Fat Joe Juggles Crossover Success, Credibility

Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.

Fat Joe is no newcomer. This is an obvious statement to R&B and hip-hop fans, but for many pop music lovers, Fat Joe was relatively unknown until last year. "J.O.S.E.: Jealous Ones Still Envy," his fourth studio set, scored with singles "We Thuggin'" and "What's Luv?," his collaborations with R. Kelly and Ashanti, respectively. The two earned Joe his third and fourth appearances on Billboard's Hot 100.

Now, the Bronx, N.Y.-based rapper may be discovered by an even larger audience with his recently issued "Loyalty," which was released Nov. 12 via Atlantic.

While the success of "J.O.S.E." -- which debuted at No. 6 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and peaked at No. 21 on The Billboard 200 -- opened doors for Joe, it also came with its fair share of adversity.

"There were highs and lows with that album," the rapper says. "My whole career depended on that album. I had to prove something to myself. After the death of [rapper and frequent collaborator Big] Pun, I had to prove that I was able to still sell big units and make records that people liked.

"The album started off slow," he adds. "We thought that it would do much better. We had a hit record with 'We Thuggin',' but the sales were still mediocre. Then, 'What's Luv?' came, and s*** blew up. Meanwhile, we never stopped. We kept working. We were meeting, greeting, signing autographs, and kissing babies -- I didn't even notice that the s*** was about to be platinum. I stopped looking at SoundScan [retail sales figures]. I kept pushing. I realized we made it when we did MTV's 'Spring Break.' You gotta be a big boy to do that. That's when it sank in."

Despite his growing pop appeal, Joe remains true to his hardcore hip-hop roots on "Loyalty" via tracks like "S*** Is Real Pt. III" and "Born in the Ghetto."

"I'm always going to do what I'm going to do because that's me," says Joe. "Those are the records that I love to make. I also found a new love for making club joints and rapping to the ladies, but I'm never going to change who I am. My creative side won't allow me to change. They want me to be that cat that represents the streets, but at the same time I've made it. I make music for everybody. Lately, I've assumed the position of entertainer. I want to make something for everybody's ears."

"Fat Joe is never going to leave the streets because he stays so close to the heartbeat," Atlantic director of A&R Robert Tewlow adds. "By staying grounded, he's not going to alienate what success gave him. He now has the comfort zone to make music he wasn't comfortable in making before."

One such example is lead single "Crush Tonight" featuring Ginuwine, which currently rests at No. 68 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart.

"You've got to go from where you left off," says Joe. "We're coming from 'What's Luv?' I can't hit them with a 'S*** Is Real' video. I had to pick up from where I left off and keep the party going. I love to go into a club and hear my songs banging. I've been around eight or nine years and I've never had that happen."

Excerpted from the Dec.14, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.

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