier sound], and it's all the way through. I believe that it's a Hip Hop classic, and I wouldn't fix my face to say that if I didn't really, really believe that."
The Darkside Volume 1 is in stores July 27 on Terror Squad/E1 Entertainment.
Video Edited by Omar Burgess.