I’ve been friends with my “Renaissance Man” guest for years and thought I knew everything about him. But during this episode, Fat Joe, dropped a bomb on me.
“You know, I made an album with Biggie Smalls,” he casually said.
Excuse me, Mr. Joseph Cartagena?
“[Biggie] was like, ‘You’re gonna be the Spanish don. I’m gonna be the Black don.’ It was that time with the East Coast, West Coast [battles]. And, you know, we’re dissing people and all that. So Puffy [Sean Combs] buried that because it’s for the best because we love the West Coast, we love everybody and we’re positivity. It was supposed to be an album: Biggie, Fat Joe. And then … I think Tupac had died and it was like, ‘Yo, man, get rid of that s – – t,’” he said adding that the potential nuclear musical weapon didn’t have a name. “But it was just violence. It was just like foul s – – t, you know what I mean? It was just hard. It was some Biggie hit man beats.”
To keep the peace during that fragile era, the album was buried and the world never saw the greatness of a Biggie-Fat Joe, Brooklyn-Bronx collaboration. But it did give Fat Joe a leg up in the music world because being associated with Biggie put a lot of currency in his clout piggy bank.
“Atlantic Records had heard that I was doing an album with Biggie, and they infiltrated. They gave me my own record label … And they gave me a big deal. So I went to Puff. I said, ‘Yo Puff, they give me my own record label, overhead millions of dollars. He said, ‘Playboy I don’t believe that.’ So when they gave me the contract, I gave it to Puff. I said, ‘Look.’ He goes, ‘Playboy. Go get that. I ain’t giving you that. Go get that.’ “
The “Lean Back” rapper didn’t hesitate. After all, Joey Crack grew up in the bombed out Bronx as hip-hop was rising as an art form of the gritty streets, not the boardroom.
“I’m from the Bronx, where hip-hop was born. So my brother used to carry Grandmaster Flash’s crates. Where you see Melle Mel, my grandmother lived across the street from Mr. Ness.” Fat Joe recalled hearing “The Message” on every floor of his apartment building. He was street, and he got into graffiti, break dancing and rapping. His only weakness:
“I sucked at DJ’ing. I could never be good at DJ and I tried, but I couldn’t catch it.” A gazillion dollar contract with Atlantic was beyond his wildest dreams.
As the money factor grew, the hip-hop of his hometown evolved from collaborative to cutthroat.
“It wasn’t really ego and competition,” he said of the early days. “So we would go to every other artist’s videos. And then New York got really crazy when like 50 Cent blew, and then Cam’ron was dissing NAS. And it was just a real ugly time.”
So the product of the Boogie Down went to the Sunshine State and helped foster a new hip-hop habitat where you needed sunscreen and didn’t pay state income taxes — which could maybe explain the chill vibe.
“I had already had this relationship with Cool & Dre and with DJ Khaled, and I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to go to Miami because there’s love there.’ And so we unified, we signed Khaled, you know, and I discovered Khaled. We put his albums together. But at the same time, we started working with [Rick] Ross on every record, Pitbull on every record. Later, when, Katrina happened … Birdman and Lil Wayne came to Miami. And so we were just collaborating with each other and it reminded me of the early days when I used to work with all the artists. Miami, they have no egos. Nobody to this day, nobody act like they better than nobody in Miami. Everybody act like word, ah, let’s rock.”
He’s now part-time South Florida, but Fat Joe remains a religious and puritanical Knicks fan who has taken a vow of hostility toward the Nets.
“It’s safe to say the Knicks and the Nets won the same amount of playoff games this year … Hate the Nets, man. I’m a hater. I’m a hater because they were supposed to be our guys,” he said of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, who he cornered at the Roc Nation offices.
“I got on my knees for this guy. I begged him, sweating bullets. I tried so hard to get him to sign with the Knicks. Jay-Z had to hit me up, like, ‘leave the man alone, you’ve had him in the room for a half hour … He’s going with Nets. Leave him alone.’ Broke my heart … I love our team. And so we’ve lost for many years … But I love the youth … We definitely need one more bona fide superstar like Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell. A guy who scores.”
“That’s my brother,” he said of Spike. “He had no business there. It broke my heart. I don’t know what he’s doing there … That’s blasphemy.”
Fat Joe has been to the White House recently. It was his first time, and he was there to advocate for a few issues, including affordable health care equality.
“It was the greatest experience of my life,” he said adding that his family was so proud of him.
The next location, where I hope to pin him down is a soundproof bunker in Brooklyn with armed guards. Take away everyone’s phone, open a bottle of Ciroc and listen to the lost Biggie-Fat Joe album.
If it happens, you’ll never know. Because I’ll never speak of it again.
Detroit native Jalen Rose is a member of the University of Michigan’s iconoclastic Fab Five, who shook up the college hoops world in the early ’90s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA, before transitioning into a media personality. Rose is currently an analyst for “NBA Countdown” and “Get Up,” and co-host of “Jalen & Jacoby.” He executive produced “The Fab Five” for ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, is the author of the best-selling book, “Got To Give the People What They Want,” a fashion tastemaker, and co-founded the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a public charter school in his hometown.