Livin' large


April 8, 2005


If an award is ever given out for the rapper who's made the most high-profile cameo appearances, Fat Joe will top the short list. Early in his career, the Puerto Rican rapper guested on the LL Cool J hit "I Shot Ya" and traded verses with the Wu-Tang Clan's Raekwon on "Firewater." More recently, he's been heard adding his inimitable contributions to "What's Luv" by Ashanti, "We Thuggin'" by R. Kelly, "Hold You Down" by Jennifer Lopez and tracks by Timbaland, Nelly and jailed rapper C-Murder.

Why are so many of the top names in hip-hop eager to have Fat Joe stop by their studios?

"I think they just love my music," he says. "They see that I'm in the game and they know what it takes to stay around for a while, and at the same time, God has blessed me where I get better all the time. I try to do new things, to be creative, and I'm not scared to take a chance. So all the artists truly appreciate that."

In an art form where careers are often measured in months instead of decades, Fat Joe has been successfully honing his craft for 12 years. Born Joseph Cartagena in the South Bronx, he released his first album, "Represent," in 1993, and he scored a hit right out of the box with the single "Flow Joe."


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By the time he left Relativity for Atlantic Records a few years later, he was branching out with a clothing store (Fat Joe's Halftime), a barber shop and a fashion line (FJ560). The death of his protege Big Pun in 2000 and slow sales for his 2001 album, "Loyalty," had Fat Joe questioning whether he wanted to continue in the music world, and two years ago, he was talking about retiring. "It's time to move to Miami and chill with my kids," he said at the time.

Obviously, he reconsidered.

"It's crazy, man," Fat Joe told me as he geared up for a tour with Nelly and a new album that drops on May 24. "I thought my time was up, and then 'Lean Back' caught on, and everybody in the media was like, 'No, we don't want you to go! We want you to stay here! We want you to keep rockin' with us!' So I'm here."

Recorded with his crew Terror Squad, "Lean Back" is the biggest hit of Fat Joe's career. It spent three weeks at No. 1, and many critics hailed the unforgettably catchy track as one of the best singles of 2004. Fat Joe says he knew he'd reached a new level with the tune when he found himself being dissed by 50 Cent and watching comedian Ellen DeGeneres boogieing to the song on her talk show.

Now, the pressure is on for Fat Joe to top himself with the new album, "All or Nothing." But he's already on his way with the hit single "So Much More," and the disc's stellar cast of producers and collaborators -- including R. Kelly, Timbaland, Nelly, Mashonda, Swizz Beatz and Cool & Dre -- certainly can't hurt.

"It was a hard record, because I've been in the game for 12 years and somehow I feel like I never get my just due," the rapper says. "'Lean Back’ really had the country going crazy, and I felt like I had everybody seeing now. So it definitely put a different kind of pressure on me.

“It usually takes me a month or two to make an album, but this one took me a year. I finally listened to the master copy today while I worked out, and I’m so proud of the work. I think this music is just amazing — different concepts, different beats, different flows — and, really, it’s like no other Fat Joe work. The lyrics are so much tighter. I’ve got this story that’s called ‘Temptation Pt. 1’ and ‘Temptation Pt. 2,’ and if you close your eyes and you listen to it, it’s like you’re in a movie.”

Movies have been on Joe’s mind a lot lately, and his next project includes a foray into the film world with hip-hop entrepreneur Damon Dash.

“It’s cool because I respect [Dash] as a man,” Fat Joe says of the producer, “and I respect what he’s doing in Hollywood with [the Kevin Bacon/Kyra Sedgwick film] ‘The Woodsman’ and all the movies he did before that [‘Death of A Dynasty,’ ‘Paid in Full,’ ‘State Property’]. I definitely wanted to do this with somebody who could relate to my culture.

“It’s not reality and it’s not about me; it’s like a gangster love story,” Joe concludes. “We’re just starting to write it now — we’ve got a writer with us when we’re on tour, and we’re going to get more of these ideas and have him put it together.”

Meanwhile, Fat Joe is looking forward to giving his all onstage, schooling younger listeners about his lengthy discography and celebrating his new successes with longtime fans.

“Nelly is one of the biggest guys in the game and I’m honored he would bring me on this tour,” he says. “A lot of guys get a little two- or three-year run on fire and then it’s over for them. I’ve managed to be blessed to have a long career in the hip-hop game and I truly appreciate it.

“Last week, I had seen these kids and they were like, ‘Yo, man, you’ve been the hardest-working rapper these last two years; nobody has been harder since you came out two years ago!’ I was like, ‘Two years? Wow!’ But I take it as a compliment. In New York, for young kids who don’t know old school, I just look at it like, ‘Wow, the youth is really killing me!’ But I’m gonna educate them.


Pink Floyd fans have been waiting more than a decade for the band's co-founder and inimitable drummer Nick Mason to deliver his history of the wildly inventive psychedelic rock band. Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd has finally arrived (Chronicle Books, $29.95), and at a whopping 400 pages, it was well worth the wait.

As is typical of rock royalty from his generation, Mason is a properly polite and delightfully discreet gentleman; the druggier or raunchier aspects of the Floyd's four-decade tale are mainly alluded to with a nod and a wink. But in contrast to many of his peers, he has a vivid recall of the fascinating details of tours and recording sessions that fans will devour. He also proves himself to be a diligent reporter, interviewing almost all of the key players (except for Syd Barrett) to offer their perspective alongside his own. He proves himself a smart, witty writer.

"My relationship with Roger [Waters] was in any case going through a temporary froideur," the former architecture student and current racing enthusiast writes of the "Atom Heart Mother" era. How many rock stars can you think of who'd reach for the precise French adjective instead of just saying "iciness"?

Lavishly illustrated with hundreds of photos, Inside Out earns an instant spot among the best rock autobiographies ever, superior to Bob Dylan's Chronicles: Volume One because it's comprehensive (and seemingly true), and better than Bill Wyman's Stone Alone because it's a lot more colorful and fun.