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Joey Fatts Talks Prison Release, Drug Use, & Premieres New Song 'U-Haul' Featuring Dave East

Joey Fatts
Tevin Smith

Joey Fatts

"I thought it was over for me."

During his lowest moments, Joey Fatts didn’t think he’d have a future in music. The Long Beach rapper-producer says he was facing a decade behind bars on a series of charges, including discharge of a firearm and criminal threats. “I thought it was over for me,” he tells Billboard. “I didn’t think I’d be sitting here today, giving you an interview.”

Now the Cutthroat artist born Joey Vercher is on the outside and reinvigorated. He says he struck a plea deal, earning five years of probation and behavioral courses. He’s finally sober after bouts with lean, Percocet, and Xanax, and he’s ready to revitalize a career that’s been halted by court room battles and personal challenges.

Today, Billboard premieres “U-Haul,” a new buzz single featuring Dave East. “I sent him the song and ended up going to jail,” Fatts said of the cut’s creative process. “When I was able to get in contact with him, I told him I got a case and he was feeling for me... When he learned I wasn’t going to jail, he was happy for me. He’s real supportive.” The song is a sign of things to come, from an artist who’s got 45 songs in the stash and even more on the way.

Joey sat down to speak with Billboard about the legal drama that nearly ended his career. He opened up about his mentor A$AP Yams, his cousin Vince Staples, and the main source of inspiration through these trying times, his baby daughter, who’s due in January. “That’s what I look forward to the most,” he says of pending fatherhood. “I really want to change this tide.”

Let’s start from the beginning. When did you feel like you were finally attaining success?

When I met A$AP Yams. He didn’t treat me like a normal executive. He didn’t tell me to go to Beverly Hills. He popped up in my hood, no gun, no security. Just jumped out, faded, with a bottle of Hennessy. I was like, “This n---a is like a cartoon character.” Funny as hell. I was homeless at the time, but didn’t let him know because I thought it would hurt me and I kept producing for him.

Once I got my first placement, “Jodye” off A$AP Rocky’s Long. Live. A$AP, I got an advance. Ooh! That was the first money I seen. Rocky was a good brother. He didn’t just let me produce for him. He knew I rapped and told me he hated my raps -- he was honest with me. I was real monotone back then and I switched my style up.

He told me, “You could do better.” But he still took me on tour with him to Europe. I woke up like, “I can actually do this.” Rocky, somebody who’s on Forbes’ 30 Under 30, ain’t just bringing me on tour with him for no reason. That was a blessing.

Your career was going strong, it seemed, and then you caught a case. What happened?

I went to jail for seven felonies, including a drive-by shooting, discharge of a firearm, criminal threats, and a couple of other enhancements. I was facing 10 years. It definitely put everything on hold and it wasn’t a place that I was proud to be, but God gives his toughest battles to his toughest soldiers.

Looking back, I’m thankful it happened because it slowed me down. There were circumstances that led to it. I ain’t just somebody who brings harm. He gave me a chance knowing I’m a good person, but I thought it was over for me. I didn’t think my career would have been able to go on. I was thinking about what type of job I would get when I got out. It was a stressful time, but I got a blessing out of it: my daughter. She’ll be here in January. I’m thankful for that.

What else helped you through that?

My daughter and Yams. I used to pray to him and God almost every night. I came too far to be done, so I prayed. I didn’t think I was gonna get out of that, but I knew it was a possibility. I ain’t guilty of everything they tried to throw on me, and the reason why I did do something, there was a circumstance to it.

I was just trying to get them to understand my story and my side, everything that I’ve done from touring, helping kids, helping girls through pregnancies, people slitting their wrists, thinking about suicide -- I talk to them, give them my number. I always do that. Knowing that I did so much good for others, God was going to look out for me in the end. I kept my faith.

How did you get out of the legal battle?

My first offer was three years. If I would’ve took it to trial, I would’ve got 10 years, if I would’ve lost. I had a great lawyer, Steve Peacock. He went through the facts of the case and it took six months, but he started getting charges dropped. My bail bondsman couldn’t mess with me no more.

That’s who was really giving me hassle. My bail was $200,000, so anytime he felt anything, from I wasn’t going to pay him or I was a flight risk, he wouldn’t ask questions. He would just put me behind bars. My lawyer was stuck on trying to get it done. My last court date was Oct. 25. We took a plea deal. I plead guilty to the gun charges, got a strike, five years probation, and behavioral courses.

The details on the case are understandably vague, but how did you end up in that situation?

Well, I’m strong on my brothers. I love my family and I love my people. If you’re my friend and I consider you a brother, I’ll do anything for you. Even in times like this, I’ll put my freedom on the line, my life on the line. You had somebody that was threatening somebody who was real close to me.

Talking about shooting up his mama’s house and stuff like that. We ended up coming across it and things happened. It went from there. I’m not proud of it. I’m nowhere near proud of it. But for nothing to happen to my brother, I’m happy with that. He’s all right, and that’s what I live for. I’ll put my life on the line for anybody that I love. I’m just thankful that God seen my heart and I was pure, not just going out to try to hurt somebody. It was more of a defense. I’m thankful to be here.

You mentioned your daughter. How did you find out you were expecting?

I was fighting my case and my baby mom got pregnant in March. I didn’t find out until June. By then, I was already full-force in my case. My court dates kept getting pushed back because the prosecutor was trying to do some foul shit. I was scared, but I had to be strong for my baby’s mother.

All that pressure and stress could cause a miscarriage or stillbirth, so a lot of times, I didn’t let her see that it was getting to me. Anytime I was stressed, I would talk to her, rather than show her. Tell her how I felt and what I was stressed about, and she would tell me that God got me.

Just feeling my daughter kick. She started kicking super early. I’m just like, “Man. Either this is a great way to go out or this is a hell of a situation to make me better as a man.” That’s how I took it...But I don’t think I was going to be able to hold up. Knowing I’ve got a daughter, knowing I’m leaving my kid behind, God knew I couldn’t handle that, and he looked out for me.

What’s next? What does the new song "U-Haul" lead to?

It leads to no more bullshitting. Consistency. Me getting back to producing, which I haven’t done in years. It’s really about myself and real life. A lot of rappers get caught up in the facade of being a rapper. Joey Fatts is my stage name. My real name is Joey Vercher.

I’m just focused on being a better man to my family, to my supporters, and to people I come in contact with. I’ve got a lot of music I’ve been working on. I can’t wait to drop these videos. They’re really creative. Not just the “ride around the hood” videos -- no more of that. It’s all about creativity now. I’m sober so I can think a lot. No more lean and weed. I pride myself on that. That was a hard feat to conquer.

What were you on? How did you overcome it?

I was on lean, Percocets, smoking weed heavy, Xanax, all downers. I spent a lot of time sleeping and I just didn’t see an urgency in doing music. I felt like I had everything I needed. I was making good money. You get a little comfortable and that’s ultimately the worst thing you could do in rap. The styles change with the seasons and if you ain’t on top of your shit, you could easily fall behind. That’s what I did. I consider myself behind right now, by a lot. I’m trying to play catch-up.

Meek Mill’s going through a similar situation. What did you take away from his case?

I learned that I can’t ride dirt bikes in the middle of the street doing wheelies. They’re gonna try to give you [time]. The crazy thing about it is, all the shit that’s going on with that judge, my bail bondsman was doing the same thing. He tried to buy my company from me for a million dollars.

People will throw curve balls at you like that, but as long as you’re pure and you live a righteous life, Meek is gonna be alright. I don’t see him doing 2 to 4 years. He’s probably gonna be out in like 8 months, at most. He’ll probably be out sooner that that, with all the protests going on.

That just shows how fucked up the judicial system is in America. They try to make examples out of people, people who have good hearts. There’s a lot of precaution and disciplinary actions you could have gave him other than jail, knowing that he’s taking care of his family.

While you were fighting your case, you saw your cousin Vince Staples elevate his career. How has he inspired you?

When Vince was performing in Long Beach or Los Angeles for 250 people, I was inspired then. Once I seen him do that, I knew we had a voice, whether I was rapping or not. I wasn’t rapping at the time. Just to know that we can let people know about our life and that listeners who are going through the same things can co-exist with us felt good.

To see him with Big Fish Theory, it’s amazing. It’s real inspiring. That’s my little dude. That’s one of my closest family members that I got. He’s here with me through everything and I’m here for him. Everybody’s happy for him and what’s to come. But even if it ends there, even if it ends with me here, we did a lot.

We spoke for our culture and for our people so the next person could take this torch and pass it on. We may not be as big as Snoop Dogg, but we made a dent in the game. That’s good enough for us.

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