Fat Joe, The BX Bomber Still Reigns

by Miss YaYa Vargas

American rapper, actor, and public speaker, Fat Joe, was born Joseph Antonio Cartagena on August 19, 1970, in The Bronx. Raised by parents of Puerto Rican and Cuban descent in the boroughs’ Forest Houses Projects, much of what he witnessed growing up fueled his writing.

It has been said Fat Joe began stealing at a young age to support his family. Surrounded by gun and gang violence in an otherwise impoverished neighborhood during some of the most dangerous times of New York City.

Always an advocate for putting Latino’s in the forefront of entertainment, Joe has graced three of Urban Latino Magazine’s hard copy covers, spanning from 1998 to 2006.

The first, one of ULM’s earliest issues, Fat Joe poses on the cover with his late great lyricist “twin”, Big Pun, along with the Beatnuts’ JuJu and Psycho Les. The article titled, “Renaissance Revisited”, written by “Riggs” Morales, talks about each artist individually, with Pun being the Hip- Hop industry newbie at the time. Several other artists are quoted, and they unanimously connected on one solid fact: the state of Latinos [in Hip- Hop, then and now] is critical to the culture. 

In the piece, Joe proudly says, “I see us as being real strong in the game right now.. When we go out of town to [cities] like Atlanta where they barely have Latinos, they’ll be screaming ‘Boricua!!, Morena!!’ when we do those songs. It’s becoming acceptable to be a fan of Latino rap artists… like a fad… to be cool.”

Originally known as Fat Joe da Gangsta, he began his music career as a member of hip hop group Diggin’ in the Crates Crew (D.I.T.C.), signed to Relativity Records, in the early 1990s. This allowed him to forge a solo career and set up his own label, Terror Squad, to which he signed artists Big Pun, Remy Ma, Tony Sunshine, Cuban Link, Armageddon, Prospect, Triple Seis, as well as producers DJ Khaled and Cool & Dre.

By the time of this Urban Latino Magazine publication, Fat Joe released his first studio album, Represent (1993), which produced the hit “Flow Joe”, peaking at number one on the Billboard Hot Rap Singles chart, six years prior. The single “Shit Is Real” followed (1994) and the critically acclaimed album, Jealous One’s Envy (1996). Owning his own line of apparel, FJ550, and running his own clothing store, Halftime, in the Bronx, he made noise as a rapper and businessman. 

A chance encounter while recording Jealous One’s Envy at Chung King Studios, granted Fat Joe the opportunity to feature on LL Cool J‘s, “I Shot Ya” (1995), along with Foxy Brown, Keith Murray, and Prodigy of Mobb Deep. The track is considered by Joe to be one of his career highlights, collaborating with one of his longtime idols, while broadening his audience.

With sights on being one of the first Latino artists to go gold, Joey Crack pulled all the stops to collaborate with the best of what was currently hot, as well as up and coming. His most commercially successful album to date was Jealous Ones Still Envy (J.O.S.E.) (2001), certified platinum by the RIAA and internationally certified silver by the BPI, in addition to reaching the top 100 on multiple music charts. 

J.O.S.E‘s success also brought MTV fame and peace of mind. Some would say he went Pop, while others would say he simply found the secret formula for worldwide recognition.

He is best known for songs like, “Lean Back” with Terror Squad, “What’s Luv?” featuring Ashanti & Ja Rule, “Make It Rain” featuring Lil Wayne, and “All the Way Up” with Remy Ma featuring French Montana and Dre.

Fast forward to ULM’s December 2002/ December 2003 issue, where, set to a white background, Dón Joe dons a crisp white suit and a thick iced out chain, garnished by the massive signature TS medallion, while holding a red, black, white and gold hard cover of Sun Tzu’s, Art of War. By this time he had released Don Cartagena (1998) and Jealous Ones Still Envy (J.O.S.E.) (2001), and within less than a year was promoting his upcoming album, LoyaltyAccording to the article, Fat Joe’s anticipated project, “has the chance too bring Generalismo Cartagena to ultimate power in the treacherous world of Hip- Hop.”

 

He considers Hector Lavoe to be a huge musical influence, comparing the icons “El Cantante” to Joe’s “Shit Is Real“, where both share the sentiment of being for the people, never forgetting the roots and culture of where they come from, and telling it like it is.

 

Joe credits the Rock Steady Crew and graffiti artists for helping to integrate Latinos into a market that wasn’t initially built with Hispanics in mind.

When asked if he feels an obligation to help other Latino rappers break into mainstream, Joey says, “I was going to quit after Pun died. Then I thought about the state of Latinos in Hip Hop. And I felt like if I would’ve quit, people would’ve just forgot what Fat Joe and Big Pun did and Latinos [in Hip Hop] wouldn’t be represented at all”.

2006’s ULM cover story follows Fat Joe for a “day in the life of…” vibe, as he gears up for the release of his seventh studio album, Me, Myself & IIn this article he reminisces on his brother from another mother, Big Pun, referring to HIM as a mentor. When, looking back at Joe’s first appearance in the mag prior to his death, Pun considered Joe to be the homie paving the way for local Latino rappers as a ‘hood maharishi. In that first article, the up and coming lyricist constantly expressed his gratitude for Joe’s leadership, according to the interviewer.

Yet now, the tables of recognition turn, and Fat Joe modestly says, “He sat down with me and taught me how to write rhymes”.

As Zayda Rivera recounts her day with the Bronx icon, which started with meeting him at 11am for several interviews at locations like, Taso’s Diner, BET’s 106 & Park, and MTV’s TRL (RIP to all of those spots by the way. What a time in music, before social media took over), she got to hear stories straight from Joe’s mouth like, music that’s inspired him, how grateful he is and how hard he works for his family in mind. Before setting him off on his fourth interview of the day at Hot 97 with Funk Master Flex, Joe says, “The one problem I would say that I got with my life is, God forbid I die young I really didn’t get to enjoy what I got or what I worked for… you gotta love this game. I do”.

Fourteen years later and this guy is still killing the juego! Diversifying his skills not just as an artist but as an entrepreneur and full on entertainer.

His first taste at acting was in the film Thicker Than Water (1999). Fat Joe went on to appear in eight films and series, including Scary Movie 3 and Happy Feet, as well as Spike Lee‘s Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It.

In 2014, Joe became the president of the urban and Latino division of Market America, an internet-based marketing company, where he travels the states as a public speaker.

Throughout his career he’s won a Latin Music Billboard and ASCAP award, and been nominated for an iHeart and MTV award, as well as two BET awards.

In 2018 Fat Joe began hosting a podcast on Tidal, Coca Vision, where the five time GRAMMY nominated rapper sits down with some of the industry’s most entertaining voices to discuss music, friendships and pop culture.

Music being the foundation of his passion, Fat Joe’s fourteenth and most recent album, Family Ties, was released in December 2019. It’s a collaborative work featuring guest appearances from Jeremih, Anuel AA, Big Bank DTE, Bryson Tiller, Cardi B, Eminem, Lil Wayne, Mary J. Blige, Remy Ma and Ty Dolla $ign. He also continues to run a very successful record label, acquiring and cultivating artists like Angelica Vila.

Clearly there’s no stopping this train, and no success story is truly told without set backs. This week, as he celebrates his 50th birthday, Fat Joe has said, “I am a warrior. I am tough. I fight through all adversity. The great ones fought through adversity. I can name about 400 groups that came and went, even more, through the time of my struggle in hip-hop. Everybody counts me out every couple of years and I come back better than ever, bigger than ever.”

Touché Dón Joe. Touché. Happy 50th.

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