Zilla Rocca wears a helmet in the field.
Did you know that “Flow Joe” was a #1 rap single in 1993? Did you know that Don Cartagena, Loyalty, and All or Nothing all peaked at #2 on the rap charts? Did you know that “What’s Luv?” was #2 on the overall Billboard charts, or that “Lean Back” was the #1 song in the country for 3 weeks in 2004? His new single “All the Way Up” is currently #22 on the rap charts. It features the obligatory French Montana but it also features Remy Ma, who just got out of prison after 6 years and hasn’t sniffed a hit in 12 years.
Fat Joe has more hits than Nas and more credibility than Jay-Z. Noreaga calls him the “Puerto Rican Puff Daddy.” Fat Joe has had a clothing line, a stable of rappers under his belt, and has worked with the It Person of the Moment since 1993. He’s had ringtone hits, R&B crossover jams, and beef with 50 Cent. He’s been in urban movies. He’s been in jail. He has never been hot from mixtapes, cameos, or a co-sign.
In other words, Fat Joe is the Traditional Major Label Rapper of the ‘90s.
Fat Joe has top 20 hits from 1993 to 2016, something no other east coast rapper has ever accomplished. LL Cool J is his closest comparison, and he didn’t have hits 23 years apart. So why don’t we blindly worship Fat Joe like the east coast Snoop Dogg that he is?
Is it because his career lacks a myth or marketable narrative? Is it because none of his albums are thought of as critical or street classics? This is a guy who has worked with every hot R&B singer of the past 15 years while putting on DJ Khaled and dropping 16’s for Diamond D. His pen game is still vicious. His ear for contemporary radio smashes hasn’t faltered. His voice is still booming. He’s the John Olerud of rap–mad hits but not an all-time Hall of Famer.
But Joe has always been the man behind the man. In D.I.T.C, he’s either the 3rd or 4th best rapper depending on how much you ride for AG. In Terror Squad, the crew he created, he played the Miami Heat Era Shaq to Big Pun’s Dwyane Wade. His release dates in the ‘90s just happened to coincide with bigger albums that changed everything after them.
When he dropped his debut Represent in 1993, his freshman class included Onyx, Lords of the Underground, Black Moon, Snoop Doggy Dogg, and Wu-Tang Clan. Jealous One’s Envy dropped the same year as The Infamous, Only Built for Cuban Linx, Doe or Die, and Liquid Swords, rendering Joe’s brand of east coast gangster rap as that new outdated shit. Don Cartagena, still Joe’s best album, went gold in 1998 after Big Pun became the first Latino rapper to go platinum the same year.
He’s followed the Biggie formula for three decades: 3 glossy radio singles, 10+ rugged joints, oversized waistline, New York centric rapping that’s nationally informed. He may not have a classic go-to LP that will be getting reissued on Record Store Day. But he has a helluva Best Of playlist. And he’s the only person right now who could make a decent song with KRS-One and Trey Songz (separately, of course).