"Came out the gate on some Flow Joe shit
Fat nigga with the shotty was the logo, kid"
In 1992, a certain Joe Da Fat Gangsta introduced himself on Showbiz & A.G.'s "Runaway Slave" and Diamond and the Psychotic Neurotics' "Stunts, Blunts & Hip Hop." In two short skits, he managed to let the world know that he was "tired of these motherfuckin' bullshit rappers gettin' dope deals" and that he would be "blowin' up in '93." That's how you paid dues in those days. We don't know whether his deal and the ensuing debut lived up to Fat Joe's expectations, but in 1993 the big man became a full-fledged recording artist himself, and he's been with us ever since.
This was before he would even think of releasing crew albums, before he would dub himself Joey Crack, before Big Punisher would inspire him to step his game up, long before he would star in _Scary Movie 3_, long before he would host episodes of MTV's _Pimp My Ride International_, and long before he would promote the musical endeavors of a certain Hilton hotel heiress. In case you missed it, earlier this year Joe endorsed Paris Hilton's vanity project "Paris," which contains five Scott Storch productions, among them "Fightin' Over Me" featuring Jadakiss and - Fat Joe. "I'm here to tell New York City that the album is phenomenal," he apparently proclaimed on Hot 97. Has the man lost his mind? Not by a long shot. He's acting with the common sense of a business veteran. Insane would have been if he had added, "Shorty got a fat ass!" And that, folks, is an inside joke you'll only get if you're familiar with Fat Joe's very first album.
The most remarkable thing about "Represent" is that today it would inconceivable for a rapper to debut with a song about his ability to flow. Not if he aspires to become a platinum selling artist like Joe. Some years ago Nelly came close with "Country Grammar." But in 2006 nobody comes out the gate on some flow anything. Fat Joe certainly wouldn't make something as thoroughly hip-hop the topic of a current single. In the early '90s everybody may have cursed the countless gimmicks that permeated the business, but it was still widely acknowledged that rappers could be just rappers. And if you called yourself Da Gangsta, that was simply a title you distinguished yourself from others with. Joe may have called for the Teflon Don's release from prison ("They should free John Gotti"), but in this pre-"Only Built for Cuban Linx..." era "the only real rap mobster" was still far from imagining himself to be a don. In 1993, the later Don Cartagena was busy doing the dirty work: "I chop a rapper like a meat cleaver." Lou The Wrench, meet Joe The Meat Cleaver.
As Da Gangsta, Fat Joe did somewhat stick out in the early '90s New York rap scene, especially among the people he was running with. "Represent" was recorded in Jazzy Jay's studio, which establishes a connection to the Zulu Nation, the organization at the very heart of hip-hop in its original manifestation. And if you know a little something about the man, you know that Joe used to be a graf writer. But although he did name-check the Zulu Nation, his debut presented him as a Bronx-born-and-bread bad seed, an image that was even related across more sophisticated references like "Just like [Melle] Mel I'm Internationally Known / and I'm mob-related like Al Capone." Most of the time Joe put it more bluntly, like when he threatened to "choke a rapper with the cord, hang him from the lights." Da Fat Gangsta made it abundantly clear that he was "not the man with sensitivity." Within D.I.T.C., he instantly assumed the position of the bully. Over the infamous sneaky bass and trickling piano of The Ohio Players' "Pride and Vanity," he made sure his name would go "down in the Gangster Hall of Fame," boasting, "They can't stop me with a homicide investigation / cause if they do my crew is hittin' up the station."
"You Must Be Out of Your Fuckin' Mind" was one of the most hardcore tracks of its time and is definitely the most gangsta Diamond D beat of all time, setting bare-bone snares against a dark, droning bass background. The song stars New Jersey's Apache and Queens kingpin Kool G Rap, whose opening line "Chitty-chitty-bang-bang, I'm comin' like a chain gang from out of Sing-Sing to make your motherfuckin' brains hang" is as ill today as it was back then. "Watch the Sound" is almost as violent, with Fat Joe, Grand Puba and Diamond D all bringing the ruckus. D cues up an awesome uptempo romp laced with a Tenor Saw sample. Puba announces the end of his Tommy Hilfiger endorsement ("I flipped to the Lo cause I'm through with the Hilfiger"), while in the video he sported a Hilfiger sweater and admitted to be "dressed in Lo and Hilfiger." That's just to say that the radio/video edit differs from the album version, probably also because of the strong language. Check how Fat Joe catches nuff wreck:
"...So niggas back up, yo, I'ma set it
Fuckin' with me you won't live to regret it
I don't fake moves, I play for keeps
I'm takin' niggas' gold chains, their cash and the Jeeps
See, I don't give a fuck about a nigga's rep
We can go Glock for Glock or Tec for Tec
Shit, I heard a motherfucka went and turned snitch
I chopped the nigga's head off and sent it to his fuckin' bitch
I ain't lettin' a nigga take the stand
Play Sammy the Bull, be one dead man
See, suckers can't hang with the slang
And if they bring their whole gang
Well, then they'll all catch the bang-bang
I come from the Bronx, and that's the Boogie Down
Niggas don't ever come and front in my part of town
See, everybody knows my pedigree
There ain't another motherfucka that's better than me
I could make 'em bounce, I could make 'em jump
but I'm mostly known for givin' other niggas lumps"
After the above, it's Puba's turn, and in an instant it becomes apparent that other rappers are capable of interacting much more gracefully with a beat than Joe does. Indeed one of the main reservations against "Represent" was the basic nature of the rapper's delivery. Compared to the complex, quick-tongued stylings of Fu-Schnickens, Das EFX, or Leaders of the New School, Joe was the portly incarnation of a cumbersome mic-wielder. Yet as RapReviews.com's DJ Flash noted in his coverage of Fat Joe's latest, "Me, Myself & I": 'Even when he was at his least impressive in terms of lyric writing and breath control, Joe had a discernable attitude and style that separated him from the rest of his peers.' "Represent" is the release he was referring to, and while it's true that Joe's raps lacked refinement, he had his own flavor. As he said in one song: "I'm sick and tired of motherfuckas tryina sound like Das EFX." Even though the thought of Joe himself making an attempt at Skoob and Krazy Drazy's tongue-twisters would have been ridiculous, he still had a single to showcase his own flow, and that's what earned him respect. Looking back, his performance on "Flow Joe" isn't bad at all, and he certainly rises to the occasion that Diamond's splendid production offers. The only problem is that the hook of the Radio Edit runs much more smoother, while the Album Version has to put up with this muffled, out-of-tune melody intruding out of nowhere.
The production is certainly the main incentive for coming back to this album. It is darker than your average New York release and characterized by jazzy horns and track openings that build up atmosphere before a heavy drum beat drops. "Livin' Fat" is D.I.T.C. production at its most ambitious, Lord Finesse putting together a somber track, made up of a looming high-voltage bass and restrained melodic bits fading in and out. Strangely, Fat Joe turns the invitation to drop some gangsta shit down and instead makes claims like "Look at the way I freak the style, I'm versatile" and "When I step on stage I'm second to none / makin' MC's run without the use of a gun."
Diamond D's "Bad Bad Man" uses the sample that later appeared in Jay-Z's "Where I'm From," while DJ Rock Raider (you know him as Roc Raida) provides the cuts. "Get on Up" is a typical East Coast banger courtesy of Diamond, infused with a heavy dose of soul. By Joe's own admission "this is a jam for the radio stations" devoid of cuss words, but even there he can't completely refrain from making threats. On "The Shit Is Real" The Beatnuts come out swinging with their trademark early '90s bounce. It's no coincidence that DJ Rob Swift quotes from Main Source's "Fakin' the Funk," as Joe attempts to give you the real:
"The story takes place back in the South Bronx
where at the age of 14 I was alreay knockin' off punks
And suckers was scared to death
Every time I walk by I hear them niggas take they last breath
See, I just didn't give a fuck
And if you had a sheepskin or leather bomber, you was gettin' stuck
That was the way it was
One day I went to visit my aunt and stuck up my cuz
See, shit was fucked up back then
No matter what the fuck I did, I never had no ends
And my moms was on welfare
Hey yo, I knew I had a father but the nigga was never there
So what the fuck was I to do
when sick and tired of bein' the bummiest nigga out the crew?
I gotta get mine, I gotta get cash
I see a old man, I'm gonna rob him with the quick fast
Gimme your motherfuckin' loot papi
I'm gonna get paid and can't a damn thing stop me
See, I'm tired of this poor shit
And who the cops, well, they can suck my motherfuckin' dick
Cause all them niggas ever do is harrass
That's why I get glad when I hear somebody smoked that ass
Just to let you know how I feel
Word 'em up, the fuckin' shit is real"
The second verse deals with his days as a juvenile delinquent, before the third verse comes to the conclusion:
"Let me let you know why I made this song
Brothers can't deal with the real, word is bond
I'm sick and tired of these fake-ass niggas
sayin' that they catchin' bodies when they never pulled a trigger
I know your style, I seen it before
You wear an army suit, now you think you're hardcore
Drinkin' on your forties, smokin' on your blunts
Can't afford a chain, so you wear gold fronts
Yeah... you're fakin' the funk, kid
And you'll be gettin' it up the ass if you ever did a fuckin' bid
It's time to separate the real from the phony
The name is Fat Joe, punk, act like you know me
I come equipped with the rough shit
Nowadays I can't believe the bull rappers come up with
And all you bitch-ass niggas know the deal
Check it out, the fuckin' shit is real"
In an odd collision of reality and fantasy, "Represent" is introduced by the fictional character of Tony Montana (as quoted from _Scarface_), while Joe also mourns a buddy who used to call himself Tony Montana, his graffiti memorial even gracing the back of the album. Which just goes to show that to Joe, some shit was very real indeed. The Showbiz-produced "I Got This in a Smash" has it all, from loudmouth gunplay to the memory of how his brother died in gunfire. If that sounds irrational, Joe thinks that reality can be even less rational: "I once heard a kid say he's his brother's keeper / his brother turned around and bust him with a street sweeper."
As preoccupied with skills as I was in '93, if somebody would have told me that Fat Joe would release six more albums, my reaction would have been - Really? ... Why? ... How? Fat Joe wasn't an artist I thought very highly of. I was disappointed with this particular Bronx representative, as I had always held his kind up to higher standards. After all, like he said himself, "hip-hop was born Uptown, the Boogie Down." Fat Joe seemed to lack that spark of genius I identified in so many other rappers. I felt that to simply 'represent' was not enough. I thought that he was out of his league to make a case for 'real rap', that realness was quickly losing relevance with music as mundane as this, that 'shit' could be as 'real' as he wanted, as long as the skills weren't there, that didn't mean shit. In my opinion Fat Joe had nothing to say and messed even that up.
In short, I felt about Fat Joe exactly like other disillusioned fans have since felt about certain rappers preferring to keep it simple. You know, that guy that you think not only makes a fool of himself, but also a mockery of hip-hop. He's like a cartoon character to you, confirming the worst clichés outsiders have about rap music. These days I'm much easier on rappers, especially newcomers. No more are my tastes clouded by self-righteous snobbery. And considering his impressive career, I appreciate the fact that I can go back to Fat Joe's humble beginnings, enjoy some vintage Diggin' In The Crates production, catch a determined, upcoming rapper kicking flavor, and chuckle as I bump "Shorty Gotta Fat Ass" with Paris' skinny ass in mind.
Music Vibes: 8.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 6.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10
Originally posted: November 28, 2006