Whenever a Fat Joe song plays on the radio or pops up on BET, one can't help but think, "There goes a happy, heavy muthafucka!"
Of course, since the era of the happy, heavy MC went out with Kriss Kross and House Party movies, this statement could be delivered with either surprise or disdain. They seem so long ago, those days when Day-Glo-wearing, corpulent party-animal MCs like the Fat Boys (the Run-D.M.C. of fat rap) and Heavy D stalked the earth as rap's most recognizable talents. Next thing you knew, every big-boned brotha from Harlem to Compton was stepping up to the mike. Hell, even MC Hammer had a rotund rapper (Too Big MC -- remember him?) in his entourage. But when The Notorious B.I.G. dropped in during the late '90s and showed that it wasn't all good for fat brothas, that it was even more of a struggle for hefty homies looking for respect and street cred in the rap game, heavyset rappers had to stop being jolly and start getting hardcore.
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Fat Joe -- originally Fat Joe da Gangsta -- was one of the new breed of big MCs who refused to go out like Bookman on Good Times. On early albums such as Represent and Jealous Ones Envy, the Bronx-born Latino rapper delighted in delving into ghetto grit, even calling his crew the Terror Squad (which featured another obese and ornery orator, the late Big Pun). But recently the older and -- can it be? -- more content Fat Joe has decided to let his fat freak-flag fly (just try to say that three times fast!) and immerse himself musically in Spanish Harlem-style block-party flavor. The most oft-rotated singles from his latest album, J.O.S.E. (Jealous Ones Still Envy) -- "We Thuggin'," featuring hook work from R. Kelly, and "What's Luv," with the overexposed duo of Ja Rule and Ashanti -- seem like they were tailor-made for the flashy cars that roll on Miami streets on a hopping Friday night. But don't worry: As he reminds us over and over again, Fat Joe is still a thug. A jolly thug, but still a thug.