“When Your Picture Is In the Spotlight, It Has to Mean Something”: An Interview With Fatboi Sharif

Staley Sharples speaks to Fatboi Sharif about horror movies, hosting his own radio show, the possibility of collaborating with aliens and more.
By    February 22, 2023

Image via George Douglas Peterson

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Staley Sharples says that “Live, Laugh, Love” is out – “Ruminate, Rage, Revenge” is in.

Fatboi Sharif is the auteur, protagonist, and antagonist of his own subversive B-movie horror flick. But he’s more John Carpenter and Wes Craven than Roger Corman, a world builder capable of balancing camp with cutting commentary on the modern era. Take the video for “Smithsonian,” from his 2020 album Gandi Loves Children, where the “Garden State Gargoyle” plays both a killer clown and The Final Girl, speaking on the evils of reality in a haunting Ronald Reagan mask that symbolizes the real-life monsters plaguing our history and beyond.

On his latest project with Roper Williams, Planet Unfaithful, Sharif extends his B-movie director’s mind to expound on the masks worn to disguise an epidemic of loneliness, disconnection, and lack of empathy. The EP is a treatise on contemporary society’s ills, and much like the low-budget movies Sharif loves, his artistic expression is framed to defy standard categorization.

Drawing from his rich, multi-disciplinary background as a radio show host and cinephile, Fatboi Sharif fearlessly blazes a trail between dreams and reality through vivid lyrical imagery. Released on POW Recordings, Planet Unfaithful doesn’t find the New Jersey native wallowing in self-indulgent despair or standing on a soapbox. Instead, he plays an intuitive intergalactic prophet speaking truths through intricately-crafted couplets and tongue-in-cheek punchlines. Williams’ beats are splashed on like an auditory Jackson Pollock. Sharif claims that the EP is “the picture we wanted to paint of what’s going on right now.”

Sharif grew up surrounded by music. His parents usually played hip-hop in his house, but it was the gritty ‘90s grunge movement that truly captured Sharif. A poet at heart, Sharif first began expressing himself through words at age six, even publishing some of his works from these tender years. His grade-school awakening as a songwriter unfolded through his admiration of the uncompromised attitude of bands like Nirvana. The heady, emotional energy captivated Sharif, and fueled the Rahway rapper’s vision to create hip-hop that exuded the same blistering intensity and swagger.

As host of his college radio show Strangers With Hip-Hop, Sharif invited aspiring rappers to join him for on-air ciphers. This is how he connected with longtime friend and collaborator Roper Williams. Their 2020 single “Church Tower” is an early example of their clever, heady concoctions. You picture that the song was conceived as the product of a mushroom-fueled, late-night studio session in a hidden corridor of Luigi’s Haunted Mansion.

Darkly comical surrealism aside, Southern rap clearly permeates the New Jersey wordsmith’s output too – as he weaves everything from the poetic truth of Outkast to the anthemic confidence of 8Ball & MJG into his own patchworked tapestry of influences. 2021’s Gandhi Loves Children saw Williams and Sharif casting their magic together once more, with the full-length album serving as the spiritual predecessor to their latest project, Planet Unfaithful. Featuring guest appearances from E L U C I D and Bruiser Wolf, the EP is a new chapter in the existential story that these artists are hoping to tell.

To Sharif, music is spiritual. He cites visions of colors, shapes, and temperatures in his work. Film, too, is an art form that powers his psychedelia. Watching movies like Bad Lieutenant and Jacob’s Ladder inspired Sharif to write music that transcends time through the words he speaks. “I always want to accomplish that level of story musically. Why do we have to write for [this moment] on earth? Why can we write for places outside of here? Or maybe places before here, depending on how you go about it.”

Our conversation drifts from the making of Planet Unfaithful and the story behind Sharif’s long-time friendship with Roper Williams to the possibility of an alien collaboration in the future.

I wanted to talk to you about your journey as a musician. What first got you started making music?

Fatboi Sharif: It was funny. I would say probably from about like, 6 or 8 I was heavy into poetry. So yeah, so I used to win all types of different poetry competitions. It’s funny, I found a book in my house recently. It’s one of the books I had some work published in, I might sell it one day. Who knows?

I need to read this. I’m curious about young Sharif’s poetry.

Fatboi Sharif: Yeah, I got you for sure. But from that, I started writing raps in fourth grade. From then it’s just been going full steam ahead.

So you were more into the lyricism initially.

Fatboi Sharif: Yeah, still to this day. That’s one of the main attractions that brought me to the music. As a kid I was blessed that hip hop was playing at my house from my mother and father, but as a kid, a lot of my main musical influences were heavy metal and grunge music. The songwriting aspect was always super dope to me.

I definitely can hear that influence in your new project. It’s got elements of jazz, but also some noise and grunge in it. When did you first start listening to grunge, and why do you feel like it resonated with you lyrically?

Fatboi Sharif: Oh, probably around the same time as I first started writing. So probably like, six or seven. I fell in love with just the whole energy of it. The videos, live performances, and songwriting. it definitely was the attitude that made me realize this is what I need to push on in the hip-hop market. Like, yeah, you gotta be this aggressive. You got to be this in your face. Like, the songs got to be as beautiful as these. All of these different songs, from White Zombie to Danzig to Nirvana.

Who was your favorite? Would you say White Zombie?

Fatboi Sharif: Yeah, they were definitely super big for me coming up, for sure. For sure.

I’m picturing young Sharif in Jersey, where you went to college. You were a radio DJ there. What role did having your radio show play in your passion for music as you determined your life path?

Fatboi Sharif: I always loved hip-hop radio and different, alternative music spaces and disc jockeys my whole life. When I went to college, I studied communication, which is when I started doing the radio show. I recently bought back the radio show. It was a whole new format. When I did it, originally, it was called Strangers With Hip-Hop. I did it for about two years, back in like, 2011 to 2013. This year, I brought it back, and we got two DJs—Boogaveli and Kohai. It’s on Newtown Radio in Brooklyn, every other Saturday from 12 to 2. We switched the name of it, now it’s just Strangers Live. It’s a genreless show, so you might hear everything. We might go from Curtis Mayfield to A$AP Rocky to Bjork to Portishead and Westside Gunn.

You can’t be boxed in! I love that you aren’t only sticking to one genre. Why did you decide to bring it back now?

Fatboi Sharif: It was something that me and the other co-hosts always talked about randomly. We always said, like, if we bring it back, we got to bring it back the right way, under the right circumstances. He came with the right opportunity from Newtown and everything connected. Brought Boogaveli in, brought Kohai in, and the rest was history.

When you run a radio show, it’s so personal. You’re selecting the music, it’s basically your playlist of stuff you love. I’m sure having it end was tough, but it’s nice that you can bring it back.

Fatboi Sharif: I kind of love it now more than ever. We just went free with it. This particular version, the two DJs pick the music. We tell them, whatever you want to do, just make sure it’s dope. They always deliver with real dope material and even put us on certain music. So that’s always a blessing.

That takes a deep level of trust in somebody’s taste. With your collaborators, like Roper or your radio show DJs and co-hosts, what draws you to working with people, especially long term? Is there a vibe that you get from people?

Fatboi Sharif: Yes, I would say that’s one of the main things. Me and Roper, with the project Planet Unfaithful, the process was kind of like doing the radio show. We met each other through the radio show. I used to do these on-air ciphers. My boy Boogaveli, my DJ now, I met him in the same kind of way—we both were working at this movie theater at the time. And he asked me—this was over 10 years ago—he was like, ‘I heard you do the ciphers. I have a group. Do you mind if they come up and rap?’ I’m like, ‘yeah, come up.’ So the group comes up. The group has Roper in it, Roper is the producer of the group. We met like that and immediately hit it off.

The group he was working with at the time separated a little down the line, but he kept doing music. He kept elevating and kept doing new things that always intrigued me. That’s how we connected, musically, but yet personally, it would just be a lot of us just chillin’, going to the vinyl stores, going to eat, just having a conversation about stuff. I’m big on that. If we can vibe out personally, the music stuff is gonna come easy, because there’s never gonna really be an altercation or situation. When we have a conversation, it’s about making the music as perfect as possible.

It seems like all roads like lead back to this radio show in a way. You mentioned you worked at this movie theater—you’re pretty into horror movies, right?

Fatboi Sharif: If I had to break it down, I would say the 70s, 80s, 90s, early 2000s B horror movie, arthouse film scene, that’s my territory. I love that, it always inspires me like musically too, and conceptually. Seeing something like Jacob’s Ladder or Gummo or the third Alien movie.

I was looking at stuff like that, like, wow, these creators, they push the boundary of what can be done on film. I always want to accomplish that level of story musically. Why do we have to write for [this moment] on earth? Why can we write for places outside of here? Or maybe places before here, depending on how you go about it.

I actually just saw an 80s B horror movie. Have you heard of Whammy? It’s a VHS store and small cinema. They do like special showings of different VHS tapes that they have. I went to see Chopping Mall. I don’t know if you’ve seen it.

Fatboi Sharif: It’s an awful film. I know exactly what you’re talking about.

I loved the vibe, you know what I mean? I love the way that VHS looks. That brings me to your music videos, which have an avant-garde, B-movie campiness to them. Where do you pull inspiration from when making your visuals?

Fatboi Sharif: I always sit and examine it, and then I let it speak through the music. So I listen to the song and it sounds like it has the colors green and orange in it. Or the song might have different shape patterns, just different emotions and temperatures in it. It literally always comes to me while I’m sleeping or something like that. I use that same thing with my song concepts. I’ll put a beat on repeat for maybe like, six hours, and just leave it on. Then I wake up in the morning and have a picture painted in my head. I have a certain scenery set. How can I put these words of this story to canvas? Once that’s done, it’s all pretty much good.

That’s actually such a brilliant method. I would never have thought to do that. But your brain is working out so many things when you’re sleeping. Did you always see colors and shapes when you listen to music?

Fatboi Sharif: I always had that relationship with music. I’m always real patient with music. Meaning, I don’t like to rush videos. I don’t like to rush song concepts. Music in the form of creation is spiritual. It’s got an actual spiritual connection to me. I look at it a little deeper than just putting things out and making money. I got a whole way. When your picture is in the spotlight, it has to mean something. I’ve always been like that.

Are you a spiritual person, or are you into any esoteric stuff? Like, magic, tarot, aliens—

Fatboi Sharif: I f*ck with aliens.

Aliens are cool. Have you ever been to Area 51?

Fatboi Sharif: I want to go to Area 51. That’s on my bucket list.

The world is so on fire that the government has essentially said ‘yes, not only do aliens exist, but we’re having like, regular interactions with them.’ It’s so wild to me. I love that Tom DeLonge was the one that helped break all of this. Who would have thought the guy from Blink-182 would become the leading alien guy.

Fatboi Sharif: If it happened earlier it might not have had the same weight. But now, the world is so crazy that we’re like, ‘wow, now we’re dealing with this too.’

Would you collab with an alien if you had the chance?

Fatboi Sharif: Oh, that could be dope. I gotta keep that in the back of my brain.

You can send out some kind of signal. That might trigger an alien invasion. All you can do is find out. It’s fine. I want to talk a little bit more about the project. You collaborated with E L U C I D and Bruiser Wolf. How did you guys get linked up, and why did you decide to work with them for Planet Unfaithful?

Fatboi Sharif: Those two definitely came together real natural, for sure. I’ll start with E L U C I D. Me and him been cool for a minute. That’s the homie. We always show each other love on each other’s music. I want to say that might have been the last song we recorded. I remember Roper played me that beat and he was like, ‘this is dope, we should get E L U C I D on it.’ I’m hearing him on the beat and even when I wrote it, I knew he’d kill this. I sent it over to him to fill it in. He came up with an amazing verse, and the rest is history. Shoutout to everybody who’s been bumpin’ that track so far.

The Bruiser Wolf track, the same thing. We’ve been building probably like, over a year on some mutual respect. It was funny because originally, it was another beat that he had. He wanted to switch it, so we sent him that beat. We sent the two different beats, matter of fact, to choose from. He chose that particular one that he used. It came out really good because he laid his verse first for that. That’s one of my favorites for sure.

That song is super sick. I love that. Why did you choose the title Planet Unfaithful? What’s it mean?

Fatboi Sharif: It goes off of the last song on Gandhi Loves Children, “Nuclear Warfare.” The last bars—”between measures temperature repeats / set up present danger / citizens seek shelter unless you’ve made fatal for me and you’re unable to set the grand label / Planet Unfaithful.” If you go to the Bandcamp page, there’s a description of what the title means in my head. The past three to five years, everything we’ve learned we should be friends with is hurting us, from social media, to certain financial situations, to the damn cell phones. It’s the picture we wanted to paint of what’s going on right now.

As civilization continues to both decline and progress, I see what you mean. With the release of Planet Unfaithful, what is the rest of your year looking like for you?

Fatboi Sharif: I’m keeping shows a secret, but look out for announcements. After this project with Roper, I have another full-length coming, that’s going to be amazing. Stay tapped in. More from me, more from Roper, more from me and Roper together.

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