Crack TS. Da Gangsta. Joey Crack. Don Cartegena. Joseph Antonio Cartagena has many aliases, but you know him primarily as FAT JOE. Not only is he a man of many names, he’s a man who’s made many stylistic changes, which has enabled him to have a career in Hip Hop spanning over 25 years.
The New York native of half Cuban, half Puerto Rican descent has been spitting since the start of the 90s, and has released a massive 10 official albums and 3 offical mixtapes. He has worked with some of Hip Hops biggest icons. He introduced the world to Big Punisher. Fat Joe has stayed busy through countless styles and several eras of Hip Hop. And it all started with one of hip hops oldest elements, graffiti.
Graffiti and the originators of Hip Hop graff style were all aroundFat Joe while he was growing up inForest Projects in theBronx during the 70s & 80s. Joe started tagging and then doing larger pieces, getting himself known for his classic lettering, all the while repping TS (Terror Squad). To this dayCrack TS can be spotted on a few of NY’s most celebrated walls, and inside the mansions of several celebrities (assumingLil Wayne counts as a celebrity?).
Fat Joe eventually stepped into the booth in the early 90s. Through his connections with underground legends Showbiz & AG andDiamond D, Joe joined theLord Finesse ledDiggin In The Crates crew.D.I.T.C would go onto be one of the most influential hip hop crews of all time. Their MCs and Producers would help shape theNew York sound for decades to come. Fat Joe appeared on manyD.I.T.C classics, including underground banger “The Enemy” with Big L (Harlem’s Finest R.I.P)
Joe’s debut solo album, Represent, was produced in large part by Diamond D and Lord Finesse (as well as some beats by Diggin In The Crates affiliate DJ Premier), and had the gritty underground feel for which D.I.T.C. were getting famous for. Its lead single “Flow Joe” was as dope an intro as any MC could hope for. His second solo joint, Jealous Ones Envy, still featured D.I.T.C. production and was also notable as it featured the first recorded verse from Big Punisher. This would spark a brotherhood and working relationship that would continue until Big Pun’s death in 2000.
Jealous Ones Envy was well received both commercially and within the industry. This opened up doors for Joe as he took his first steps out of the New York underground and began to reach a larger audience. He appeared on the first Funkmaster Flex commercially released mixtape. He also dropped a show stealing verse on the “Who Shot Ya(remix)” off the hugely popular LL Cool J’s Mr Smith album, which went on to go double platinum. The next couple of years were spent building his Terror Squad Crew, and boosting his profile through working on collabs with the likes of Mack 10, New Edition, Snoop Dogg, Jennifer Lopez, and members of Bone Thugs.
While the Hip Hop scene was changing and thug stories and Mafioso references were becoming the norm, Joe signed to major label Atlantic. He released his third album, Don Cartegena in 1998 and it debut at number 7 on the Billboard Charts. It featured an impressive guest list including Nas, Big Pun, Noreaga & Raekwon. Its lead single, “Bet Ya Man Can’t (Triz)” featured Terror Squad, and its polished production was a big step away from Fat Joe’s earlier underground work. This was also the first album of his which did not feature any guest spots from any member of D.I.T.C.
Terror Squad released their debut album in 1999, it featured more stripped down beats and straight up rhymes than any of Joe’s solo work, and he featured on 6 tracks. While not commercially successful it appealed greatly to fans of hardcore Hip Hop. Terror Squad would not release an album together again until 2004’s True Story, which saw them trade in their street sound for much more of a catchy club sound. This is summed up perfectly in the albums single, Lean Back, which stayed on the top of the American music charts for 3 months.
Fat Joe’s next few solo outings (Jealous Ones Still Envy and Loyalty) would keep him in the limelight as he showed his adaptability by working with the hottest producers & guest artists of the time. This included “What’s Luv”, featuring Ashanti, which had a jiggy RnB feel and managed to cement Joe as a mainstream Hip Hop heavyweight. He even had Beef and featured on diss tracks aimed at 50 Cent during this time, because, like, didn’t everybody? His seventh studio album, Me, Myself and I, would deliver Fat Joe another commercial mega hit in the form of “Make it Rain”. Fat Joe’s albums during the early and mid 2000’s contained beats which boasted a definite “southern” feel, a far contrast to the funk sampling, bass line heavy boom bap he had started out on.
The Elephant in the Room, his eighth album, had some questioning whether Joe was trying to recapture former glories, or if he had perhaps fallen off entirely. However you listen to that album, you can’t deny that he could still spit some fire flows, as he did on the KRS-One collab track “My Conscience”
After years of commercial success, but perhaps not critical acclaim (which may have been the result of trying to please too many people), Fat Joe released The Darkside Volume 1 in 2010. It was the first time in years that Fat Joe got really lyrical and reminded us of his underground roots, while at the same time boasted some cohesive production.
Joe has had his run-ins with the law (who hasn’t these days?) but has managed to basically be a bit of a good guy away from his Hip Hop persona. He paid for Big Punishers funeral. He is a Christian, who attends church events. He donated a bulk lot of computers to the under privileged Bronx school he once attended. After shedding a bunch of weight he helped promote the fight against childhood obescity. He is married with 3 kids, and last year he became a sort of Hip Hop “super Dad” when he shared candid photos, and touching sentiments, of his oldest son, Joey, who is mentally challenged.
Longevity is not easy to achieve in Hip Hop. Through clever marketing, willingness to embrace new trends, and perhaps just being opportunistic, Fat Joe has managed to outlast many of his era and even many of the newer generations to come since. He is also lucky enough to be the only MC to work alongside lyrical legends Big L & Big Punisher while both were alive and in their prime.
Fat Joe is headlining a bunch of shows across Australia, where he promises to bust live versions of his club bangers, as well as Diggin into his earlier underground work. On a related note, rumours of a Diggin In The Crates release in 2016 have been strengthened by Fat Joe appearing alongside AG and Diamond D on a straight Golden Era boom bap classic beat. Stay Tuned…
Words by Messy
You can catch Fat Joe on Tour this January, all the details are on this article here.