The South Bronx has sealed its place in the history books for being the birthplace of Hip-Hop, created by Black and Puerto Rican people who made something out of nothing.
But while the Latin community gets props for certain elements of Hip-Hop culture, including graffiti, deejaying and break dancing, they don't get as much love for rapping. In the ‘90s, Fat Joe and Big Pun changed that.
Not only did Fat Joe help give a face to Latin rappers, he helped put other talented lyricists on including Remy Ma and other members of the Terror Squad, including Cuban Link, Triple Seis and Big Pun. As a Soul music head, he was one of the first rappers to include not just samples of classic R&B jams, but having classic soul artists on the songs with Hip-Hop artists. He was the first Latin rapper in New York to secure a solo deal with a major label with his debut Representin' in 1993.
What Fat Joe has that many Hip-Hop stars from the ‘90s don’t is unquestionable longevity. If you ask a millennial about Fat Joe, they’ll say, "He’s all the way up!". If you ask a member of the Hip-Hop generation, they'll say, "what's love got to, got to do with it?"
And he's still going after ten studio albums. His new album, Plata O Plomo (silver or lead, which means take the bribe or I will take your life) is the collaborative album with him and Remy Ma, dropped last week.
Joey Crack recently sat down with us to talk Hip-Hop, family, and his still thriving music career.
The Shadow League: Hip-Hop began in the Bronx and Latinos get love for breakdancing and graffiti, but not as much for rap. I think you and Big Pun changed that. Talk about that.
Fat Joe: The deejays are very important internally, but they don’t get glorified as much as the rappers and Latinos played an intricate part with the breakdancing and the deejays, but the rappers are the ones that get most of the shine.
There were Latinos in the rap game, Cypress Hill and a couple of others. If you look at history when Hip-Hop was invented, there was a Latino right there. How they got erased, I don’t know how that all came about. It's crazy because everybody was there together. More and more with these documentaries there is more information to prove we were there.
TSL: On Unsung you mentioned that Diamond D, Red Alert and Chris Lighty impacted you.
Fat Joe: They saved my life. Diamond D grew up in the same projects with me on Trinity Ave in the Bronx and we used to write graffiti together. Then one day I took a turn for the worse and he was still doing the music thing. One day he got up on me and was like, ‘Yo, Joe, man instead of you doing all this crazy stuff out here, why don’t you write it down and do it in the music.’ I was rapping, but he was like, ‘take it serious.’ He was like let’s go in the studio and make some music. We cut some demos and one of them was "Flow Joe" which was my first single.
I went to the Apollo Theater on amateur night and I came in first place and Red Alert approached me like, ‘Listen, I think you're a superstar, if you have any music I'll play it.’
Red Alert was the God of rap. I listened to his show for like a month or two before he finally played it and I jumped to the sky. I couldn't believe it! I put my speaker in the window and yelled out to the whole block, ‘They playing my music!’
Chris Lighty came up to me in the street and said, ‘Look, I think you can be a superstar, so I want to sign you.’ And I signed a contract right in the middle of the street. I would not be here if it wasn’t for Chris Lighty. Because of me getting that opportunity, I gave so many other people opportunities, like a generation of Hip Hop that wouldn’t be around if it wasn’t for Chris Lighty being in my life.
When he passed away I looked at my kids, I looked at my wife, I looked at my house, and it hit me hard, like, ‘this man saved my life.’ Like I would have been dead. I would probably would have never even had these kids. He's that monumental of a figure in my life and in my career.
TSL: The original Terror Squad you ran with in the Bronx was selling drugs and doing dirt. You decided to call the rap group you mentored the Terror Squad and changed the whole meaning. You changed it because now you were using that energy for your talents? How did you come by that name?
Fat Joe: I always approached Hip-Hop as a businessman and an entrepreneur. We were making music and we were looking for a name for the group, and we were like, ‘We got our name already, the Terror Squad. We already got an ill name.’
TSL: I didn't know you were a real R&B head--who are some of your favorites?
Fat Joe: I do like slow jams. On my new album with Remy Ma, we have a song called "Dreaming" and it’s featuring Stephanie Mills. She’s my top female artist. My top three artists of all time is Luther, Michael Jackson, and then number three is Stephanie Mills. And four is Sade creeping up right behind her.
I listen to R&B and that allows me to go into different chambers. I try to teach my son, my son is rapping now, I tell him, ‘you gotta listen to all kinds of music, cause when you go into the studio and start creating, you’ll have those chambers to go into.’
Even though I don’t know how to sing, I know what good singing sounds like. And good music. I'd be like, ‘That ain’t right! Luther wouldn’t have did it like that, Stephanie wouldn’t have did it like that!’
The fact that we got Stephanie Mills on the album, my favorite female artist of all time is like, wow!
TSL: I enjoy seeing that you are such a family man.
Fat Joe: It's not perfect, being an artist and having a family is not easy. It poses many challenges, but I always said, ‘I'm not leaving my family, I'm not breaking up with my wife. I'm not leaving my kids and I will always be there for them.’
TSL: How have you maintained your longevity? You're an artist that I can say Fat Joe, and my kids know you from today—not just from me playing your records from back in the day.
Fat Joe: I never lose touch. If you let me tell it, I'll tell you I never got my just due and my respect for being one of the greats in Hip Hop. And because of that, the fire never burned out. There's more and more of a need for me to succeed or take the legacy a step further and that’s what it is. I stay around the young boys in the studio, I want to learn from them and at the same time I have a lot to offer them.
TSL: The situation with your accountant, where he was stealing from you, but you went to jail was crazy.
Fat Joe: Just because someone is considered talented doesn’t mean they know accounting, so we trust people with our lives and we don’t know if they have our best interest at heart. I got hemmed up. It got me wiser. At the time, I was mad. I was like, ‘Why me?’
But I'm over that problem. I realize God was just preparing me for now, the future.
TSL: It was crazy that you were the fall guy.
Fat Joe: Super crazy. We told the judge, ‘This guy is stealing my money, look we want to pay.’ The judge was like nah.
TSL: What did Big Pun teach you?
Fat Joe: I learned so much. Pun was truly a genius. I am more of a hustler. There's a kid that’s a natural LeBron James and there's another kid that’s pretty good, but he won't leave the gym. He found a way to make himself better.
Pun was just a natural born genius with music and he basically taught me so many tricks on how to make better music, even though I was the one that discovered him. He was so far more advanced than me.
We pray for him every day. My kids worship him like he’s a god. My daughter is 10 years old and she knows all of Pun's lyrics. That’s in their DNA-- every Remy Ma rhyme, every Big Pun rhyme, that’s where we come from. Very sad that he was gone so soon.
TSL: Tell me about the new album.
Fat Joe: The title: Plata o Plomo --money or bullets. We would have a truckload of drugs and the police would be like, ‘Yo, what you got in the truck?’ And we’d be like, ‘We got mountains of cocaine.’ They’d be like, ‘Oh, really? You could pay us to let you drive through or we’ll just shoot it up.’ Take the bribe or the bullets.
TSL: You and Remy are on the whole album together? I like the friendship you have.
Fat Joe: On the whole album. The album is phenomenal. Remy's my boo. She wants to scream on me and I always want to give her a hard time. We know each other so well. You really know somebody when you can just look at them and you don’t have to say nothing. We got that.