Hussein Fatal’s Range & Versatility Remembered In A Successful Career, Below The Radar (Audio)
Less than one week ago (July 10), Outlawz member Hussein Fatal died in a Gainesville, Georgia car accident. The 38 year-old born Bruce Edward Washington, Jr. had nearly 20 years invested in a Rap career at the time of his death, with nearly two dozen releases, including albums, collaborative projects and mixtapes. Still, to many, the life and career of the onetime Tupac Shakur protege and Montclair, New Jersey native lives beyond the mainstream.
Fatal (as he was often known by) worked extensively on 1996’s diamond-certified All Eyez On Me album by 2Pac. However, Fatal’s most recognized collaboration with his mentor came courtesy of video single “Hit ‘Em Up,” a vicious verbal attack on The Notorious B.I.G., Puff Daddy, Junior M.A.F.I.A., Faith Evans, and Mobb Deep. Although highly confrontational, like the rest of the Outlawz Immortalz at the time, Fatal would soon embark on a solo career, fast proving that his East Coast roots and rhyme style were unaffected by his early adversaries—something later proved to be settled, following the deaths of ‘Pac and Biggie.
Sadly, while Hussein Fatal was an elite selling artist in the ’90s, he was not a household name. In the aftermath of ‘Pac’s murder and a difficult time for fans, Fatal would be the first Outlaw to release material. Leaving the group, reportedly due to a refusal to sign with Death Row Records, Hussein joined Relativity Records, making him label-mates with Bizzy Bone, Three 6 Mafia, and The Beatnuts. While The Outlawz fought for a release date on a Death Row without Suge Knight behind the big desk, Fatal released a Top 50 debut in 1998’s In The Line Of Fire. With minimal video, radio, or touring support, the Garden State hopeful made an LP void of his affiliates, or the arguable crutch of unreleased ‘Pac vocals. Instead, Fatal’s versatility was celebrated in an indie release that welcomed guys ranging from Mac Mall to Freddie Foxxx to The Artifacts’ Tame One to the part. Evident on “Getto Star” (produced by now-Shade 45 Program Director Rob “Reef” Tewlow), the lyrical roots in Fatal’s music were present, right alongside the thug tirades. The NJ pride is palpable, as an Outlaw teams with an Artifact over a deftly flipped Roberta Flack sample in a surprising first single:
Headed to Rap-A-Lot Records following Relativity’s merger, Hussein Fatal would be an experiment, during a time that J. Prince was trying to court Tupac’s proteges to join his storied imprint. 2000’s self-titled album put the MC in the studio with Rap-A-Lot’s H-Town producers such as Mr. Lee and Mike Dean. The move altered Fatal’s sound, but not his message. Working with the same producers as Scarface, 5th Ward Boyz, and Devin The Dude, Fatal stayed the course. The Outlawz, believed to be off of Death Row following ’99’s Still I Rise release, contributed varying support. However, like so many 2000s-era R.A.L. releases, the album was delivered to shelves without much marketing, promotion, or resource. Ironically, this work today shows a late lyricist tackling personal issues alongside a Kanye West’s right-hand producer, and the man responsible for Slim Thug’s breakthrough and Bun B’s solo sound. Notably, in the later part of the decade, J. Prince would re-release the album—which, even down to its artwork, was low budget.
Throughout this time though, Hussein Fatal proved to be an artist seeking recognition for his lyrics above his associations. In the shadow of Tupac and his former group, the MC worked with everybody—spanning Guru, DMX, Cormega, Gangsta Boo, Tear Da Club Up Thugs, Shawnna and Infamous Syndicate, 8Ball & MJG, and Do Or Die.
By the mid part of the 2000s, some of that profile that evaded Hussein returned. Ja Rule, who Fatal joined on “Usual Suspects” in 1997 (with DMX, The LOX, Tragedy Khadafi, and song host Mic Geronimo) saw and heard something in the vet. As Ja Rule went to work on late 2003’s Blood In My Eye, he sought support. The Murder Inc. flagship artist was going all-out on a verbal indictment against 50 Cent, G-Unit, and bringing Eminem and Dr. Dre into the mix. Perceived as losing the war against white-hot Fif’, Ja aimed to counter with an album rooted in the Tupac play-book of controversy and venom. Who better to advise than Hussein? The album, a subsequent #6 debut on the charts, featured Fatal on four tracks—including three consecutive album closers. Working closely with Irv Gotti and the Murder Inc. family, Fatal put it on the line again, and also quieted critics that Rule was biting ‘Pac’s style. While the Outlawz were enforcers of ‘Pac’s legacy and brand, Fatal was symbolically giving the Def Jam star a co-sign, if not a pass.
However, even though Hussein Fatal threw his own jabs at 50 Cent and Eminem, within two years, he would cross the aisle. 2006’s Pac’s Life album would be the final Interscope Records-backed posthumous Tupac Shakur release. As the case since the beginning, The Outlawz would be deeply involved in the recording and execution of the album. Additionally, G-Unit’s then-president Sha Money XL would also lead the remixing and orchestration. Just months removed from his disses, Hussein Fatal would make a lasting impression on a gold-certified, Top 10 LP. “Dumpin'” would be an unlikely ensemble. Produced by Sha, the song paired unreleased ‘Pac vocals and Fatal, with Papoose and former Bad Boy Records star Carl Thomas. With a dramatic beat and Thomas’ powerful vocals, Fatal dropped in, and sounded like he had a decade prior: sharp and energized. The North Jersey MC would appear on three of the 13 songs, alongside many of his former band-mates—even though he was eight years removed from the group tattooed on his arm.
In the final five years of his life, Hussein brought it full circle. In the midst of an onslaught of releases, retail and free, the MC appeared in a number of street films, and performed spot dates. However, as one of the more celebrated lyrical components to The Outlawz, he rejoined the group in 2010. For Tupac’s proteges, things had not worked as planned. While the early 1990s’ Thug Life disbanded (intended to evolve into The Outlawz before Mopreme and Big Syke’s exit and solo careers), The Outlawz suffered similar slings. First heard in 1993, care of B-Side “Flex,” the group originally known as Dramacydal had suffered death in its leader and Khadafi, exits from Kastro and Napoleon (and short-lived female, Storm), and Fatal’s departure. Young Buck had planned to sign the group (along with C-Bo) to his Cashville Records imprint, but his exodus from G-Unit halted those plans to a standstill. Whether working with dead prez or working with Rap-A-Lot, things were drifting. E.D.I. and Young Noble were holding on, but for what? In 2010, Hussein Fatal returned to the group, invigorating a brand that had fallen off the charts and played to the core ‘Pac cult fans.
Perfect Timing was promoted as the final Outlawz album. With Fatal back in the group, the trio would release an album 15 years to the death after Tupac, and fulfill a perceived promise to wave the flag. Supporters from throughout those 15 years (Scarface, Young Buck, Tech N9ne, Bun B, Lloyd, Krayzie Bone) would join the party. However, for Fatal, E.D.I., and Noble, the ship was steered to shore—and even though the Outlawz have not released a studio album since, the bond appeared in tact through to last week’s devastating news.
In the Hip-Hop memory, it may appear easy to overlook Hussein Fatal. His most famous song is rarely played for enjoyment sake in 2015. Fatal’s solo work lived beyond radio and video, and his message on albums was often crude in manner, delivery, and substance. However, the 38 year-old father kicked hard truths, and spoke of a reality that is so palpable to so many. The most successful Outlaw, in terms of solo stature, never wavered his message, and helped push the line for several movements that benefited from the Tupac archetype. Within that sprawling catalog, there are moments that we all must remember, as another one of our own leaves us.