Fat Joe on the birth of hip hop, growing up Latino, and discovering Big Pun : The Limits with Jay Williams This week on The Limits, Jay chops it up with Fat Joe: the Grammy-nominated rapper, entrepreneur, and legendary storyteller.

Growing up in the Bronx, Fat Joe witnessed the birth of hip hop, then made hip hop history himself. Over three decades in the game, he's put out 13 albums, started his own record label, and mentored other great MCs like the late Big Pun. He's also faced multiple bankruptcies and battled depression, which he's open about: he wants people to learn from his successes and his failures.

Now, Fat Joe has reinvented himself as a media personality, hosting The Fat Joe Show and the BET Hip Hop Awards, and writing a memoir, The Book of Jose. In this funny and frank interview, Joe pays tribute to hip hop's Latino pioneers, shares his philosophy on family, and explains how he stays connected to the community that protected him as a troubled kid.

Follow Jay on Instagram and Twitter. Email us at thelimits@npr.org.

Fat Joe on witnessing the birth of hip hop, and how he stays in the game

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FAT JOE: You know, the day I can't be in my hood or in any hood, I don't even want to live.



Welcome to THE LIMITS. I'm Jay Williams. And that is the unmistakable voice of today's guest - Fat Joe. Joe was one of those guys who's been around the block forever, and he's had a huge impact on hip-hop and entertainment as a whole. He's put out 13 albums and even started his own record label, Terror Squad Productions. He's helped start the career of his good friend and collaborator, Big Pun, who tragically passed away in the year 2000. Rest in peace, brother. And yes, me and Joe dig deep into Pun and their relationship. We'll also get into Joe's experience growing up Puerto Rican in the Bronx, the mecca of hip-hop, the convergence of hip-hop and the basketball culture, Joe's loyalty to his family, his friends and his community and how he views his own legacy.

And even though I said legacy, this man is just getting started. His memoir, "The Book Of Jose," is dropping in November, not to mention he's got a one-man show and even an animated TV series in development. Incredible, right? But even with all he's done, it took the pandemic for Fat Joe to really reintroduce himself to the world. You see - that's when Joe started doing Instagram Live segments with all kinds of celebrities. They chopped it up and told undiluted stories to a captive online audience. I know because I was one of Joe's guests during those times. So without further ado, here's my conversation with my man, the one and only Fat Joe.


FAT JOE: Nobody was more terrified than me.

WILLIAMS: I remember that.

FAT JOE: Nobody was scared - I was a year and four months in the house, never left.

WILLIAMS: A year and four months?

FAT JOE: A year and four months. And I lived in Miami. So it's Trump country. So they ain't believe in masks. And so when I went to the supermarket, I stuck out like a sore thumb - hoodie, goggles...

WILLIAMS: Everything.

FAT JOE: ...Mask, glove, Lysol. They was looking at me like, oh, he's one of them.

WILLIAMS: (Laughter).

FAT JOE: Like, nah, it's a different - let me get my soda. It's a different type of thing over there.

WILLIAMS: I got to tell you, man, this is a throwback for me. I mean, last time we really rapped was during the pandemic. I remember I literally - you hit me on DM. I was like, you got me a half a bottle of wine in. I was half a bottle - by myself until, like, 12 o'clock at night just rapping with you, man. Like, it's just crazy how fast time switches. You coming off hosting the BET Awards, everything you've been doing, man. Where were you back then? Take me to back when you were doing all your IG Lives. You were really kicking off. You've always had personality, but things really got kicked off.

FAT JOE: Yeah, I was scared to death in - you know, because I'm pre-diabetic. I was diabetic since I was 12. And then when I lost all the weight, I got rid of the diabetes. But if you was watching news, they were saying people with diabetes are just dying; they just dying. So I was terrified of COVID. And so I was home. Like, I was not faking it. I was home. And one day my daughter tells me, yo, Dad, let's go on Live. I didn't even know what Live was. She was like, you could talk to your fans live. I said, get out of here. We turned it on one day. And Michelle Obama, Kim Kardashian, Floyd Mayweather - everybody was stuck home. So people were, like, commenting. It was the craziest thing. I was looking. I was like, no way, Michelle Obama?

WILLIAMS: (Laughter).

FAT JOE: Kim Kardashian? Like, everybody was home. So it was like when D-Nice was killing and had a million - people were home, so everybody was tapping in. And it was crazy to me 'cause if you go back to that, you'll see every time I clicked on somebody like you and saw you, I was like, oh. I could not even believe that there was a way to - like, you know, Mike Tyson, oh, we - you know what I'm saying? And every day it felt like - so we turned it into, like, a TV show on Instagram.

So every day, Monday through Friday, just go on at 8 o'clock, interview people, and we were talking about real topics, too, everything from domestic violence - 'cause, you know, people were stuck home. That's when you really knew if you loved your wife or you loved your husband or not. When you stuck for a year and four months in the same house - and the smaller it gets, the more tense it might be. And so that - domestic violence was on the rise. So we was talking to people about a whole bunch of issues.

WILLIAMS: I mean, I know you got me to talk about my accident, like my near-death experience. You got me to talk about trials and tribulations and family. Do you have any - is there one conversation in particular where, literally, you put down the phone and you're like, damn, I can't believe I just had that conversation with this person on my IG Live?

FAT JOE: Well, the thing that happens to me is I live my life like an open book, total transparency. And so for me, I want people to learn about my mistakes. I want people to learn about my failure. I want people to learn about my wins. You know what I'm saying? So that we could just pass the baton of hope to the youth and to the people watching. So there really isn't nothing off-limits, you know? We just get on there, and we talk. And being that, you know, in urban journalism or hip-hop journalism, there's been a thing to it to where people want clickbait. They want shock-jocking (ph). And they take you, and they say, hey, Jay, what's up, my brother, this - and then they jam you up.

So people like you and me, when we go do interviews, we always got, like, this invisible wall of bars up. Like, yo, watch what you say. But with me, people know I'm safe. I'm never going to jam you up. It's always going to be positive. And so they start dropping the gems, like Bobby Brown telling me he taught MJ how to moonwalk.

WILLIAMS: (Laughter).

FAT JOE: Or Reverend Al Sharpton saying that MJ - Michael Jackson, rest in peace - went to the funeral home where James Brown was at, because that was his idol, in the middle of the night and combed his hair the right way and said, Mr. Brown combs it to the right, not the left. And so you hear all these gems, and you like, wow. So you feel like a fly on the wall. We would never hear nothing like this. But, you know, tune in to Fat Joe. You might hear something.

WILLIAMS: So you're Puerto Rican and Cuban descent...

FAT JOE: That's right.

WILLIAMS: ...Right? - born in the Bronx.

FAT JOE: That's right.

WILLIAMS: Hip-hop is a multicultural, multiethnic thing in the Bronx - right? - back when you were coming up. What questions did you have about your race and your background when you were a young age?

FAT JOE: You know, I grew up Black. And so...

WILLIAMS: What does that mean, Joe?

FAT JOE: I'ma tell you. My hood is 80% - 80, 90% Black. My projects, my neighborhood was dominantly Black. My grandmother's neighborhood was 99.9% Black, where there was no popular Latinos and not, like - you know, if they did, they was out the way. And so that's where I grew up. My mom's lived there for 40 years in that community. So she's from the community - love this movie, this, that. And so when I'm born, I'm not listening to salsa and all that. I'm listening to Gloria Gaynor. I'm listening to Stephanie Mills. I'm listening to "I Will Survive." Oh, that's what my house was playing. Right? And so it's hard for people to fathom that there were no social media. There was no Instagram. There were no nothing like that.

So I grew up - blond hair, green eyes - knowing I'm Latino but thinking I'm Black. Don't know how to explain it to you any other way, right? And so it wasn't till I went to high school and met another Latino brother - there was a real dude, and he say, yo, come hang out with me in my hood. It's - 10 blocks away was, like, another world. So when we went to his hood, it was 90% Puerto Rican, Latino flags in the window. The Black guys over there thought they were Spanish. What is the true story?

WILLIAMS: I know, yeah.

FAT JOE: I met the Blackest guy out there. He was like, (speaking Spanish), this, this, that. He grew up in that other side of town. He was the Fat Joe of the Spanish. And so, you know, and it was good. He - I swear to God, I got a book coming out in November, "The Book Of Jose." But I explained this in my book, that I could not believe that it was, like, Puerto Rican heaven over there. Like, you know what I mean? It was just dominantly Puerto Rican. I really started learning my Latino heritage over there. I was always Latino. I'm not - that's 1,000,000%.

My father's Cuban, never spoke English. He went to jail. The only time my father went to jail was we got stopped by some officers who were white, and they pulled him over, and they were saying license and registration. And my father kept telling them no speak English. It was a day like this, raining like that - no speak English. And they was like, no, you speak ****ing English. You speak English. He was like, no speak English. They locked my father up 'cause he didn't speak English - hardworking man, had his license, had his thing. I had to watch my father in handcuffs for the first time ever in the rain because he didn't speak English. So of course, I'm Latino. I'm proud to be Latino, but I grew up on that side of town.

WILLIAMS: How'd you learn how to fuse those two worlds together?

FAT JOE: I was born loved. My community always loved me. I can't break down to you. Was it hard for you being a Latino in hip-hop? Was it - I don't know that. Since I was born, I was Fat Joey. They loved me. I've never - you know, my community loves me to this day. You understand? We got a girl I grew up with that just collapsed and died last week - Keisha (ph) from my building, third floor. I got to go to a event in Miami. I pushed it all the way back to make sure I go to her viewing because that's my family. That's where I come from. That's my neighborhood, you know? And so I didn't receive that, man. I'ma be honest with you. I didn't receive racism. I didn't receive nothing. You know, I got my start at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, and they went crazy when they seeing Fat Joe come out there. Like, I never had that. Do you know what I'm saying?

WILLIAMS: Yeah. I am curious on how you deal with backlash - right? - 'cause I know recently you've made some comments paying tribute to Latino pioneers of hip-hop...

FAT JOE: It's a fact, though.

WILLIAMS: ...Right? Can you just explain to our audience what happened?

FAT JOE: Give me my Instagram. Give me my phone. Funny you say that. I've just pulled up, and this is what I just saw on Instagram.

WILLIAMS: 'Cause a lot of Black hip-hop fans were all in their rage and their feelings about it.

FAT JOE: It's not true. That's Twitter Black fans. It's not real fans, real - I'm not too sure what's real on Twitter and what's not. This is the first hip-hop movie, "Wild Style." That's Charlie Chase down with Cold Crush, one of the first hip-hop groups in the world.


FANTASTIC FREAKS: (Rapping) Ruby Dee, and you got a lot of nerve. When you play against me you know you're going to get served.

COLD CRUSH BROTHERS: (Rapping) Cold Crush. J.D.L., the lord to lords...

FAT JOE: Fantastic Romantic 5, Cold Crush - I just saw this now. I didn't have it - look, they're both Puerto Rican on the first rap groups ever. Can't make - this Ruby Dee, first Puerto Rican - do you see Ruby Dee? Like, this is from their infancy. Listen to what I'm saying. Cold Crush, Fantastic Romantic - when you go and you buy your books or you look at your 30-foot-30 documentaries and they show hip-hop's infancy, there was a photographer named Joe Conzo who took every picture. If it wasn't for him, we wouldn't have that, that footage of the Bronx looking like this. He picked up the camera. He's not hip-hop? Charlie Chase, the DJ of the Cold Crush Brothers, is not hip-hop? Ruby Dee, the first Puerto Rican MC, and Whip Whop (ph) from Fantastic Romantic is not hip-hop? So I'm sorry, guys. I grew up in the Bronx, not on the other side of town. I grew up where hip-hop was born, you know? So when you look at Saudi Arabia and you see them going around Mecca, I was born in the Mecca.

So Grandmaster Flash, who is one of the three founders of hip-hop - it's Afrika Bambaataa, Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash - my brother was his crate boy. So my brother, when he would go DJ at the legendary jams, my brother would carry milk crates that had vinyl. It's my brother, my blood brother, my brother Angel. They call me Little Angel when they see me. Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel - they call me Little Angel. It's not my fault I was born at the place. You really can't argue with me. These are facts. This ain't controversial. This ain't nothing. This is a fact.

Now, if you want to erase history, if you want to change the history, I don't know what to tell you, bro. Like, but I'm going stand up for the principle, what's right, what I know to be correct 1,000,000%. When they make this hip-hop museum, whatever Fat Joe said will turn out to be factual. It's not controversial.

WILLIAMS: Does it bother you when you receive backlash, Joe?

FAT JOE: What happens with the backlash is, first of all, I don't believe Twitter, you know, because when they when they saying - when they - cancel Fat Joe - I'm in the Blackest neighborhood of Houston, where they're loving me, carrying me in the air, tossing me up in the air. Joe, we love you. I'm in the ATL, just did the B - I just hosted the Black entertainment world. What? I don't know where these people are at, guys. I don't know if they're fooling you guys on social media or something. I don't see them. I have yet to be confronted in any place in America with somebody saying, (inaudible). I don't know who these people are.

WILLIAMS: So when it comes to hip-hop history, you better not come for Fat Joe. He was there. He has knowledge, and he has receipts. He's proud to represent his Cuban and Puerto Rican heritage. He's still deeply connected to the community that brought him up and protected him. And he gives back until it hurts. That's coming up next in my conversation with Fat Joe. You're listening to THE LIMITS. Don't go anywhere.

Welcome back to THE LIMITS. I'm Jay Williams. And, yes, today we are talking to the one and only, my brother, Fat Joe. You see, growing up in the Bronx, Joe watched hip-hop history as it happened. Then he became part of that history himself. In this segment, Joe shares memories of his friend and brother Big Pun and the impact that Pun's tragic death had on his life.

But first, I had to talk to my brother about some hoops because he watched basketball and hip-hop evolved together, and he's partied with some of the biggest hoopers in the game. Wait until you hear some of these names he drops - Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury and even Charles Oakley, or Uncle Oak, as I like to call him. Come on now. Game always recognize game. Here we go.

I want to bring it back to hoops for a minute, man, because you were recently featured in "30 For 30" - right? - the greatest mixtape ever, which was - it was a dope flip, by the way. It was incredible, man. But take me back to, like, the '90s, like where there was this - like, hip-hop...

FAT JOE: Me as a fan?

WILLIAMS: Yeah, you as a fan, you as an artist, just, like, this conversion where the athletic world and the hip-hop world...

FAT JOE: When you talk about basketball and me just coming up in the '90s - we was in the club with Oakley. We was in the club with Mase. We was in the club with even - Alan Houston was in the club every night. If you go later on, me and AI became really, really tight. So I would be in Philly all the time. And, you know, I was at his wedding, you know? So me and AI are, like, brothers - and Stephon Marbury. So Stephon - I would be in the projects with him in Coney Island. And so I had some serious, serious relationships with ballplayers coming up in the '90s, hanging out with them, early 2000s, like, you know, whatever. I mean, I hung out with everybody.

WILLIAMS: How did that influence you and how you produced your art?

FAT JOE: Wow. Basketball - I don't know if I ever said this, but basketball to me - with you playing - it's choreography. It's dancing. You dancing. And I love Rondo. He dance. You know what I mean? And you in there - I'm not just saying individual achievement. I'm not just saying dribbling. But you dance until you find the right person to get the ball to. And so hip-hop is the same thing. It's music. It's choreography. And so it just blends in. And so, like, tonight I'm scared. Tonight I'm scared because we - I hosted the BET Hip-Hop Awards, and, of course, basketball's back...


FAT JOE: ...Tonight. Why? Like, you know what? That's how much I know, you know? And I was afraid to fly. So I've been all over this country. So I've ate dinner in barns, where people are going to - (singing) don't go messing with a country boy - 'cause I've been there - right? - getting myself a steak. I've been in the Texas border. I've been in LA, Philly, wherever you name, and that basketball is on in every bar, every lounge, every gym, every - so, you know, it coincides together, basketball and hip-hop. You know, when you guys are in the gym, y'all listening to hip-hop.


FAT JOE: It's all one thing. And we admire each of us so much. I mean, I think they - basketball players are the only people that rappers look up to. That's the craziest thing, 'cause rappers - you've got to understand, most of us come from nothing. And when you come from nothing and you make it to something, nobody can tell you nothing. So you're almost in your own world. So everybody got everybody. Yo, yo, yo. But the only time we sit down and turn on that TV and tell our wives or girlfriends to chill is watching that basketball. Yo, hold up. This guy's the man. You kidding me? This is the man. This is the God. Like, what are you talking about? It's the only time a rapper humbles himself, you know, and looks at the Greek Freak doing ill dunks and - (imitating screaming) - like, we don't do that for nobody else.

WILLIAMS: I heard you on a sit down with Charlamagne Tha God. We've had him on a show or two. And he says something that was so just fascinating and blew my mind, where he said, yo, rappers are like the men in the arena to a degree. Like, there's like no barriers because your life is in the streets, but yet you live this other life that's in fame and the light. But you always go back in the streets. And you're going back and forth. Like, how do you protect yourself, Joe?

FAT JOE: I'm just blessed by God, be honest with you. And the day I fear walking amongst my people, Joe's no good no more. And so Fat Joe is like a liaison. Fat Joe is a guy who made it from nothing that the streets can still touch. You know, when Mr. Williams wants to repair his church in the Bronx, they know how to find Fat Joe. But they come to Fat Joe, and Fat Joe's the middle man. And I go to Jay-Z and a couple of my other friends, and we repair the church. We don't publicize it, but that's what we do. So Fat Joe's like the guy we still could grab, but he could touch the affluent, right?

And it's been a big job of mine to be in the community, helping the community and giving them inspiration and giving them hope that, you know, the day I can't be in my hood or in any hood, I don't even want to live. Now, to the contrary, Fat Joe would be a big dummy if you hear he got shot in front of the projects and got killed like, yo, he's rich. Fat Joe don't need to be in these projects. What is he doing now? So it's a real catch-22.

WILLIAMS: Joe, I want to talk to you about one of the realest lyricists - and you're in that category - but also the late Big Pun, man, I mean, who you discovered, dog. And, I mean, of course, his passing in 2000 was a crazy tragedy for you. One of the things I just recently learned is that you lost your sister and your grandfather that same week, Joe.

FAT JOE: Crazy, bro. Crazy. I went into deep depression for two years. I was in the tub looking at the ceiling without water all night. And if I walked outside and it was sunny, it looked dark to me. I had to go get therapy. I had to sit down with the therapist. Fat Joe at the time thought he was the toughest guy in the world. But every Tuesday, I went there for 2 hours and sat with the therapist. And it wasn't until like two years later, we was doing the Big Pun mural we do in the Bronx every year. We change it. And two guys - I owed this guy so much money, bro. I swear to you. I owed this guy - I never saw his face. If I saw his face, I would try to find this guy.

Two guys are walking, and one of them says, yo, what's that? What they doing? And he said, yo, that's the mural. They do that for Big Pun every year. Yeah, really they do? He was like, yeah, it's been like two years. And the thing just said, two years, two years, two years, two years, like a ricochet, two years, two years, two years. And at that moment, I snapped out the depression. I say, yo, Joe, you've been beating yourself up for two years, man. Can't bring him back. Can't bring him back. You know, you got to - you know, you have an obligation, you know what I'm saying? And so to me, now that I'm older, I know that I have an obligation to the youth, to my community, to the kids to be transparent and just show them a better way. Show them some type of hope. We grew up with so much hopelessness. You know, we don't believe that we could ever become successful. We can never be business leaders and stuff like that. So I try to show them.

You know, that's why I open up businesses in my community. And I put schools in it, have classrooms in the school and in the store where people come and mentor them and teach them after school and they could use computers and they could this. You know, that's important to me. That's - I'm not going to lie to you. That makes me feel good. You know, I'll tell you a story, Jay, because you touching some issues. I went to - one day, I was in the Bronx. And I went to get some gas, just terrible neighborhood, just like crime ridden. Like, Fat Joe had no business there, right? But I pull up. A homeless man comes out, says, yo, Joe. I said, what's up? He said, nah, I don't want no money. I don't want no money, Joe. I don't want no money from you, none of that. I looked at him. He was like, we know you gave all that money back to the fire victims. We know you give out the food. We know. I want you to know we know. And so...

WILLIAMS: It's all right, fam (ph).

FAT JOE: You know what I'm saying? I just, you know, I try to help everybody. It's crazy. You know what I'm saying? But when you got a guy like that who could tell you, yo, Joe, man, we know - it's the homeless guy. He don't want no money. We know you help us. It's crazy to me.

WILLIAMS: Joe, how do you - common ground here, man. You know, I feel like as a African American male, when I got drafted, it's funny. People like, yo, J-Will, you made it. It was never, though, I made it. It was we made it. It's a whole community. I'm from Plainfield, N.J. It was Plainfield got drafted. My family got drafted. First time ever in my life, I felt the weight of - I had mouths to feed. Like, I wanted to put everybody on - friends, family. I wanted everybody to make it.

FAT JOE: Yeah.

WILLIAMS: That weight is heavy, man. That weight is heavy. How do you deal with it?

FAT JOE: I went through all that. You know what I'm saying? Being a young millionaire and buying 20 guys Cadillac trucks and paying everybody's rents and taking people on private planes. That's foolish, right? And survivor's guilt is a real thing. And me - I'm always there for you, but you can't take advantage of me. Somebody pass away, I'll give up the money for the funeral. I might have paid for a hundred funerals. And I just paid for one last week, right? So funerals - some - a major crisis, you know you can count on Joe, right? But that era, or that time of my life is over. That was when I was young, thinking we could be rich forever. I went broke three times doing that...


FAT JOE: ...Taking care - three times, from being a millionaire to go to the bank and then zero money. Being a millionaire, come back a miracle, God, please, get on my knees, get on my knees. Please, God, please. He gives me another hit, "What's Luv?" I get rich again. Then I go broke again trying to take care of all these people. Now I get rich again, right? And so that's a different type of conversation when you talk about survivor's guilt, looking out for the whole hood. And so what happens to me is empathy. You know what I'm saying?

It's like, you know, you guys, you know, you could have killed me, you know? All the time - I was a troubled kid, Jay - like, really, really a bad person. And they could have killed me in the lobby. They could have told the cops half the stuff I did. I could have still been in jail. My community protected me. They said, nah, we love Joey. We love Joey. And so I never forget that.

And so that's why, you know, I always try to give back to the community, whether it's food, whether it's computers, whether it's sneakers, it's opening business, giving them hope, donating $2 million, raising $2 million to the families of the burn victims or sending four airplanes with a million pounds of food to Puerto Rico. Like, that's it for me. That's the currency. That's the equity, you know? I want to go down with people saying, yo, you know, Joey. Yeah.


WILLIAMS: That's so deep. Talk about someone who has the weight of his community on his shoulders. When a guy that strong opens up and breaks down in front of you, it's like mountains moving. That was one of the realest, most emotional moments we've had in this studio and on this show. Coming up, we keep digging deeper with Fat Joe. Stay with us.


WILLIAMS: Welcome back to THE LIMITS. I'm Jay Williams. And today you're in for a treat, with more wisdom from my man, Fat Joe. We talked about his family, from one dad to another, how Joe made the pivot from rapper to businessman and the legacy he ultimately wants to leave behind. Here's more from my conversation with Fat Joe.

What's your family mean to you, man?

FAT JOE: Everything. My family has never heard the word no, from my mother to my father to my wife to my daughter to my sons. They've never heard no. It's always been yes, no matter what. And my son Joey is autistic. Me and his mother was seeing each other. We broke up. We had, like, some make-up sex. She got pregnant. She insisted on having the baby. The baby comes out. The doctor tells us that he's special, that he has Down Syndrome. She tells me, let's give him up for adoption; I can't raise this kid. I'm only 19 years old. Me and my mother and father - we raised Joey. He's happy. He's a beautiful kid. And so I never give up on family. I'm always there.

I have a brother who dealt with drug abuse his whole life. I might have put him in 40 drug rehabs. I might have bailed him out of jail 60 times. I might have - like, you know, I don't give up on family. You know, family is everything to me. I admire families that they stick together no matter what. I love a family unit being together, you know? It's important to me. And a lot of - because I'm the rapper, a lot of wives of my friends don't realize I am the guy who keeps them together.

WILLIAMS: (Laughter).

FAT JOE: Like, I'm the guy that you come and say, yo, I'm tired of her. I'm about - no, let's think about this. Yo, this is your wife. This is your kids. You know how many marriages I might have saved in my life just trying to talk sense into guys, you know? Because I just think you just - when you with somebody, you know, you should work - do anything, anything. I mean, leaving each other should be the last, last, last, last, last, last, last resort. Like, we really hate each other. There's nothing we could do about it. Other than that, you got to work through things, man.

Nobody's perfect, right? So my daughter grew up in Miami going to Catholic school. We would go to everything - the dances, this, this, that. People would look at us and shun us because we dress like this, or whatever, and be like, oh, that's the rapper guy, whatever, this, this, that. Five, six years later, my daughter's in seventh grade, 90% of the class got divorced. We don't see the fathers no more. We don't see - it was just like that. And the rappers, the bad people, him and his wife are still showing up together.

And so people think and believe - if you want to let me say some controversial shit on here, is people think that if they get divorced, the kids could work through it; it's not a problem, this and this and that. I disagree. I think that kid is hurt for life. And I would prefer people to work through it, you know, with their families - because these kids - they know. Like, yo, my mom and dad ain't together no more. They know it's a problem. They know that. I really believe that in my heart. You know what I'm saying? I've always believed that. And so your kids - they know you love them.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, man.

FAT JOE: You know, they know you there for them. You know what I'm saying? And you stick it out, and you on the third one. And, you know, that's important, man, 'cause a lot of people don't have that. And so a lot of things happen now where people just live for them. I wanted this and this and that. I'm 40. I'm this. It's crazy. They start living for themselves and you'll be like, yo, what about the kid, man? Like, what about your kids?

WILLIAMS: Joe, I mean, obviously that fits into your character, man. I watched this character literally evolve - right? - evolve from Joey Crack now to Fat Joe, who's...

FAT JOE: (Laughter).

WILLIAMS: ...Like, businessman, entrepreneur. You always been that way. What could you pinpoint on when that evolution started?

FAT JOE: I've been an entrepreneur since I was 14. I've been outside my mom's house since I'm 14 and started doing the wrong thing and got really, really good at it. You know, it wasn't till a bunch of my friends were dying and going to jail for life that I pivoted and said, let me go to Apollo Theater, become a rapper. And I remember walking in when I got signed, like, 1992 to Relativity Records. I knew walking in the door - I was, like, yo, I'm going to be a boss. I'm going to have my own record label. I'm going to sign artists. It wasn't just being the artist, you know. Of course, I wanted to be the best emcee. It's always been my mentality to be an entrepreneur, always to be a boss.

WILLIAMS: So how'd you make that pivot? Because a lot of people are in that position where they're the entertainer, right? But then how do you turn that into enterprise?

FAT JOE: Well, I watched Puff Daddy - I knew Puff Daddy when he was promoting parties and all that. I saw what - you know, me and Biggie, rest in peace, were brothers. I saw everything he did with Biggie. And so I'm coming out of a bodega, and some Spanish kids are rapping. And the biggest one said, you know, let me rap, Troy, let me rap. And he started going (vocalizing). Boom, he stops and goes, snatch the moon out the sky (vocalizing) and blow the sun away (vocalizing). Me and my brothers playing hard - I was like, oh, my God. It was Big Pun. I grabbed him, I threw him in my Lexus. I was already wrapping up my second album. I was - I threw him in the car. I said, I'm a make you the Spanish Biggie. I know how they did it. I was there.

WILLIAMS: Just randomly outside a bodega?

FAT JOE: Right. Randomly outside a bodega. But what I'm trying to tell you is that Fat Joe - if I sit next to a smart person for enough time, I'll figure it out. I'm like a sponge. You know, I just soak it up, man. I just - and I need to leave behind a huge legacy - like, a huge legacy. I want my great-grandchildren to look at a painting of the fat guy on the wall and be like, yo, who's that? That's our grandfather, Fat Joe.

WILLIAMS: (Laughter) That's the cost (laughter).

FAT JOE: He left us this.

WILLIAMS: (Laughter).

FAT JOE: He's the one who did this (laughter). He's the man. And so that's what I'm after.

WILLIAMS: How would you interpret your legacy?

FAT JOE: Oh, as long as I'm still here, it's not even - we haven't scratched the surface. We got four TV shows coming out this year - Starz, Fox, Showtime, one-man show introduced by Dave Chappelle. This - we're riding this thing out. This is - you know, Fat Joe's slogan is, you got to stay in the game, you never know. That's it. You never know. People's slogan is, like, just do it. And I'm loving it. No, mine says you got to stay in the game. You never know, like, you know (laughter). You never know. Like, you better stay in that game because you never know. Like, you know, if you were to ask Fat Joe 20 years ago, would he be here hosting TV shows and this and this and that, and having businesses? No way. So you got to stay in the game. You never know. Also to all employees out there working hard, if you think there ain't, somebody's watching. And so you can relate whenever you watch a Kobe documentary, you watch a MJ documentary - it's - a Michael Jackson documentary, it's always - they're always the first ones in the gym and the last ones to go. They're always the first ones and the last ones to go.

WILLIAMS: The hustle never stops.

FAT JOE: And so what I'm saying to you is, if you work in an office, you working anywhere, wherever, doorman - right? - Fat Joe watches the doormans. I've got a doorman in Miami named Steve that if I ever open a store or a business in Miami, I'm going to snatch him up. Steve is the hardest worker in the world. I would put him right beside me. There's a Mexican man who pumps gas here in Jersey by my house in snowstorms and rain. If I open up something that I could use this man, I'm going to get him. And so people are always watching. So you got to be first in there and last there. You think you got a job, you punch in and out, that's not how you get to the elite level. That's not how you get considered for these positions. And so you've got to stay in the game. You never know. And so my legacy, I'm still in the game.

WILLIAMS: Joe, I really appreciate you taking the time, man.

FAT JOE: Yeah. And shout out to NPR. I did a Tiny Desk with them.


FAT JOE: I'm really proud of that. And they were nominated - NPR was nominated in the BET Hip-Hop Awards. I was shocked. It was "Drink Champs." It was "Million Dollaz A Game." NPR Tiny Desk, I was like, yo.

WILLIAMS: That's what's up.

FAT JOE: So I'm glad they're getting the props they deserve.


WILLIAMS: You know, sometimes when people speak, you can feel the energy shift in the room. And frankly, the presence of Fat Joe is still reverberating on this mic and on camera if you watch this episode on NPR's podcast channel on YouTube. A big shout out to my man Fat Joe and his team for making this whole thing go down. On this week's Plus episode, Fat Joe's close relationship with DJ Khalid and Eminem, and we hear his take on the realest emcees in hip-hop history. Remember, stay positive and let's keep it moving.

THE LIMITS is produced by Devan Schwartz, Diba Mohtasham, Max Freedman, and Leena Sanzgiri. Video production by Cass Vantoni (ph), Langston Sessoms, Christina Shaman, Emon Yon (ph), and Nick Michael. Our executive producers are Karen Kinney, Veralyn Williams and Yolanda Sangweni. Our senior VP of programming and audience development is Anya Grundmann. Music by Ramtin Arablouei; special thanks to Christina Hardy, Rhudy Correa and Charla Riggi.


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