The classifications of being a rap star offer their fair share of shit to go along with every lump of sugar. As one of the few remaining members of his freshmen class, Fat Joe’s increasing success on the Billboard meant he increasingly fell deeper into obscurity with the block. His last couple of albums (2008’s Elephant In The Room, 2009’s Jealous Ones Still Envy (J.O.S.E.) 2) saw a pattern of regression, with the latter of the two taking the plaque-chasing to new lows. Unexpectedly, the Don must have realized his legacy was whisking away and deviated The Darkside Vol. 1 from his bottled psyche. While it marks a noticeable improvement from his recent blunders, rust as you may know, doesn’t easily erode.
See, it takes a little more than selecting grimmer production and feigning interest in an eclipsed life to substantiate a true comeback. A track like “At Last Supremacy” feels completely contrived. Combining a gnarling Busta Rhymes bellowing an exaggerated chorus and Joey Crack playing the rejuvenated warrior, fumbling through his discog for missed glory—doesn’t exactly stike gold. Just Blaze paints a bleak, crime scenario on “I Am CRACK” only for Joe to fire into overkill seemingly out of nowhere; terrorizing street corners and supplying the community with more drugs than CVS. Fat Joe’s legacy stretches through a few decades—far more than the average rhymeslinger—so his rap’s proverbs should have surpassed the generic fodder of slaying imaginary haters and stunting across the globe.
And for an album titled The Darkside, the manuscript sure does feature its fair share of springtime moments. R. Kelly serenades the rosy “How Did We Get Here” as Joe skips down memory lane over a looped, fairy dust melody complete with sped-up vocals. The proceeding “Money Over Bitches” is more of the same: light-hearted, cheeseball pop—this time with forgettable appearances from Too $hort and T.A.
Thankfully, the Terror Squad founder’s longevity is a result of his accrued talent. When given the appropriate setting, he still can rock a beat with the best of them. Despite a lengthy outro, Joe kicks comfortable machismo over DJ Premier’s subtle production on “I’m Gone.” The Darkside’s lead single “HaHa (Slow Down)” may borrow a chunk of its freshness from Soul II Soul’s “Back to Life (However Do You Want Me),” but Crack and Young Jeezy put their original spin on Scoop DeVille’s revamped exhibition (who also conjures up a similar hit in “No Problems”). But it’s the catchy bright lights of “If It Ain’t About Money” where Joey finds the marriage of radio and renegade every rapper so feverishly desires. “Wrist on froze/thanks to the stove/mattress financial/banks never close/Monday thru Sunday/serve all addicts/Joey Van Gundy/watch me work the magic” states Joe ever so calmly as Trey Songz earns his paycheck with a hook that successfully appeals to multiple audiences without seeming forced. A few more moments like this could transform Joe into a born again orator.
The Darkside Vol. 1 may not be that redemption song Fat Joe wished upon a star for but there’s still more than enough factors to keep him bound to Hip-Hop’s preeminent family. Hopefully the future installments will unveil the Darth Vader that Joe has yet to unleash.