Happy 25th Anniversary to Fat Joe’s debut album Represent, originally released July 27, 1993.
It doesn't take a disgruntled hip-hop purist to pinpoint the moment Joseph 'Fat Joe' Cartagena “went pop,” but I will anyway. That moment came in 2001 with the release of Fat Joe's fourth album, Jealous Ones Still Envy (J.O.S.E.). It had hit singles featuring R. Kelly, Ashanti and Ja Rule, and therefore was a huge shift in the type of rap music Fat Joe wanted to make at that point in his career. Platinum success brought mainstream fame and fortune, but it was a far cry from the heavyweight Bronx champ who'd released the hard-as-concrete debut album Represent several years before.
Fat Joe's sizable frame cuts an intimidating figure on the grimy album cover, the sense of menace enhanced by how he was then going by the extended name of Fat Joe Da Gangsta. By the time you press play and hear him spit violent street stories, he's damn near terrifying. This is meant to be a tough debut, and Joe goes all out for it.
Although those involved would not quite have realized it at the time, everything about Represent drips with the aesthetics of what we now consider to be a classic early 90s hip-hop album, with many of the typical characteristics and trimmings. It has production by The Beatnuts and Fat Joe's fellow Diggin' In The Crates (D.I.T.C.) members Diamond D, Lord Finesse and Showbiz, and a DJ Premier remix of “The Shit is Real” (confusingly not included here but rather on the follow-up album Jealous One's Envy (1995), instead). There are also cuts by Roc Raida, guest features from Kool G Rap, Apache and Grand Puba, an Executive Producer credit for Chris Lighty, and it was even recorded in the studio owned by Jazzy Jay. In short, you can't get much more authentic than this.
There was, therefore, a lot to live up to, but Fat Joe pulls it off. Stylistically he’s scrambling a little to define his style. At different points on the album you can hear the influence of Grand Puba, Leaders of the New School and “Scenario” era Busta Rhymes, Akinyele and Das EFX. That latter one is funny in that Fat Joe actually states “I’m sick and tired of motherfuckers trying to sound like Das EFX” on the album cut, “You Must Be Out of Your Fuckin’ Mind.”
Fat Joe also creates his own lane however, with a commanding, hardcore voice that states its intent clearly on tracks like “Livin’ Fat,”“Flow Joe,” and “Da Fat Gangsta.” The tough, violent lyrics are also sprinkled with a twisted sense of dark humor that brings some comic relief to the seriousness of it all. Take “The Shit is Real” for example, where Fat Joe mixes a typical story of life growing up in the ghetto with gems about knocking people out at age 14, and robbing his cousin on a visit to his aunt.
As was often the case with albums from this era, Represent does have its share of over-the-top moments, including pointless crew skits. The Kool G Rap and Apache featured “You Must Be Out of Your Fuckin' Mind” is also a missed opportunity. Having two of the greatest appear on your debut album was a boon for Fat Joe, but the song is overly vulgar.
Production is dominated by Diamond D, still fresh from the success of his own 1992 classic debut Stunts, Blunts & Hip Hop. Never one for keeping all the good beats for himself, he contributes some of his finest work on Represent. The dusty-fingered sound of tracks like “Bad Bad Man” and “Da Fat Gangsta” epitomize what was then emerging as the boom bap style of hip-hop, perfected by Diamond, the other D.I.T.C. producers, DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Large Professor, Q-Tip and Da Beatminerz across several albums released around the same time.
Represent is a very good album overall, then. For some reason it doesn’t seem to be remembered as fondly as other D.I.T.C. classics such as Stunts, Blunts and Hip-Hop, Show & A.G.’s Runaway Slave, O.C.’s Word…Life or Lord Finesse’s Funky Technician, but certainly deserves to be. It was the kick-off to a career still in rude health today, one that has far surpassed that of the rest of the D.I.T.C..
The album was followed by Jealous One's Envy in 1995 and Don Cartagena in 1998 before Fat Joe changed direction. But in fairness to Fat Joe’s later output, Jealous Ones Still Envy (J.O.S.E.) did include some harder-edged songs like the Buckwild laced “My Lifestyle,” and his albums have featured a mix of both types of tracks since. He has a knack for making monster hits every few years, usually alongside his Terror Squad crew. He has also continued to show solidarity with the D.I.T.C. by contributing to reunion projects in the last few years.