As I think back to this past year's MTV Spring Break broadcasts, one single, solitary, haunting image keeps coming to mind. Come on people, y'all know exactly what I'm referring to. Fat Joe, a.k.a. Joey Crack, a.k.a. The Don. Shirtless. Oh, the humanity . . .
I mean, I should have known better to just keep watchin'. I should have changed the channel or something, but I didn't. Like a deer caught in the headlights I just sat there. Watching. Waiting. Resisting the urge to both gag and change the channel to anything but this ghastly sight.
I don't know, maybe it's the same principle that makes us rubberneck when we drive by an accident, almost hoping to see that that really gives us "the heebie jeebies". I just sat there, both repulsed and captivated by what I saw. And now, my fragile psyche is quite possibly scarred for life. But that's a'ight, I like the big man and think he's more than paid his dues.
Arriving on the scene in 1993 with his debut album Represent, which was a gritty street enthused ride through the rough streets of the Bronx. Joe was able to duplicate that success two years later with the critically acclaimed Jealous One's Envy, which help put Fat Joe on the album as one of the realest emcees in the industry.
However, while Joe was the streets underdog, he was never able to break through to mainstream America or get constant radio play at that. The formation of The Terror Squad, especially one member by the name of Big Pun, helped change all of that. This huge monster of an MC came in the industry with an intense sense of hunger and lyrical passion never seen before. Big Pun's catapult into the limelight helped Fat Joe reach the mainstream stage he always wanted.
However, after the passing of Big Pun, the Terror Squad was all but gone. The group went through internal struggles, leaving Joe the job of saving the crew. 2001's Jealous Ones Still Envy was the success Fat Joe and the Terror Squad needed to get back to the top. The album was a good mixture of hard-core joints that Joe has been putting out for years but also a mixture of the more softer, commercial side of Joe. While die hard fans didn't accept the change with open arms, tracks like "We Thuggin" and "What's Luv?" helped spring Joe into mainstream rotation on radio stations and music channels all across America, something Joe never was able to do in the past.
The lead single, "Crush Tonight" with Ginuwine, is a sexy joint that most assuredly will have both the catz and the kittens runnin' for the dance floor, while "Born in the Ghetto", a cut Joe calls his most meaningful to date, addresses many issues controversial issues, including racial profiling. The legendary Ron Isley comes thru on the hook for a track that provides a great mixture of soaring melodies, reality rap, and insightful lyrics.
You can also find a tribute to relationships ("All I Need"), an ode to a thuggish lifestyle ("Gangsta"), and a track for fans of the Dirty Dirty ("Bust at You"), which features Scarface kickin' a hot 2Pac dedicated verse and Baby from Ca$h Money, although it could have done without his ignorant ass.
For the absolute diehard Fat Joe fan the track you'll wanna hear is the third installment of "Shit's Real". The Don gets into all the things that been goin' down in his life, both past and present, on this bad boy. His sister's passing, his late homeboy Big Pun, and the events of 9/11 all make their way onto this deep, dark, and brooding gem.
Producers like Cool & Dre, Alchemist, Buckwild, Ron Brown, Precision, Armegeddon (who serves as executive producer for the album), and Teflon all provide the bumps for this lil' baby, only ensuring that Joey Crack has both a diverse & dynamic sonic backdrop to showcase his ghetto storytelling over. The result is off tha medication.
One sour note, however, is "Turn Me On" featuring Ashanti is rather blatant attempt at recreating "What's' Luv?", but falls straight on its face right from the get go. The Irv Gotti produced cookie cutter sound is no where as catchy as previous singles from Gotti, which only contributes to the tracks overall contrived feeling as neither Gotti, Ashanti or Joe vibe off of the track or display any chemistry.
Loyalty is an extraordinary go at it. It's one of Joe's more creative, focused, and honest releases to date. Perhaps most impressive is my man's refusal to rely on club hits and party bangers, something we know his label pushed very hard for after Jealous Ones Still Envy's double-platinum success.
Instead, he openly puts his pain & frustration from the last couple of years on display for the world to see. Ya gotta respect the man for that alone.