An Interview With Fatboi Sharif

Will Hagle speaks to the POW rapper about the layers of his new ten-minute, one-track album, how horror movies depict reality, why Scream is the best horror movie to watch on a date and more.
By    February 21, 2024

Image via George Douglas Peterson

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Will Hagle hopes the ghost of Gene Wilder haunts Timothy Chalamet at night.

Like his heroes Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch, Fatboi Sharif builds maniacal worlds. It starts with the way he presents himself. Whether he’s shirtless, wielding a knife in clown makeup, or hopping off stage in a hospital gown, he performs like he just escaped from a haunted psych ward. His lyrics use shocking imagery, but hint at personal and societal truths. His theatrical background helped him craft a rap persona like Jack Nicholson in both One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Shining. His background in poetry makes his bars something of a jigsaw: grotesque puzzles to either decipher or blow your brain to smithereens.

The surface level hip-hop analog is ODB. Sharif is aggressively bizarre. But he doesn’t need the dustiness of RZA’s kicks and snares. He just needs the dust: the sounds of the universe fragmented and broken down to their essence, then built back up into controlled chaos. This is what longtime collaborator and fellow Jerseyite Roper Williams does for him.

Most MCs rap over beats. Sharif’s bars sprout up from the soil that Roper Williams lays for him. If David Lynch directed Jack and the Beanstalk, Sharif would play both roles in the fairy tale. He’s Jack, a regular guy acutely aware of the darkness of society, making calculated moves to carry himself skyward. He’s also the Giant, an otherworldly figure bellowing couplets down from the clouds.

Roper Williams produced the entirety of Fatboi Sharif’s 2021 POW LP Gandhi Loves Children, which opens with a series of lines describing various tragedies. Sharif raps, “Nancy Benoit, let’s have a family meeting / Slave plantation, for nine days / Waiting for Kanye / Paul Walker on the highway!” The album’s title, taken from that track, “Tragic,” is a reference to allegations that Ghandi—a revered figure of nonviolent protest—slept nude with underage family members to test his celibacy and self-control. Many of Sharif’s lyrics operate like Hannibal Lector or any other anti-hero in the films he loves, blurring the lines between the idealistic concepts of good and evil. A phrase like “Gandhi Loves Children” sounds nice until you intuit the horror beneath it.

On Something About Shirley, again produced by Roper Williams, Sharif’s lyrics continue to pull listeners in opposing directions. The layers go even deeper than on “Tragic.” Throughout the ten-minute, one-track album, Sharif pairs beauty with dread. Rather than just mentioning the devil, he raps, “Sun Ra opening for Satan at the Bowery Ballroom.” He rhymes, “Dead body next to a rainbow / Touched by an angel!” In context, with Sharif’s emphasis, the latter phrase becomes infinitely creepier than anything that aired on CBS in the 90s.

In one bar, Sharif can both comfort and terrorize. He contrasts darkness with light, but also reveals how that duality is a facade. Nothing is straightforward, and the meaning is never on the surface. Sharif pummels your brain with words that deliver a pleasurably uncomfortable jolt in an instant. They run through your body like poison, sickening you until they settle in, and you either digest them or accept that they’ll never leave.

If Something About Shirley is a film, it’s Eraserhead. Sharif and Lynch both drop us into odd, familiar-yet-not worlds. They tell a story that progresses from one distinct section to the next, but understanding the narrative requires deeper consideration. David Lynch’s first feature film shows a man losing his mind while caring for a deformed, possibly alien baby in a gloomy industrial city soundtracked by grating mechanical noises. At least that’s what I thought happened in it. One POW writer recently told me Eraserhead is about the fears of new fatherhood. Another POW writer told me it’s about the harms of industrialization. That means it’s both.

The meaning of Something About Shirley—like all of Sharif’s music—is also open to interpretation. The imagery of each line is like the scene in Eraserhead where they carve up a chicken for dinner that appears to have a beating heart, strange and compelling enough to keep listening. I don’t know what the seemingly random yet concisely descriptive line “Ants vs. Aliens” means, but it could work as a blockbuster film franchise, and the album is full of these seemingly random but concisely descriptive lines.

Listening to each section of There’s Something About Shirley is like being dragged through Sharif’s carnivalesque fun house. It starts with a slow walk through a seizure-inducing strobe show in a hall of mirrors. There’s a deep descent into distortion overload. A moment of respite for a soulful, upbeat interlude. A hypnotizing spiral of insanity. A surprisingly serene resolution. You’ll know what I mean when you listen. Or you’ll come out with an entirely different experience.

Because Something About Shirley comes out on Valentine’s Day, I was going to call Fatboi Sharif to talk about romantic movies. Turns out, he’s not a fan. “I’ve just never seen one that super connected to me,” he says. “They just never really was my cup of tea.”

Luckily, Fatboi Sharif gets romantic about horror films. He’s been enamored with them since his mom showed him Candyman at 7-years-old. It sparked a lifelong relationship with the way horror depicts reality. It’s not about jump scares or ghosts or gore. These elements are secondary. The best horror operates like Fatboi Sharif– using striking imagery to expose honest and gruesome aspects of the human condition.

When it comes to horror movies, there’s usually a lot of comedic elements, or even romantic elements, alongside the horror. Do you think that’s more effective than a straight horror movie? Like on Something About Shirley, there’s an upbeat musical interlude in the middle, surrounded by darker stuff.

Fatboi Sharif: It’s always dope to switch the motion back and forth.

Movie-wise, I was never really a fan of horror comedies, like stuff like Shaun of the Dead, where it’s a horror film but there’s comedic elements. I was never a fan of that type of horror. I always liked more mental horror. What you would call, I guess, mood horror. Where you’re anxious about a voice you hear, what’s around the corner.

But I can definitely see how love and humor sometimes make things even scarier. If you look at a lot of the big, big horror movies over the past few years… Something like Get Out. That was a mixture of both. Like, the relationship between the couple. And different parts of humor within the craziness of the story alone, that a lot of people connected to. So I definitely think one could channel the other.

Do you have a favorite romantic couple or relationship in a horror movie?

Fatboi Sharif: Yeah. I’ll say Glen and Nancy, from the first Nightmare on Elm Street. 1984. Nancy was the main character that Freddy was chasing. Johnny Depp’s character name was Glen. They had a dope relationship in the movie, even though he ended up falling asleep on her and getting dragged through the damn bed and turned into mush. But while he was alive, it was dope. They had a little thing going.

Which horror movie character do you think could have been saved by love or a relationship?

Fatboi Sharif: Oh, that’s simple to me. Candyman. If you look at the origin of the Candyman story, his whole thing was, he was a painter. He was in love with a female, a white woman. The town killed him out of hate, for everything they got going on. But to me that was kind of where the dark side of Candyman was born. Before that, he was just in love with his lady. And even when the dark side of Candyman came through, like, through all of the craziness and the blood and the bees, he always was just looking for Caroline. If that story went a little different with her, you wouldn’t have had the chaos all through Chicago that you was having.

You’ve talked about Candyman before as one of the first films you watch that got you into film and specifically horror. Is that the biggest one for you?

Fatboi Sharif: Definitely in my top five ever, and one of my favorites. Not the best, to me. But it’s definitely one of my personal favorites, or one of the best. That definitely was big to me. I want to say I saw it, probably super young — seven, eight years old. That was one of the first movies that had me like, scared and uncomfortable. I covered my eyes at certain things. And I’m like, “Yeah, this is dope.” Over the years, the first Candyman always, to this day, still had the same effect on me.

It’s also one that has an underlying message about race and class. Is that what appeals to you about horror, the psychological aspect of it?

Fatboi Sharif: Definitely. To me, that’s the scariest part of all horror. That’s the thing that we wanted to tap into with Something About Shirley. Kind of like you said, how you’ll hear something crazy and graphic, but then it’ll be next to something beautiful. But also, it’ll be next to some social commentary that you can hear and connect to everything that’s going on.

Also, I’ve never personally been a fan of a lot of the crazy slashers. Like, Jason, all of that type of shit. It’s cool. But to me, I always looked at that like, okay, it’s a made up monster. He’s gonna be alive for like, 65 movies, no matter what you do to him. You can never really escape him.

I always was more attracted to something like The Serpent and the Rainbow. Or even something like Tales from the Hood or something like The Shining. Stories where you can still say it’s a made up premise. But the different factors and different things within the story are made out of real life situations.

There’s also something to the justification for what happens. Like what you were talking about with the relationship in Candyman, compared to something like Halloween where he’s just a crazy killer on the loose without much justification. What do you think is the best horror movie to watch on a date?

Fatboi Sharif: It’s split between a couple of movies I would say are good date movies. Because I’m thinking of something that’s going to keep you and your date entertained. But also something that ya’ll can talk about and maybe guess on through the movie, which is always dope and kind of interesting.

So I’ll say the first Scream movie is a dope date movie. You get the shockingness and the craziness of the opening Drew Barrymore death where it’s like, “Oh, wow, that’s crazy.” And then the whole movie, you gotta just, “What’s gonna be next? Who do you think did it?” Some of that is always fun to laugh about on the way home.

That’s a funny movie, too. But you have to know horror movies in order to know it’s funny.

Fatboi Sharif: Yeah, there are different elements. That’s probably my favorite movie that does that. Because to me the humor was more gained, than certain other movies where it’s kind of over the top. If you had a date with someone who’s familiar with horror movies it’s even doper, too.

Oh, I got one. It’s this super duper dope horror movie from the 2000s. It’s called High Tension. It was a film with subtitles, a French film, but I super duper was in love with it when I first saw it. If you ever get a chance, check out High Tension. Super dope.

Filmmaking is a collaborative art. On There’s Something About Shirley you’re collaborating with Roper Williams. Do you think of making music as like being a director? Or you’re also the writer and main actor too?

Fatboi Sharif: Absolutely. It’s funny you even said that, because that’s one thing that I’ll say, because I’ve been recording music for like 10 years, but I’ve been writing since like, fourth or fifth grade. I started out with poetry, and in fifth grade and started doing raps and just kept writing raps over the years to my middle school teens just to keep my opinion sharp until I felt like I was good enough to start to record. And that’s one thing like that always kept me inspired within the writing, is film.

I always sat back and was like, you’ll have something like the horror film Audition. Or you’ll have something like Phantasm, where this director literally created this story from scratch. And within this hour and 45 minutes, we as viewers get lost in it. It connects A-B-C, and it might go A-B-C, to L to Z, get back to E. But when it’s all done, you fully embrace the experience, and you can’t wait to revisit it again.

Sometimes, you might not have gotten it after the first watch. Then it might be, “Yo, I saw that. It seemed cool. A lot of people love it. But I don’t really like it.” Then you have to see it a different time with somebody else. Like, “Yo, check this out.”

To me, that’s the same job of the writer. It’s the same job as the director. They give people something they can get lost in. They give people something they can create their own experience about, connect everything for them on a level where they can put it together. But they might have to come back a few different times to fully get everything you were trying to do.

Are you a fan of Eraserhead? David Lynch?

Fatboi Sharif: Yeah. Hell yeah. He’s probably my favorite director ever. Next to Stanley Kubrick. Yeah, as a matter of fact he is my favorite director. Next to Stanley Kubrick.

Yeah, I brought up Eraserhead because that movie is one where there’s a lot of like, really crazy scenes that make you feel a certain way and you don’t really know what’s going on until you watch the whole thing even a couple of times, so I feel like that it makes sense that he’s your favorite director because that really translates your music, too.

Fatboi Sharif: It’s ill with him, because he’s all across the board like that. His music is even dope. He’s got some dope music. And even getting into his TV shows and short films. Everything that he do, he always keeps the same integrity of just creating and the writing process. So, yeah. Shout out to Lynch for sure.

That song from Eraserheadthe lady in the radiator who’s singing—that’s one of the best songs, even on its own, of all time. Speaking of soundtracks, do you have a soundtrack that stands out to you or songs from a particular film? What would you put on a babymaking playlist?

Fatboi Sharif: Yeah. I’ll give you two soundtrack scores that I definitely over the years listen to and I’m like, “This is dope.” I’d say Ganja & Hess. I also think you can get a little freaky to the score to Phantasm. Check out both of those. If you’ve never seen either one of those movies.

If you could pick two horror movies to have a baby, and then make your perfect movie. What would it be?

Fatboi Sharif: Let’s link up… [laughing and thinking] Let’s link up Children of the Corn 2 — that’s another one of my favorites. I saw that as a kid and I can still watch it and be like, yeah that shit’s dope. I’d say let’s link up Children of the Corn 2 with the first half of Friday the 13th, the original. Let’s give Jason friends. Give him more of a story. Imagine Camp Crystal Lake with something that’s more Gatlin, Nebraska, or the reverse.

That’s perfect. That would make Jason more of a developed character than he is.

Fatboi Sharif: Yeah, I picture him at the campsite. One of the camp counselors is out doing some type of mischievousness. He drowns to death and becomes the most evil person on earth. But before that, he literally was in Gatlin, Nebraska with his friends, doing all types of craziness. Or pre-craziness. He could’ve been one of the ones they didn’t get to. Like, “Look, Jason. We tried to kill all the adults in the town.” And he was like, “That’s not a good thing to do. I’d rather just go to church and sit at home and exercise and learn about the differences of good and evil. I got this camping trip I’m gonna go on and get away from ya’ll.” And he went on the camping trip and the same thing ended up happening to him. Just worse.

Do you write movies at all? Screenplays?

Fatboi Sharif: Short stories I write, yeah.

Is it usually horror, supernatural type stuff?

Fatboi Sharif: It super varies to tell you the truth. It’s not one particular thing.

Do you prefer writing raps or short stories? Or is it just good to do both to get a different part of your brain on paper?

Fatboi Sharif: Both is dope, because it’s two different exercises. But I would definitely say, especially as of now, rap and music, for sure. The short stories are more here and there. Once in a while. I’m doing some behind-the-scenes things with some short stories that definitely will be super dope when they come out. But definitely the raps, for sure.

What is your favorite horror movie of all time?

Fatboi Sharif: I’m gonna say The Shining.

That might be my favorite movie of all time.

Fatboi Sharif: That shit is beautiful, man. To me, it’s a perfect mix of what we was talking about. The supernatural story. But then it goes into different everyday feelings. Of being neglected by a loved one. Feeling unsafe from a loved one. Going crazy because you’re in a spot you can’t leave from. Also maybe looking at yourself like, maybe I’m not as good as I was when I first came out. Feeling depressed by that. And in the midst of that you get a father going back to drinking alcohol. You get dead twins in the middle of the hallway. Brilliant film.

Obviously there’s the feeling of isolation, and going back to drinking. Those are very real themes that are grounded. Whereas the stuff you immediately see is the dead twins and the blood coming down the hallway. But that’s secondary to the real stuff.

Fatboi Sharif: To me that’s why that movie’s so brilliant. The most scary and horrifying things are the things you don’t see, that’s the main reason you do see the things that you do see. That’s how I was looking at The Shining.

What do you think is the best movie, objectively? Also The Shining?

Fatboi Sharif: Funny thing, if I were to say the best, I would probably say The Exorcist. It’s funny because I saw The Exorcist twice. As a kid, I remember one of them had me so scared I was literally in the bed like, “Oh my god, this is crazy.” Then I seen it again. Maybe ten years later. And I was like, “Yeah this movie’s amazing, it still holds up.”

I saw it two months ago, when they put out the remake. I went to the movie theater because they were showing the original the day before, it was some type of movie special. So I went and I was like, “Let me watch it again as an adult.” It had the same effect.

That’s another movie that’s super layered, just like The Shining. People always [talk about] the head spinning and the throw up and the levitating off the bed. I’m like, “Yo. The craziest thing to me is, imagine just a little girl going through this.” It’s crazy. And even just different things like her relationship with her mother, the situation with the preacher. Super one of one type film.

That’s one I just watched, too. Older people scared me away from it as a kid because they were saying it’s the scariest movie of all time, because they had no context for horror really. Now we’ve seen way more gruesome stuff like Saw and Hostel, so the head spinning stuff isn’t that scary. But the actual story holds up so much more than other films.

Fatboi Sharif: Yeah, and I would say equal to me is the movie Ganja & Hess. It’s an amazing movie. It’s put out there as a vampire movie type thing. But super dope. Super layered. I watched it again because I hadn’t seen it in a while, like a month ago. Me and my boy Boogaveli, my DJ, we was watching it. I was just like, “Yo, the way that the scenes cut and the cinematography of it is amazing.” Beautiful film.

What horror movie would you recommend to someone who’s never seen a horror movie? What would you tell people to start with?

Fatboi Sharif: I want to give them something easy, like a slasher flick. I wouldn’t start them at a Shining, Exorcist level.

To tell you the truth, I’d give them one of the OG Stephen Kings. I’d give them a Stephen King adaptation. An early one. I’d give them Cujo. Which is a movie that I loved coming up. Really, I’d split it. I’d give them Cujo and then I’d give them Halloween II.

Skip Halloween one?

Fatboi Sharif: Halloween is a classic, but I always loved two more. Two was always my favorite.

Even over H20?

Fatboi Sharif: Hell yeah. F*ck H20.

What horror movie would you give to someone who is an expert in horror, that maybe they haven’t seen before.

Fatboi Sharif: It’s a few b-movie slasher films from the 90s that I super duper was a fan of. I’d give them something like Ice Cream Man or Dr. Giggles. It’s this other movie called Mikey that is super dope. People Under the Stairs. A lot of stuff.

It’s a lot of dope B horror movies that had the same vibe and feeling of a lot of the classics, that a lot of times people overlook.

I might be overthinking this, but do you see any parallels between b movies and underground hip hop?

Fatboi Sharif: I wouldn’t necessarily connect it on that level. But I would say that there are certain aspects of people seeing stuff that’s in the forefront, and not seeing stuff that’s a little less at the forefront. But what’s a little less at the forefront still has the same amount of power, still has the same amount of action, and still works within the same types of boundaries, for sure.

I want to run through some of the movies you’ve referenced in your songs. And you can give a quick reaction to them. On “Smithsonian”: Misery.

Fatboi Sharif: One of my favorites. Another one, like we were saying with The Shining and The Exorcist. Imagine literally being on your way to your safe space, as a writer, you get in an accident. It’s like, “Damn, my safe space is kind of altered by me not being able to use my legs. And I’m in a house, tied up. Well, luckily I’m with a nice fan who’s gonna take good care of me and make sure none of the town’s bears or crazy winter animals eat me alive. Hold on, see I appreciate you so much for doing this. Let me let you read my story. Yeah, you got the story? Oh, shit! You got the story because you don’t like the story. You want me to write the whole story from scratch? Sheesh! Oh, you’re a nurse that was killing babies? Damn, this is a horrible person that saved my life.”

Another reference, of a movie I watched recently, on “Nasty Man”: Rosemary’s Baby.

Fatboi Sharif: Another brilliant mixture of what we were just talking about. The religion, mixed with the supernatural, mixed on top of that with the child. And just the whole thing of just being around new people, and strangers. “Oh, we got our new neighbors and stuff. Wait a minute, they’re doing a bunch of crazy things I’m not really sure about.”

That’s another good date one, too. That could be another cool date one. That’s an interesting ride home type flick.

You also reference Othello on one song. I know you have a theater background, too. Is that one of your favorite plays?

Fatboi Sharif: The story was always crazy. I reference Othello on the Decay album, on the track “Ash Wednesday.” It’s funny too, because you got actual Shakespeare. And then there was the movie adaptation, with Lawrence Fishbourne. Then there was another movie adaptation, with Mekhi Phifer, Julia Stiles and Josh Hartnett. I want to say that was the last one that came out. That was a dope movie.

The story of Othello was wild. Different themes of thinking you got a friend and a brother, but behind your back they’re jealous. Love and lust. Crazy.

You reference Silence of the Lambs, too. This is random, but have you seen Con Air? I just watched Con Air for the first time and I got Anthony Hopkins vibes from Steve Buscemi.

Fatboi Sharif: Yeah, Con Air is super dope. I definitely was a fan of Con Air back in the day, when I first peeped it. I want to watch it again, now, to see if it still hits me the same.

But Silence of the Lambs, super huge for me. My favorite things about it are the smaller things. We always talk about him killing the two guards, him taking the face off his face in the back of the ambulance.

But I always pay attention to the beginning scene. With the warden walking Clarice downstairs. It’s literally like they’re walking to Hell. They’re walking, walking, walking, walking. Then when they’re talking, you’re going through the hallway, every character is doing the craziest things on the side. You get to him, he’s the most calm. He’s the most collected. He’s the most sane.

Then you get to Buffalo Bill, which is one of my favorite horror movie villains, and you get into the craziness of his story and where he fits into the whole piece, and that’s its own thing by itself. Shout out to the actor who played that, he played that perfectly. That joint is serious. Even the ending. That got one of my favorite endings. He’s having an old friend for dinner, but he’s just walking slow behind him the whole time while the credits roll. Brilliant ending.

Are you familiar with Shirley Jackson at all? Like The Haunting of Hill House?

Fatboi Sharif: Yeah, I’m definitely familiar with that.

But that had nothing to do with the Shirley in the title of your project?

Fatboi Sharif: Nah.

Does that have a meaning?

Fatboi Sharif: It was a character and an idea I came up with in the studio with Roper. I want to say maybe about a year ago. But it was from something that we was recording a few years back, for the Ghandi project, but it never made the album. But I always kept the thought or the idea of it in my head of what I wanted to do with that particular story. I just kind of enhanced it with the project and brought it full circle.

Relating it back to movies, I feel like this project in particular moves like a movie. For the first three quarters of it, there’s no drums, and then it builds up to a big beat. And since you were talking about endings, I feel like this album has one of your best endings. It has a clear ending.

Fatboi Sharif: It’s funny, Roper said the same thing. He said, “I liked that you ended it like this. People aren’t gonna be used to hearing you rap on this type of beat and this type of flow.” We ended it calm. We came in chaotic and ended it calm. Sometimes the best ending is like that.

Really, the whole thing behind that, making it one particular project that you can’t skip… Whenever we create a project, it’s like, what do we want to hit? And what do we want to do that we haven’t done? I’ve always been a fan of those types of projects. You don’t see it at all today, hip-hop wise. You get into beat tapes… occasionally. Hip-hop wise, you don’t get the whole, “Alright, I gotta play this and let it go, all the way to the end. I can’t skip.” That’s one thing I wanted. I want the supporters to have patience. People listen to me with patience. Where they can really sit and be like, “Okay, I feel every part of this.” That’s the great thing that we’ve been hearing back so far. People like, “Yo, I played it five times in a row. Soon as it was over I played it again.” I was like, yes, that’s what we was going for.

One line I want to ask about, are you saying “Ants vs. Aliens”?

Fatboi Sharif: Ants vs. Aliens. Yeah.

That could be a horror movie.

Fatboi Sharif: Uh oh. Uh oh, you might have started something. Let me figure this out. Hey Roper, “Ants vs. Aliens!” Uh oh!

What would be the plot? I think it writes itself.

Fatboi Sharif: I’m not sure. I can either do it the regular way of just literally ants vs. aliens, but I would want to do something different with it. I’ll have to sit and figure it out for a little minute. But I’ll definitely let you know.

Yeah I’ll see it in the movie theater. I wanted to ask, because you just talked about how the project flows together… All the sound effect interludes, which again could be related to a horror movie, like someone calling 911 and screaming and stuff like that, what part of the process do those get added in?

Fatboi Sharif: Shout out to Roper Williams on that. He put all of that together. That’s how me and him always do it. I’ll do the tracks. He’ll know the vibe I’m going for in the music, and I’m like, “Alright, do your producer thing now.” He’ll add different elements. He’ll always come through waving different flags at the finish line perfectly. I loved it when I first heard everything. I was like, “Wow. Perfect.”

Do you have any other thoughts on the project you want to share? Or on horror movies or anything?

Fatboi Sharif: Shout out to everybody showing love. Something About Shirley out now on POW. Make sure ya’ll listen to that, support that, sit inside of that. Let it take your spirit away. And do the same thing with amazing horror films. And do the same thing with love.

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