Even though he’s been grinding out full-lengths since most of the current competition was in grammar school, Fat Joe doesn’t have a 5 Cig album under his belt. He was however, a formidable presence in East Coast Hip-Hop before Southern MCs valued materialistic raps over hard country livin’ and Big Pun crash landed his massive frame onto the Billboard charts. Vibe Magazine recently caught up with the TS Champ in the midst of his campaign for his new album, The Darkside Vol. 1 and gave a look back where all started.
Once upon a time, there was this crew of thought-provoking yet rugged lyricists and producers out of the Bronx that were highly adept in kicking old-school flavor before the old-school was even defined. Fat Joe eventually became their fearless leader and Diggin’ In The Crates (D.I.T.C.) became the stuff legends were made of and the type of collective rival posses feared. After his tourney in the underground and shared success with Big Pun & The Terror Squad, Joey Crack finally achieved the type of commercial stardom he slowly positioned himself to obtain with his first platinum album Jealous Ones Still Envy (J.O.S.E.).
Like I said, once Pun died, I had to step it up. But I have to keep it real. I did a lot of praying while I was recording this album. There were many nights in my house like, “Oh God, please give me the strength to show these people that I’m not a fluke.” I brought Pun in the game. Before this album, all I ever wanted to do was be the underground king. I was the backpack, SOB’s, Diggin’ In The Crates guy. All my shows had 2000 niggas and no girls [laughs],but after Pun’s success, he had all the chicks all coming to his shows. He was making big money, so I said, “Yo, I have to pick it up from here and make some hit records.”
R. Kelly stepped to me and was like, “I love you, man…I want to work with you.” That’s how we came up with “We Thuggin’.” And then Irv Gotti called me up in the middle of the night and tells me to come to his studio. He plays me “What’s Luv?” with the hook and everything and all I had to do was rap on it. That was the best Christmas present I ever had in my life! But most of the album was hardcore Fat Joe; there were only two songs that you would call highly commercial. Biggie really opened that lane up for us. It’s the same way Kanye [West] opened the lane for Drake, Kid Cudi and all these guys, Biggie opened up the door for you to be a gangsta rapper and become commercially successful. I was fortunate that Jealous Ones Still Envy went platinum.
But radio hits and continuous video spins have a way of blurring the lines. His best LP without a doubt still stands as Don Cartagena. Featuring the true Terror Squad and mix show classics such as “John Blaze” and “My World,” Joe showed nonbelievers he could hold his own when everybody was looking at Christopher Rios.
This was my first album on Atlantic. I had to get off of Relativity because they didn’t look at me as a big artist and they weren’t wiling to spend the marketing dollars it took to be successful the way I wanted to be. But Atlantic gave me a big deal. We were coming right after Big Pun’s [Capital Punishment]. He had just gone double platinum and I had always thought of myself as a Don, so we took that concept and just ran with it. I had to go in the studio and do 20 songs with Pun! I’m going back to back with the same guy that everyone is saying is the best at that time [laughs]. Writing and working with Pun prepared me to step my game up.