Do Remember: Fat Joe, Nas, Big Pun, Raekwon & Jadakiss’ John Blaze (Video)
1998 was a critical turning point for Fat Joe. Two albums deep, the Bronx, New Yorker had made Represent and Jealous Ones Envy with the hardcore Hip-Hop Head in mind and in spirit. With Joe’s brazen delivery, sharp cadence, and keen ear for intricate sample-based production, he had risen the ranks, leaving the small Relativity Records and forming his own Terror Squad imprint with Big Beat/Atlantic. A major label draw in the last wave of the “shiny suit era,” Joe had also garnered mainstream embrace through his perceived protege, Big Pun.
In April of ’98, Pun’s Capital Punishment was a Top 5 debut, a Grammy nominated effort, and a debut that eventually reached platinum. On Loud Records, Pun was reaching an audience that Joe quite clearly had not. One year older, and much more established in the Hip-Hop scene, Joe (as mentor and label backer) would extensively appear in Pun’s videos surrounding his debut. With their big bellies, silk wardrobe, smooth style, and on camera charisma, the Terror Squad brethren cross-promoted each other—despite having different majors behind them. More than that, the Bronx was in the mainstream conversation once more, something that had not been the case since the Boogie Down Productions wave that coincided with the Diggin’ In The Crates movement that Joe sprouted from at the top of the decade.
By September of ’98, with Capital Punishment selling off the shelves, Pun rising, and Heads fully aware, it was Joe’s turn to strike while the iron appeared to be its hottest. Third album Don Cartagena followed Joe Crack’s first Top 200 appearance, and Marvin Gaye-chopped hit three years prior. With a greater stake, Joe was tasked with carrying his D.I.T.C., hardcore roots with him, but stepping into the lane occupied by Puff Daddy, Jay Z, and even borough brothers Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz. To go with the rugged, dusty grooves, there needed to be polish–singles that played at The Tunnel and in Westchester County alike.
Making no secrets about his intentions, Joe brought in Puff himself on the album’s title track first single. The shiny suit was there, in a mafiaso cut. Produced by The Hitmen’s Young Lord, the aim was clear, two months before the LP. Follow-up “Bet Ya Man Can’t,” featuring the early T.S. lineup had even greater success—crossing over with its catchy chorus chant, and of course Pun’s lyrical stamp.
But after the album was on shelves, what could be next? Following N.O.R.E.’s “Banned From TV” all-star posse including Big Pun, Cam’ron, Jadakiss, Styles P, and Nature, released two months prior, and LL Cool J’s “4, 3, 2, 1” with Redman, Method Man, Canibus, and DMX less than a year-old at the time, Joe went for his. “John Blaze,” a popular expression for “dope” in the day would be the big budget moment of Don Cartagena. Although new audiences helped Da Fat Gangsta get his Top 5, this single, involving Nas, Raekwon, Big Pun, and Jadakiss was the lyrical cornerstone.
Each guest artist seemed to give Joe’s third single their absolute best. The video featured a simple “what’s in the suitcase?” storyline, heavy on cameos from the likes of Mack 10 (playing a garbage-man), Drag-On, and Terror Squad. In true Juice Crew-fashion, Joe set himself out to play clean-up, and handled the weight with confidence. Although Nas, Jada’, Rae’, and Pun were all dealing with mainstream acceptance in a changing New York City soundscape, this subversive single reminded the world that lyrics were still at the forefront, over-top one of Ski Beatz’ finer compositions—amidst a dynamic discography, no less.
Fat Joe would score his first gold plaque in Don Cartagena. The big-budget LP still involved D.I.T.C., L.E.S., The Beatnuts, Marley Marl, and DJ Premier in its legendary personnel. Three years later (and sadly, after the 2000 death of Big Pun), Fat Joe would be certified platinum through a much more Pop-tinged LP in J.O.S.E. Throughout much of Joe’s career since the new millennium, he’s fought to meet his core and appease the greater masses in one album. No matter which era of Joe Crack appeals, Don Cartagena appears to be the most balanced effort, with the scans and charts to prove it. Sadly, for unknown reasons, Joe’s first three albums haven’t made the digital revolution—unavailable on Spotify, iTunes, and the videos not supported through his socials. Whether it’s revisionist, sample suits, or simply due to poor labeling, it’s always worth remembering how effective Fat Joe can be, when he chooses.