Joseph Antonio Cartagena is the half Cuban, half Puerto Rican emcee out of the Bronx known to the world by the alias, Fat Joe (in the beginning he went by the alias of Fat Joe Da Gangsta, but thankfully he dropped “da gangsta” after his first album) and the founder of the Terror Squad. Like many of his contemporaries, Fat Joe grew up in the hood, running the streets getting into trouble, and even got shot during the heart of his hoodlum days. He would eventually leave the thug life behind, and begin to focus on his rap career, which begin to take off after he linked up with the legendary Diggin’ In The Crates crew. Joe would ink a deal with Relativity and released his debut album Represent in the summer of 1993.
Represent would mainly be produced by Diamond D with a few assists from fellow Diggin’ In The Crates crew members, Showbiz and Lord Finesse. Even with the well-respected cast of producers, Represent was a flop and didn’t garner a warm reception from the heads, either.
I have to admit, I’ve never been a big (no pun intended) Fat Joe fan, but have gained more respect for him as an emcee since the turn of the century (you can’t front on “Lean Back” or “All The Way Up”). I found Represent in the dollar bins a few years ago at one of the spots I frequent, and when I saw that Diamond D handled the bulk of the production, I figured that even if Joe was trash on every track the production would be dope. I have never listen to Represent before today and I’m hopeful that my theory rings true.
When you look back at all the talented emcees (i.e O.C, AG, Big L, Lord Finesse) and producers (Diamond D, Showbiz, Buckwild) that the Diggin’ In The Crates crew produced in the mid nineties, I would have laughed in your face if you told me that Fat Joe would wind up being the most successful and last industry relevant member of the crew. Time is truly illmatic.
A Word To Da Wise – Represent opens with a short soundbite from what is probably ninety percent of all emcees favorite movie, Scarface, which quickly bleeds into the next song…
Livin’ Fat – Right from the start Fat Joe displays how limited his flow and lyricism were at this point in his career. My favorite line, that still has me scratching my head trying to figure out what the hell he was trying to say, is “rockin’ and shockin’ the whole rap scene, I’m mean, my favorite color is green…I guess that’s why they call it the blues”. What the hell does his favorite color being green, or his love of money, have to do with the blues? Was he trying to say he has the blues because he doesn’t have any green? If so, he did a horrible job of connecting the two…moving on. Lord Finesse gets his only production credit of the evening, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Sometimes the melodic instrumental is cool and other times its sounds empty and kind of cheesy. So, I guess it just depends on my current mood whether or not I like the song.
My Man Ski – Joe gives one of his homeboys (Ski) a little shine on this interlude, and Ski pretty much uses it to threaten to kill your family (or as he exaggerates it, “faaaaaaaaaaamily”) if you don’t buy Fat Joe’s album. This was pretty useless.
Bad Bad Man – Diamond D takes a loop of microphone feedback (from Yvonne Fair’s “Let Your Hair Down” record) and turns it into a brilliantly constructed backdrop. Fat Joe uses it in an attempt to convince the listener that he’s a force to be reckoned with it. At the beginning of his third verse, Joe takes what sounds like a direct shot (no pun intended) at Buckshot from Black Moon: “One day I was chillin’ caught a buckshot, the nigga was butt, so he gets no props” (I won’t believe it’s a coincidence that he uses “buckshot” and part of the title of Black Moon’s first single (see “Who Got Da Props?”) in the same bar). I wonder what his beef was with Buckshot (or Black Moon). If you know, hit me in the comments. Joe gives it all he’s got on this one, and his energy is commendable, but his lyrics fall short of the glory of God. But Diamond’s instrumental is genius.
Watch The Sound – This was the second single released from Represent . Joe invites Grand Puba and Diamond D (who also produced the song) to join him on the mic. All three emcees slightly alter their verses for the video mix, but Puba makes the biggest alterations: on the album version he kind of disses Tommy Hilfiger (“lets squeeze a trigger for the nigga, see I flipped to the low, cause I’m through with the Hilfiger”), but his video version verse (tongue twister mucher) give props to Hilfiger (“it’s that same ole nigga, dressed low in Hilfiger, but my pockets got a little bigger”), which I found both confusing and interesting. As much as a fan I am of Puba’s flow (he’s definitely in the discussion for best flow in hip-hop history), Diamond D quietly walks away with this one.
Flow Joe – This was the lead single from Represent . Joe’s flow doesn’t sound that impressive, and it sounds like he may have been taking a shot at Heavy D on this one (“rappers come heavy, but yo, I weigh a ton”). Diamond D’s instrumental is a bit conflicting: he samples a piece of Morton Stevens’ “The Long Wait” (better known as the theme music for “Hawaii Five-O”) that gives the song a sinister feel when coupled with the hard drums. But for some reason he adds a playful flute loop (not to be confused with fruit loop) during the hook, which kind of undermines the sinisterism of the Morton Stevens loop. Thankfully, they took the flute loop out of the video version of the song.
Da Fat Gangsta – Diamond D slides Joe yet another quality mid-tempo instrumental, and Joe actually does a decent job with it this time. Yeah, he struggles with his breath control and sounds sloppy at certain points (and he sounds super Cuban when he yells the hook), but the shortcomings on this one aren’t as bad as they are on some of the previous songs.
Shorty Gotta Fat Ass – Diamond’s instrumental is kind of nice, but Joe’s rhymes and concept are trash.
The Shit Is Real – This was the third single released from Represent. This is probably Joe’s best lyrical output on the album, as he revisits his upbringing and coming of age. Now that I think about it, it’s probably his honesty that’s more appealing than his actual lyrics. Unfortunately, The Beatnuts’, um beat, is very drab. Thankfully, Premo would breath new life into the song with the remix, that would be included on Joe’s second album, Jealous One’s Envy.
You Must Be Out Of Your Fuckin’ Mind – Joe invites Apache and Kool G. Rap to join him on this one. Diamond hooks up a dark and bleak backdrop that the three emcees compete to sound the most psychotic over. Decent enough, I guess.
I Got This In A Smash – Showbiz gets his first production credit of the evening, and it’s pretty dope. Joe continues to spew mediocre rhymes, and comically mispronounces Richard Gere’s last name when he brags about getting more skins (aka sex) than him. But Joe’s mediocrity can’t undermine Showbiz hard backdrop.
Another Wild Nigger From The Bronx – Put this one on the ballot for worst song title of the year. And what’s up with spelling “Nigger” with an “er” instead of an “a”? Something about the “er” ending gives me visions of “Colored” marked water fountains and bathrooms. Joe invites Gismo, Kieth Kieth (pronounced as Keith Keith, but for some reason he puts the “i” before the “e”… or maybe they just misspelled his name in the liner notes?) and King Sun to join him on the final cipher joint of the evening. King Sun definitely sounds the most impressive of the four emcees, but Chilly Dee’s instrumental is the true king of this song.
Get On Up – More underwhelming rhymes from Joe over a solid Diamond D beat.
I’m A Hit That – The final song of the evening has Joe salivating over a hottie he wants to bang out over a decent Showbiz instrumental. This was pretty weak, and an awkward way to end a hip-hop album.
I’ve heard Fat Joe say in interviews that his flow was feeble at this point in his career. I concur. He has definitely improved as an emcee as time went on. Luckily for Joe, he had a top-notch beatsmith in Diamond D to help make up for what he lacked lyrically, and make Represent an enjoyable listen. Represent is not a classic album, but there’s enough quality material on it to make it a decent debut from the self-proclaimed fat gangsta.