Fat Joe  knew he couldn't rely on his past when he went into the studio to record his new album. Referencing fellow rap vet LL Cool J, Fat Joe says, "In an industry where you're as good as your last hit, I had no choice but to knock it out."
After going hard in the studio for the last six months as opposed to his "usual one month," Fat Joe is ready to unveil "The Dark Side." The July 13 release isn't only his first under a new deal between his Terror Squad imprint and E1 Music-it's also the next chapter in a career that's spanned almost 17 years since his first charting single, 1993's "Flow Joe."
Few can lay claim to such longevity, especially in a hip-hop industry littered with one-hit wonders. But despite his career ups and downs, Joe isn't yet ready to retire. As producer Pharrell Williams recently told MTV's "Mixtape Daily," "Joey Crack's had a run; you cannot count him out. He knows how to make a record."
With emerging producer Scoop Deville (Snoop Dogg 's "I Wanna Rock") in tow, Fat Joe is back on the charts with "(Ha Ha) Slow Down." With its Soul II Soul sample (from 1989 No. 1 R&B single "Back to Life"), the track, which features Young Jeezy , is reminiscent of the pop-rap of Fat Joe's 2004 No. 1 crossover hit with Terror Squad, "Lean Back." It also finds the rapper referencing Alicia Keys, Jay-Z and others while still pulling no punches lyrically: "Now what you boys got a death wish/I beat a motherfucker uglier than Precious . . . Recession got the hood pushin' more than time clocks/So I dropped a hundred in the streets/I don't buy stocks."
Currently No. 73 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, "Ha Ha" signals what Fat Joe calls a return to his roots-something he says that his longtime fans have kept telling him to do. More street-oriented than his 2009 Capitol project, "Jealous Ones Still Envy (J.O.S.E. 2)," "The Dark Side" boasts production by Deville, Raw Uncut, Infamous, Buckwild, Street Runner and veteran duo Cool & Dre. Additional tracks include "If It Ain't About Money," featuring Trey Songz; among the set's featured guests are R. Kelly, Too $hort, Lil Wayne, the Clipse and Cam'ron.
"This album is real serious; I had to take it back to day one," Fat Joe says. Born Joseph Cartagena, the rapper notched a career high with 2002's Atlantic set "J.O.S.E.: Jealous Ones Still Envy," which has sold 945,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Last year's "J.O.S.E. 2," however, has sold only 20,000.
"I don't like to downplay anyone, but let's just say I was very, very unhappy with the performance of Capitol promoting that project," Fat Joe says. "I know hits, and the single with Akon ["One"] was a hit. I felt handcuffed."
Fat Joe, who constantly tours, recently performed in Asia. According to E1 urban label director Marleny Dominguez, Fat Joe will spend June traveling the East Coast from Boston to Atlanta for a series of summer shows in tandem with a presale iTunes campaign. In the works is a national tour.
"Many people don't know how to keep rising to the occasion," Fat Joe says of "The Dark Side" and his ongoing career. "All I'm after is for people to still listen to my music 20 years from now and say, 'Yo, this motherfucker was serious.' "
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