After staking his claim on a hardened persona that mirrored his reality for three-plus decades, it’s ironic to think that Fat Joe has evolved into a mainstream darling by virtual means. Yet, the hefty Bronx rapper—who released his debut album, Represent, in 1993—has done just that. Utilizing social media platforms to showcase his disarming charm and gregarious personality, Joe has introduced himself to audiences who may have missed out on his glory days alongside late rap icon Big Pun or his hit-making streak during the early aughts.
Popularizing the phrase “Yesterday’s price is not today’s price,” Joe appears to be living true to the mantra. The expansion of his brand has led to new opportunities such as penning his first memoir, The Book of Jose. The forthcoming book gives insight into his rise from the Forrest Housing Projects to stardom and marks the latest of many milestones Joe has reached in recent years. But the “All the Way Up” rapper hasn’t allowed those achievements to temper his desire to positively impact his community. Upon news of the tragic apartment fire in the Bronx that took the lives of 17 victims, Joe was on the frontlines, helping organize a day-long fundraiser to help assist the families impacted.
The Terror Squad general has also lent his support to Power to the Patients, an initiative to help bring awareness to the injustices faced by minorities in low-income communities within the healthcare system. In his latest move to use his influence to pay it forward, Fat Joe is promoting inclusion within the metaverse in partnership with Degree for The Degree Metathon, the very first marathon to take place within the metaverse.
“I’ve always loved Degree and always used Degree,” the rapper tells VIBE on a Zoom call. “Whenever I work out, whenever I perform, I always use Degree deodorant. So, the fact that I can team up with them in the metaverse, the future, and represent diversity in the metaverse, that’s crazy. But the fact that a company like Degree is willing to tackle those issues early, it’s a no-brainer for me to partner up with these guys.”
As part of The Metathon, which took place on April 26 and covered 26.2 miles of the Vegas City Sports Quarter, the largest district in Decentraland, participants were given the ability to choose from an avatar library that included racing wheelchairs, prosthetics, and blades, and other aspects representative of them. Having been transparent about his son, Joey Cartagena’s, challenges with autism, the mission behind The Degree Metathon is one that hits close to home for Fat Joe and is in alignment with his brand, as well as the man beyond the viral quotes and the music.
VIBE spoke with the rap star about documenting his life journey in The Book of Jose, his entrance into the metaverse with Degree, his efforts as an activist and philanthropist, and more.
How did the partnership between you and Degree come about?
Well, my team asked me first ’cause we don’t cosign nothing we don’t live or we don’t do. So, my team happened to ask me, “Yo, Joe, what type of deodorant [do] you use?’ I said, “Well, I use Degree, the green one,” and they were like, “No way, no way. Degree wants to team up with you and get this message out there in the metaverse,” and I was like, “Yo, that’s a no-brainer. It was an easy fix and I was like, ‘I wanna do that,” so here we are.
The Degree Metathon is the first marathon in the world in the metaverse. How does it feel to be a part of something so groundbreaking?
That’s beautiful, man. The metaverse is supposed to be a creative way of us saying: Can’t we all just get along? So, it’s all about diversity, it’s all about inclusion. It’s all about everybody being whatever they wanna be. So, the fact that Degree’s down with it and we’ve got the first metathon…I’ve got my own avatar. I love my avatar, but I might go back and get me some more muscles, get me some more cock-dieselness in the metaverse. It’s a fun time, bro. It’s a fun time to be out here, man.
You’ve been open about your son being disabled and the challenges his condition brings. Is he involved in the metaverse and will he be participating in the Degree Metathon?
I ain’t gonna lie, that’s an amazing question, and thanks for bringing that up because we’ve definitely gotta get Joey involved. Maybe not this metathon, but maybe the next one. That would definitely be beautiful.
You recently announced that you’re releasing a memoir titled The Book of Jose, which will be available for purchase on November 1 via RandomHouse publishing. How did the opportunity come about to write your first book and why did you feel it was the right time to document your life?
Well, first of all, life is short and ain’t nobody gonna tell my story like me. I never wanted somebody else telling my life story but me. So, I wanted to give you the full story behind my life, from birth to rap music. From growing up in a family where my mom’s Puerto Rican, my father’s Cuban, just a whole bunch of different things. But most of all, [I] just wanted to let people know all of the stuff I been through. You might know my music, you might know my contributions, but if you knew what was going on behind the scenes when I was pulling off “Lean Back or I was getting in the game, you’d be like, “Wow, this is incredible, how did this guy ever manage to do this?” So, for the people going through a tough time in life, a rough patch, this book will give them inspiration and let them know that tough times don’t last, but tough people do.
How would you describe the process and approach you took while writing this book, as well as the emotions you experienced while reliving key moments from your past?
It was total transparency, brother. You’re gonna learn a lot of stuff about me you never knew, and I know I talk a lot, but I never talk more than in this book. So, everything from my brother going blind from drug use to people trying to frame me, police trying to frame me to how my moms came up and how I came up. This book is just total transparency as you go in my life and you say, “Wow, this is where this man came from.” And it’s very relatable in a lot of ways to everybody’s life, so it was very important for me to do that.
Also, we have a series already that’s based off of the book that I’m doing with Kenya Barris and the Terrero brothers [Jessy and Ulysses]. I won’t tell you where, but it’s already picked up by a big channel. So, the book ain’t come out yet and they’re already gonna do like a Power, a [Power Book II]: Ghost, a BMF based [series] on the life of Fat Joe, The Book Of Jose.
The legendary DJ Kay Slay just passed away due to COVID-19. Can you explain the impact he had on New York City impact and the legacy he’s left behind?
What I can say is that I noticed, since Kay Slay’s death, is people appreciating you for really being you. We take him as a legendary New York figure, but being that he was so New York and so Hip-Hop, I’ve seen artists from all over the world appreciate him for keeping it real. Ain’t that something? Artists from other regions, the T.I.s, the Bun Bs, the E-40s, they loved him because he stood so true to the Hip-Hop culture. Kay Slay is an icon, he’s a living legend, [who] started out from graffiti. He was in the original first Hip-Hop movie ever, Dezzy Dez, and we’ve enjoyed him and he gave a chance and an opportunity to everybody. So, thinking of that, I say there’s degrees to icons and he’s definitely of legendary status.
You and a few other New York rap vets including Jadakiss and Fabolous recently helped Rowdy Rebel take over the Yankee Stadium subway stop in your hometown of the Bronx for a music video. What was it like mobbing out on the train with your peers while showing love to the younger generation of New York artists coming up?
You wanna know what, man? I show love to the youth ’cause I was once young and crazy. In Miami, a couple of days ago, my little brother Kodak Black hit me up and said, “OG, I’m shooting a video, can I use your Rolls Royce Cullinan? I got an outfit to match it.” So, I sent the Cullinan to Kodak Black so they could shoot a video in it and my driver was bugging out ’cause he said they had like 1,000 kids around it and I said, “Man, we were young, too. Did they mess up the car?” He said, “No.” I said, “Calm down, Cease.”
I love the youth and I always wanna bridge the gap with our younger brothers and pretty much be like a Hip-Hop mentor. While that’s going on, I’m in my house with my wife, going to sleep, and at two in the morning, my phone rings, FaceTime. It’s A Boogie. And he’s like, “Big bro, Don, we need you. I’m shooting a video.” I said, “Yo, A Boogie I’m sleeping.” [He said], “No, Don, it ain’t right if you ain’t here, it ain’t right.” I love this kid so much, I got up, got dressed, went over there and it turned into a train ride. A whole video but Jadakiss was there, Fab, Rowdy, B-Lovee, A-Boogie, everybody was there, man. It felt beautiful, and I’m pretty sure Jada and Fab felt the same way just showing the youth love.
Speaking of the Bronx, you’ve increased your presence as a philanthropist in your hometown and have become somewhat of an activist, from holding a fundraiser to assist victims impacted by the tragic Bronx Apartment Fire to your involvement with Power to the Patients. What spurred you to really step to the forefront and take on those issues head-on and do you consider it your responsibility?
It’s a responsibility to myself. It’s about keeping it real to myself and just remembering when I lived in the projects and I would scream. It would almost be like the dog chasing his tail, barking at the moon. Nobody would listen. I was voiceless at the time. Now that I have a microphone, now that I have a chance to bring change and bring awareness, I’m gonna use my voice in the right way for the people, the voiceless. That’s what I try to do, whether it’s [for] the burn victims to generate the money for ’em or the Power to the Patients, [the] people getting overcharged and going bankrupt just trying to be healthy. Whatever issues that I feel the people need a voice [for], I’ma lend my voice to it.