For over 25 years, Fat Joe, born Joseph Antonio Cartagena, has sculpted his own brand of New York rap with his bravado and sly slick talk. Armed with an impeccable ear and a swagger to match, Joe has created dozens of notable hip-hop smashes over his career including “Lean Back,” What’s Luv,” “Make It Rain” and more.
Creating fiery club records comes second nature to Fat Joe, so when his long-time friend and frequent collaborator, Remy Ma, was liberated from her prison sentence in August 2014, he envisioned the two tag-teaming in the studio and crafting another radio smash. Last year, Joe and Remy torched the scene with their infectious single “All the Way Up.” After the single blazed its way up the Hip Hop & R&B charts, Joe tapped rap titan Jay Z for the remix.
This past Sunday (Feb. 12), Joe and Remy graced the Grammys for their hard work, as they were nominated for two awards for “All the Way Up.” Even after the success of their multi-platinum single, Joe and Remy have no intention of loosening their stranglehold on the game. The duo have unleashed a series of haymakers including their Ty Dolla $ign-assisted single “Money Showers” and their newly released record “Heartbreak” featuring The-Dream. After proving to still be a formidable threat in hip hop with a series of hits, last month, Joe inked a deal with Jay Z’s Roc Nation for management.
Joe spoke with Billboard on his and Remy’s new album Plata O Plomo — out today — as well as about spending Grammy night with his family on the red carpet, his eye for fresh talent, and his fondest memory of his late friend, Big L.
Recently, Billboard spoke to your executive producers on Plata O Plomo, Cool & Dre, with regards to your “golden ear.” Do you feel you’re underrated when it comes to your hit-making abilities?
I think I’ll die underrated, but it’s alright, man. We go after legacies, because we just know that sooner or later, people will understand what we bring to this culture and bring to the game. We won’t stop. We won’t stop.
You were at the Grammy’s on Sunday with Remy Ma and your family, as well. Talk about that red-carpet experience and what it meant for both of you guys being there.
Ahhhhhhhh man. It was amazing, because we had our families there. Remy had her husband there. I had my wife, my daughter, and my son there. It was amazing, man. To go through so much in life and just come back to so strong to get nominated. Man, it was a real honor.
You guys were nominated for two awards for “All the Way Up.” What do you feel that record has done not only for New York, but the culture itself?
I just think it was a real necessity. It was a song that the world needed. We did it to motivate the club, and we never knew that it was going to motivate people. Like, little kids were DMing me their report cards with A-pluses. We had old ladies working out and it turned into a motivational record more than anything. I got a friend, he says that his goddaughter climbs on top of the bed and goes, ‘I’m all the way up!’ You know, it’s crazy. It’s a motivational song, man. It’s crazy. I’m not just a rapper. I’m a child educator. [Laughs.]
What about your daughter? How did she gravitate towards the record?
I don’t know, man. You know, I prayed a lot because my daughter is 10. She knows her father is a legend and she watches my videos, but, my videos weren’t hot at her time. So, to actually have a double-platinum song while my daughter is growing up, that was the best experience, man. She don’t gotta look at “What’s Luv”, or “Lean Back” and wonder what it was like. She’s here for it.
Plata O Plomo is finally out. What was the emphasis of the album? Was it to focus purely on singles?
The album was made just to be a classic and to represent hip-hop culture for all age groups. For the young, to the people who follow me since day one, you know? So, it’s an album that everybody can relate to, and everybody can enjoy. It’s so quality. It’s so professional. It’s just amazing, bro.
Despite knowing Remy for years, what was the biggest thing that you learned about her during the recording process for Plata O Plomo?
I learned that she’s a professional, and I ain’t been working with a lot of professionals since she’s been gone. You know, with Rem, all you gotta do is do a song and tell her, ‘Come on, Rem. Let’s go. Do this, do that,’ and she’ll kill it multiple ways. And then, on top of that, there’s only three people in the world that can work a certain way with Khaled, who’s like accustomed to it: Me, Pun, and Remy. We used to always be in the studio with each other. So, when we started working on this album, it almost felt like Pun was in the building. I know that sounds weird, but, that’s how it felt.
Was it a competitive feel in the studio with you and Remy going back and forth, or was it a collective effort?
Well, we’re competing with everybody else. Me and my sister, we’re never battling each other. We competing with everybody else. That’s a fact.
Drake won “Hotline Bling” for best rap song at the Grammys. Do you believe that since the award was designed for best rap song, and he didn’t rap on the record, that you guys should have been given more of a consideration for “All the Way Up?”
Nah. You know, I think it’s rap. I think it’s hip hop. There’s different ways of labeling it now. Remy disagrees. Remy thinks if he didn’t spit lyrics, it ain’t rap. A lot of people went with her. A lot of people listened to her. My thing was like, it’s hip-hop. We ain’t sore losers. He earned it. That’s it.
In the past, people have praised you for your eye for talent and potential in one day being a music executive. Why do you feel like you would be a great hip-hop executive?
Because, I’m a hit-maker. All I know is stars and hits, you know what I mean? I don’t just sign a guy because he has a hot record. I sign a guy because he’s a star. He’s a pillar of the community.
Speaking of your eye, you released a record titled “Love You to Pieces” featuring Bryson Tiller. How did the record come together, considering that song was recorded years ago, before Bryson became a star?
Ah, man, I got a couple of songs with Bryson Tiller that never came out. So, my guy, Richard Barber, discovered him. He and Bryson Tiller used to always be around us in the studio when he was working on that ill album, before he got signed or anything. I got a couple of songs with him.
Are you thinking about letting them go at any point?
I don’t know, man. If anything, I’ll do something new with Bryson Tiller. He’s a cool dude, man. I’m proud of him and his success, you know?
Sticking to the executive theme, if you could start a brand-new record label with strictly New York artists, which three would you choose and why?
Only with New York artists? I’ll take Young M.A, and I would give her hit records. You see, that first record [“Ooouuu”] was a real record. It’s hard to have a boom-bap hip hop record that goes No. 1 in the country. It’s almost not achievable, especially doing that kind of record twice. You understand what I’m saying? I would show her how to make more hits, right?
Now, I could definitely make Dave East a star. You know, girls love that n—a. He needs a hit, and that’s what I deal with. I make hits. I could definitely make him a hit, right? I think for my third, I’d take that kid Jaquae. I would take the Jaquae kid and make some records with him. I’d make him a f–king superstar. I like that kid a lot. He got a lot of potential.
Switching gears, it’s been 18 years since Big L passed away.
That’s crazy. Think about that. Last week was 17 years for [Big] Pun, then 18 years, Big L. That sh-t crazy. They died back-to-back, man.
What’s your fondest memory of Big L?
My best memory was that he was charismatic. He was a beautiful kid, man. He was so funny. He would always say the funniest little brother shit that nobody else would get away with or say, but you gotta laugh, because you know he’s saying it from a little brother point of view. We did the song “The Enemy” and he told me, ‘I’m gonna rip you down and take your half a million fans.’ Like, nobody ever talked to me like that, but you know that’s L. It is what it is, man, but I love Big L. Rest in peace, Big L.
Are you excited about you and Remy’s new single with The-Dream?
We put it down on that record! “Heartbreak,” No.1! “Heartbreak,” No. 1! We call that the hovercraft. The Drone. That thing is gonna sit at No. 1 for about nine or 10 weeks, you feel me? You know how the drone just goes up and just sits right there? That motherf–ker gon’ sit at No. 1. Watch!
Can fans expect a video for “Heartbreak?”
Absolutely. We’re gonna take that shit somewhere foreign. We just need the permission from Remy’s parole officers, and then, we’re gonna go to an island somewhere and do that shit the right way.
Somewhere like Aruba or the Dominican Republic?
Shit like that. Heartbreak 101! Ahhhhhhhh!
What’s one word that you would use to describe Plata O Plomo?
Pure excellence. It’s excellent. Our street joints sound like “Lean Back.” Our hits are No. 1. Our girl songs and love songs are like the sickest. We have a joint with Seyvn Streeter and B.J. The Chicago Kid, my man, that shit is such a movie. It’s such a movie, man. With the outro, we did it with Stephanie Mills. That’s my favorite female singer of all time. Like, we really put our hearts and souls into this project, bro.