Fat Joe is the rarest kind of rapper—a veteran who was making records with Diamond D and the Beatnuts back when today's stars were in diapers, but who still competes on the pop charts with hit songs like "All the Way Up" and his new smash, "So Excited." He has a new video for the latter, which you can watch above (if you're on Tidal). The video, directed by Gil Green, features helicopters, motorcycle chases, and DJ Khaled giving a speech at a yacht club. Basically, it's everything you could want out of a music video. So Complex got Joe on the phone to ask him about how it came together, along with some other long-brewing questions about his history, his friends, and what it's like to wear a cape in the desert.
The "So Excited" video was directed by Gil Green, who you worked with a lot about nine or ten years ago. What made you decide to bring him back for this?
When I did the song, I felt the song was a hit. It had all the elements of a hit and I wanted to execute that on the screen. And to me, Gil Green has always been one of the top video directors, especially when you go about trying to make a video look like a mini-film.
So I hit him up and said, "Yo Gil, what's up? Lets get busy." He's like, "Alright, I'm ready." I tell you, that man worked so hard on this video. And it shows, ’cause the video’s amazing. I'm so proud of the video, and I'm just so proud of everything that's going on right now—the work Tidal’s doing to promote the video. I collaborate with Tidal because they're for the artists—the up and coming artists and the O.G.s in the game. It's like a home, the only place we have for the artists to find support.
What the hell was it like having those helicopters just a couple feet above your head?
Man, them helicopters—I could've touched them!
You know there was lots of stunt flyers, and the motorcycles with stunt drivers from Fast and Furious. It was an amazing feeling, and nothing went wrong. We started shooting at six in the morning, everybody was on time. It was like, "At eight o'clock, the helicopters are coming." 7:59, them helicopters came. Everything just went perfect.
We shot it in Miami, and you know it's rainy season, meaning every day it rains in Miami. Not a bit of rain, we had a clear sky. So everything, all the stars were aligned for us.
DJ Khaled makes a cameo. I know you have a long-running relationship with him.
Any time Khaled comes to your video, it just steps it up that much more. He's so fun, people love him. In fact, it wasn’t even Khaled in the video. It was Billboard Billi. Billboard Billi made his appearance and man, there's nothing like it.
Do you remember the very first time you met Khaled?
The very first time I met Khaled, I was at a DJ conference, and I met him, DJ Nasty [of the Nasty Beatmakers], and a friend of theirs named Rated R. Khaled gave me the vinyl to my first album, and it was like a month and a half before the album even came out! So I was kinda pissed at him, and I was like, "Yo, how'd you get this?" It sparked conversation, we kept in touch. I would go see him in Orlando, and I was there when he moved to Miami. We’ve been friends for over 20 years.
What was circa 1993 Khaled like, as compared to the personality we see from him now?
Khaled was always a bundle of joy. He was always charismatic. He’s the same guy. The only problem is, I had him for me alone. You know how a little kid goes, "Me! Me! My toy! My ball!" When that Snapchat came, the whole world got to see how electrifying Khaled is, and how much of a great spirit he is.
I noticed a couple connections to Jay-Z in the "So Excited" video. You guys are drinking Ace of Spades, and you reference one of his songs in the lyrics. Did Jay personally convince you to come aboard with Tidal?
Actually, it wasn’t. It was Desiree [Perez] at Roc Nation. One day, she sat me down and started telling me about Tidal and everything they provide for artists, and I was really, really intrigued. I said, you know what, we gotta collaborate. The first thing we did was the "All The Way Up" remix with Jay Z, to drop it exclusively on Tidal.
In "So Excited" you referenced Boogie Down Productions, which I know is one of your favorite groups. Why was it important to shout them out in that tune?
I don’t think I shouted them out on "So Excited." Which part are you talking about?
Isn’t there a part where you say, "the P is free"?
Oh yeah, when I said "the P is free." [I say,] "No Drake, but the P is free." Actually it wasn’t towards BDP, but those are my idols. KRS One and LL Cool J are the biggest influences in my rap career, along with Heavy D.
But what I was talking about was Drake. Drake did over Akinyele's "Fuck Me For Free" with Khaled. So I said, "No Drake, but the P is free." I can see that you thought it was the BDP—[sings] "The pussy is free/But the crack costs money." I could see where you thought it was that.
A bunch of your recent videos have all been really big productions. You had the one in Dubai with the camels, and this one with the helicopters and the speedboats. What role does product placement play in you being able to make the videos?
Well, it usually does. But this video, I used no product placement. I drink Ace of Spades on the regular when I go out, so I had the Ace of Spades bottles in the video. We didn’t really do product placement on this one.
But it does play a huge part, especially if you’re independent and you can get sponsors to help you do your video and all that. You gotta understand, when I’m independent it’s just me. I put up my own money. So I believe in myself, and I put my money where my mouth is. Any help we can get is best, but this one didn’t really have no product placement.
A brand that showed up in a bunch of recent videos is Royal Elite Vodka, which I think has some connection to your jeweler Avi [Ofir, of Pristine Jewelers], right?
Yeah. Avi’s behind that madness. I like Royal Elite a lot. It’s a great vodka. They support all the time. They support tons of artists. They’re good people.
Do you have any limit when you’re approaching videos about how much placement is too much, or just enough?
There’s no such thing as too much. If there’s too much, then that’s a great thing. As an independent artist—not even independent, because there’s majors that use the product placement more than anybody—but if an artist has too many brands willing to be in the video, he has a good problem. He has a great problem. But we turn down products all the time, especially products that don’t feel natural and don’t feel like a true marriage or true connection.
The "Cookin" video—how hot was it in the middle of the desert in Dubai when you were filming there?
Man, it was about 130, 140. I almost fainted. No exaggeration, I almost fainted, it was that hot. At that, we were there at like 5 in the morning because you could only shoot till about noon because anything past that is too much on the desert.
And they had you wearing a long sleeve shirt, too, which couldn't have been easy!!
[Laughs.] I wore a big cape! I wanted it to be like a movie. [It was] a big Roberto Cavalli cape.
Listen, this is all about art. It’s about painting a fantasy and painting a dream for the fans. This is something that 20, 30 years from now, people will look back at and see that we really, really put a lot of effort and a lot of creativity into these things.
You had an interview with the Breakfast Club not long ago, and you made some comments about New York rap and the boom-bap sound, and how it’s not mainstream anymore. That's in line with stuff you’ve been saying for years, but got picked up and a lot of people wrote about it. Did that surprise you?
Well, yeah, because I’m so visible right now that I forget that almost every interview, I gotta walk on eggshells. I like to speak my mind as open as I can be, and somehow every now and then, it might make somebody cringe. What I was trying to say is, I came up in the boom-bap era. I have nothing but respect for the boom-bap artists. These are the people who I started with and I love, and I’m still friends with to this day. Anything I would say to offend them, I'll take it back and I'll let them know that I love them, because I never want to disrespect that.
What I was trying to say is, artists like J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar—they’re all real hip-hop artists, and they’re going platinum, and they’re taking the boom-bap and modernizing it to a 2017 sound. So that’s what I meant when I was saying that.
Even my single right now, it’s a real hip-hop sample. ["So Excited" samples Dennis Edwards' 1984 track "Don't Look Any Further."] Biggie’s "Get Money," "Hit Em Up" [from] 2Pac, [and] Eric B and Rakim used it. But we just modernized it to 2017. That’s all I really was saying. We got boom-bap gods, legends. [DJ] Premier, you’ve got 9th Wonder, you got Showbiz, you got Buckwild, you got Diamond D, you got Large Professor, you got Pete Rock, you got Marley Marl, Dilla and No ID. These are incredible producers from the boom bap era that I admire and I worship. I didn’t mean to be offensive to them.
I’ve noticed this split in your career. When you started in 1993, you had a more traditional sound. But in 2002, you started making hits like "We Thuggin'" and “What’s Luv?" That template has provided the model for your career to this day. How did that change happen?
The way it came about is I had to step up to the plate. I was an underground hip-hop artist, gangster rapper all the way up to [his 1998 album] Don Cartagena. That album went gold, and I had discovered Big Pun, and he passed away too [soon]. But when he had his success and went double platinum [with his 1998 debut album Capital Punishment], we were making the kind of money we never thought we would make in our life.
I saw the success from where I was gold, but I was rapping to guys in Army jackets, [with] two girls in the audience. Then when Pun was performing, it was girls, it was guys, people were having a fun time. So I wanted to make some hit records. And when he passed away, I wanted to keep the Terror Squad legacy going and bringing it to the mass media. So that’s when I started making hits like "We Thuggin'" and "What’s Luv?" and so forth. I guess it’s an addiction making hit records that the mass majority can love.
You make those hits by studying what's going on in the club and what's hot. When you’re at a club, what do you look for? What are you looking for when you’re trying to write a hit?
I’m looking at the reaction of the people. I’m looking at what the women love. I’m looking at what the hustlers who are standing on top of the couches with champagne in their hands, I'm looking at what they react to. So I'm watching the whole room. It's almost like if you go to college and the professor was giving a lesson in a big room. So when I go to the club, it’s not just for personal satisfaction. I'm in college, and I'm studying the room. What the guys like, what the girls like, what kind of beat they're reacting to, all those elements.
One final thing, on a more serious note. A Bronx hip-hop legend, Kidd Creole, is in trouble right now. You actually recommended a lawyer for him. Can you tell me a little bit about that, and how you got involved?
He’s a legend. I don’t really know him. He’s a guy I looked up to coming up in the Bronx. I saw him on the news and unfortunately, he was charged with a crime. I just know that the real old-school artists, they were given a bad deal, a bad rap. They didn’t make the kind of money they were supposed to make. So what I did was, I called his family to see if he had a private attorney. If not, I would recommend one that could represent him. But when I called them they said that they already had an attorney, so that’s about it.
I don’t know him personally. I do know his brother Melle Mel. He is a living legend. These guys are like icons. I just stuck my nose in something because I didn’t want to see him representing himself.
Is there anything else about "So Excited" that you would want people to know?
Man, the song is flying up the chart. We got number one most added at radio yesterday on the urban chart. It’s doing amazing, the video is amazing. I couldn’t wish for nothing else. Twenty years later, I'm doing what I love to do and becoming successful at it. I can't thank the fans more for embracing me.