After years of repping the streets of the Bronx on a “just below mainstream” level with the crew called Diggin In The Crates, Fat Joe earned some small fame with 1999’s gold album Don Cartagena and received nationwide recognition with J.O.S.E., his fourth solo album. With these two albums, he followed the same formula that worked so well for The Notorious BIG and Big Pun before him: drop an album full of hard edged street bangers sprinkled with a few catchy, radio friendly party joints to drop as singles. The formula worked well, spawning two of the biggest hits of the past year in We Thuggin and What’s Love, and it earned him a platinum plaque, all while maintaining appeal to his core audience. Following the old adage “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broken”, Loyalty basically picks up right where J.O.S.E. left off, although there are several differences in the approach taken. While J.O.S.E. was chock full of big name guests, Loyalty is an album that features the Terror Squad. The only big name guests are Scarface, Baby, and Ginuwine, a far cry from the all star lineup that appeared on the last joint.
The album certainly starts off on the right foot, beginning with “Take A Look At My Life”, a Buckwild produced banger that is vintage Fat Joe. The rhymes are what is to be expected of such a track: Joe spitting hard about the streets and the lifestyle of a Don. Some listeners may find this subject matter redundant, but if that were the case I doubt that they would be checking for Joe Crack in the first place.
Up next is the one of the tracks that features high profile guests, as Baby and Scarface both pop up on the Alchemist laced “Bust At You”, the latest in the recent rush of 2Pac remakes. However, unlike “The Pledge Remix” and “Bonnie and Clyde ’03”, this one does not fall flat on its face. Alchemist ventures away from his trademark sound and does a beautiful job of flipping the sample here and this actually ends up being one of the best songs on the album. Credit is also due to Tony Sunshine, who sings a sick hook for the cut.
“Prove Something” follows, and is produced by Cool & Dre, the duo who is responsible for the majority of the songs on the album. While the names may not be familiar yet, my guess is that they will be moving into the limelight very soon, as their work on this album is for the most part excellent. This joint is another “throwback” Joe track that features Don Cartagena spitting hard edged street shit with a hype hook thrown in as icing on the cake.
Unfortunately, the album takes a bit of a turn downwards after this. “TS Piece” features Tony Sunshine and Remy Martin. A rather stereotypical “Latin” flavored, guitar laced beat and weak rhymes throughout make this joint appear uninspired. “It’s Nothing” is better, but the weak attempt at recreating “What’s Luv” in “Turn Me On” is the low point of the album. The introspective and excellent “Born In The Ghetto” is followed by the mediocre “Crush Tonight” (or as I call it “You Owe Me Part 2”), which I am sure you have all heard. Fortunately things pick up after that.
“Gangsta”, produced by Terror Squad member Armageddon, is an introspective look at Joe’s upbringing. No fantasy Scarface-style shit here, just a realistic look into the street life that Joe lived as a young man and what he saw going on around him. Joe dedicates a song to his wife with “All I Need”, and Armageddon appears as well with a verse to his girl. While this type of song generally comes off as corny and contrived, this one for one reason or another seems very genuine, and is actually a very enjoyable cut.
“Life Goes On” is another softer track, followed by the dope posse cut “Loyalty” featuring the Terror Squad. Prospect and Armageddon come with the dopest verses, which makes me wonder why Remy Martin and Tony Sunshine both have solo albums lined up before either of them. The album is closed out by perhaps the best song, “Shit Is Real Part III.” A personal look into the life of Joe Cartagena like parts I and II before it, he defends the legacy of Big Pun against those who attempted to detract from Pun’s legacy after his death, including Pun’s ex-wife:
“Why you have to take Pun? Someone so young
With so much more to live for, as real as they come
Dead men can’t talk, that’s why you hearing one side of the story
But did they tell you how provided for 40
Family members, grandmas to shorties
Even my seeds at off the big homie
How could you deceive your kids like that?
Make em believe their dad wasn’t worth jack?”
All in all, this album is satisfying but not what it could have been. There are more conscious and heart felt songs on this album than any of the Fat Joe albums before this, which is a good thing. The production ranges from good to incredible throughout. The problems arose when Joe tried to get a little too commercial for his own good, and the lull in the middle of the album occurs because of this. Still, the album is worth copping simply because there are a lot of dope cuts; longtime Fat Joe fans that loved him for joints like “Success” will be satisfied by cuts like “Take A Look At My Life” and “Shit Is Real III”; fans that he earned with “We Thuggin” and “What’s Luv” will enjoy “It’s Nothing” and “TS Piece”. When all things are considered, Fat Joe did a nice job of balancing this album for different crowds and fanbases, if not a great job of doing so like he did on “Don Cartagena” and “J.O.S.E.”