Music

Fat Joe: Loyalty

Joseph "dj postl" Jones

Fat Joe

Loyalty

Label: Atlantic
US Release Date: 2002-11-12
UK Release Date: 2002-11-11
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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.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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