“I am a warrior. I am tough. I fight through all adversity. The great ones fought through adversity. I can name about 400 groups that came and went, even more, through the time of my struggle in hip-hop. Everybody counts me out every couple of years and I come back better than ever, bigger than ever.” -Fat Joe
Born on August 19th, 1972 in the Bronx, New York City, Joseph Cartagena, a.k.a. Fat Joe, was heavily influenced by the Zulu Nation culture and parties as a youth. His brother, Angel, would bring home tapes of the music played at these events, and the original sounds piqued the interest of young Joe. As he got older, he too became involved in the whole hip-hop culture, taking a liking to not only rap, but graffiti art and break dancing as well. The streets of South Bronx would continue to have a profound impact on Joe. Belonging to a “crew” of toughs, he took the name Joey Crack, which reflected his growing control and influence on the drug trade in his little corner of the world. It took some time, but Joe realized his real future lay in music, not narcotics. He then used his long-standing street credibility and talent as a rapper to get a music deal with Relativity Records.
Under them, Joe became Fat Joe Da Gangsta and released his debut album, Represent, in 1993. To the surprise of many, this small-time Spanish rapper scored a No. 1 hit with the track “Flow Joe.” He became a sensation in the New York hip-hop scene and continued to ride the wave two years later when he came out with Jealous One’s Envy.
Fat Joe caught the eye of fans across America for rapping from a true “gangster’s” perspective, about the harsh realities of the world he grew up in. With the golden touch of producer DJ Premier, the album caught the eye of many a fan and fellow rapper. Fat Joe collaborated, and consequently got more exposure, with the likes of L.L. Cool J and Raekwon soon after.
This growth in popularity led Fat Joe to seek a bigger target market, and he was able to land a deal with Big Beat/Atlantic Records. In 1998, the album Don Cartagena became his best effort yet — a socially conscious album that reflected, among other things, the profound influence a meeting with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan had on him. With its success, Atlantic put newcomers Big Pun and the crew the Terror Squad under Fat Joe’s wing. Both artists made huge steps under the guidance of Joe, including smash hits like “Feelin’ So Good” alongside Jennifer Lopez. In a short time, Joe, Pun and the rest of the Squad had several Billboard hits and established a name for themselves in the rap industry.
All the celebrating came to a halt, however, in February 2000, when Big Pun suffered a fatal heart attack. The 600-pound rapper was Fat Joe’s best friend and the loss, coupled with a sister stuck in a coma, hit him very hard. With nowhere to concentrate his energies, he turned toward music once again.
2001’s Jealous One’s Still Envy (J.O.S.E.) became a platinum-selling album, and featured the most played single in Atlantic Record’s history: “What’s Luv,” performed alongside R&B’s new queen, Ashanti. The rest of the album was replete with rap all-stars, including Busta Rhymes and Ludacris.
To ride the wave of hits, Joe worked quickly to release his fifth album, Loyalty, in 2002. It showed an honest, original and creative side, including one of rap’s first real love songs, dedicated to Joe’s wife.
When not touring or promoting his latest album, Fat Joe connects with the community in the Bronx. He owns a barbershop, a clothing store called Fat Joe’s Halftime, and runs a fashion line, FJ560. He employs his friends form the ‘hood and keeps them on track, by helping them earn honest livings.
In all aspects of life, Fat Joe has proven to be an originator and a rising star.