HipHopDX recently had a conversation with Fat Joe at Manhattan's E1 Entertainment offices. The casual discussion led to a conversation about Fat Joe's 1993 debut, Represent, released 17 years to the day before his upcoming Darkside Volume 1 album. "It's uncompromised, raw Hip Hop," said Joe of his debut. "That wasn't Fat Joe tryin' to make a dollar, that was Fat Joe saying, 'Fuck you niggas, I'm showin' you where I come from, this is what it is.' My second album [1995's Jealous Ones Envy] is my favorite album, ever; I can't listen to my first album [Represent]. It's like brutal to me."
DX pointed to one of Represent's album cuts, the Diamond D-produced, "You Must Be Out Your Fucking Mind," featuring Kool G Rap and the late New Jersey emcee Apache. Joe stated, "I've always been blessed, man. My street credibility...I feel like I'm the realest rapper ever, to be honest with you... everybody wants to be a gangster, wants to be a tough-guy, but Fat Joe's really a tough-guy. Before Rap music, I'm in the Bronx with 10 [Mercedes] Benzes, 10 [BMWs], chains down to my dick - like this is for real. [I was that guy] smackin' the shit outta you - whatever you want to call it, I did it, I lived it," boldly said Joe Crack. However, those street exploits brought about a respect from the elder statesmen of Rap that few early '90s hopefuls were receiving. "Because of that, more than even my lyrical ability, when I first came in the game, guys like Kool G Rap was attracted to me - pause, no homo." He continued, "Apache was one of the realest niggas from out here in [New] Jersey. He was really attracted to me. [Grand] Puba and everybody just respected me just 'cause they'd heard so much gangsta shit about Fat Joe. I just like, 'Yo, let's do a record.'"
Looking back, Fat Joe recognizes the veteran support given that helped make him cross racial barriers, as well as become a platinum star, rooted in Rap's roughneck era of hard beats and rhymes. "It's crazy, 'cause I got them on my first album. This was Apache when 'Gangsta Bitch' was the hottest shit in the world, and this is Kool G Rap, who's still one of the best rappers, ever - somebody I always looked up to, and that's Big Pun's favorite rapper. So when I rocked with them, I wasn't on they level, but it was just raw."
Going back to his reasoning for not being able to listen to Represent - despite remembering his lyrics, Joe said, "Lyrically, I've grown so much over the years. [That's] another thing [that irritates me]: they don't admit that. [I think] I'm the only rapper that got better [with age]. [Chuckles] I can't say names, but you hear an artist, they're the dopest shit in the world on their first album, then they start to deteriorate, 'cause they get money, lose focus, [and] it ain't just all about the music." "When you're first tryin' to prove yourself, it's all about the music. Then you got mothafuckas tryin' to sell sodas and shit, do all types of shit to get money, when they forget what got us here."
Darkside Volume 1 will be a reunion with former Relativity Records President Alan Grumblatt, who's spent the '00s building Koch/E1 in a leading Rap music market-share. Joe said that it was partially Grumblatt, who released Joe's first two albums, that drew him to return to his core sound. "He said, 'Joe, I don't want to work with you if it ain't the 'Fat Gangsta'...I need the guy from the big 'Flow Joe' posters. No pretty shit." Recreating the conversation, a smiling Joe said, "'Alan, I got you.'"
Looking back at such a long career, it comes as little surprise that Joe will turn 40 years old next month. However, some could say Joe's lyrics and his image have changed very little. As DX joked that Fat Joe wasn't really 40, the rapper - who acknowledged his age said, "I'm really not. I feel like I'm 27. I look at the young guys comin' up in the game, and not too many of them can fuck with me. I feel like I'm one of the best rappers in the game right now - I gotta be honest. Now. Relevant. I'm not talkin' about niggas that used to be hot." Joe compared his abilities at his age to LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube and Jay-Z. Of the last, a rapper Joe once criticized in song, he said, "That's a guy that inspires me."
Joe also mentioned Too Short, one of his many guests on Darkside Volume 1. Asked about the song reportedly called "Money Over Bitches," Joe chuckled and said, "Straight bitches and hoes!" He reaffirmed, "When you wanna go Darkside, you've gotta go so disrespectful."
Lastly, Joe Crack was asked about his latest work with DJ Premier, the Gang Starr producer with him Joe's been recording with for over 15 years. Following up 2008's "That White," Joe was asked about The Darkside's "I'm Gone." Joe revealed that the song was recorded in the April days during Guru's untimely death. "Guru had just passed away [when DJ Premier and I] was in the process of working. We was about to do it, and [Guru] had just died, like the day before or somethin', so the whole vibe changed," said Don Cartegena, who added that he loved Guru. "So he [used] a real sad-sounding sample and shit, but I knew where he was comin' from." Joe indicated that he was referring to Big Pun, although Joe had also lost a friend and group-mate in Big L. Sharing his opening verse, Joe rapped, "When [the song] starts off, I go, 'Premo's on this beat, yeah I know it sounds different / But his mans just passed, his soul's just risen / A cold, cold world is the words that was given / As I met him, 15, with a burner, out of prison / Gangster, fuck that, Gang Starr / Tell Nas Hip Hop's dead now, my man's gone.'"
Fat Joe's The Darkside Volume 1 releases July 27 on E1 Entertainment.
RELATED: Part 1 video (Joe talks returning to hardcore lyrics, Just Blaze reunion and commitment to fans).
Video Edited by Omar Burgess.