DJ Eclipse Discusses The Legacy Of Fat Beats On Its 25th Anniversary
This coming Sunday (July 14) Fat Beats Records will celebrate its 25th-anniversary with a special New York City concert. In many ways, the Sony Hall event is a homecoming and a deserving pause for recognition to a keystone in Hip-Hop’s independent movement. Non-Phixion, The Juggaknots, The X-Ecutioners’ Rob Swift & Mista Sinista, Bahamadia, Vinnie Paz & Esoteric, Natural Elements, DJ QBert, and Last Emperor are among the confirmed names who will take the stage. DJ Riz will be behind the turntables, while Arsonists member D-Stroy and Lord Sear co-host the all-ages event (which has tickets available as well as a giveaway in conjunction with a special playlist).
According to the chain of stores eventual district manager (and Non-Phixion co-founder), DJ Eclipse, the date of the show is exactly 25 years after Joe Abajian’s store first opened in the basement of 323 East 9th Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. From humble beginnings, the Big Apple’s first Hip-Hop-specific record store (which soon moved to Sixth Avenue) would spawn openings in Los Angeles, Amsterdam, and Atlanta. Helping keep Rap music on wax, Fat Beats quickly expanded from selling the records to pressing and distributing them. As 1990s Hip-Hop broke from the conventions of the traditional label system, it had a marketplace, a gathering place, and a Damascus for its creators far and wide.
When Fat Beats opened, Eclipse was working as National Director of Retail Promotions for Wild Pitch Records. Promoting O.C.’s Word…Life, the record exec and then-colleague of MC Serch’s was there for the store grand opening. “It felt like a community already,” he tells AFH TV of the store’s genesis. Within a year, the Providence, Rhode Island native who’d been living in New York was Abajian’s choice for weekend staffing. “When Wild Pitch folded, and I had free time on my hands,” he recalls. It was an inflection point for the operation. “Business just blew up in that next year, from summer of ’95 to summer of ’96. That’s when we expanded.”
Fat Beats became a cultural enclave, open daily. “It was like a party, and you just felt the vibe walkin’ in,” Eclipse remembers of a different time in Hip-Hop, in New York City, and commerce. In the pre-Internet days, Hip-Hop Heads gathered up the stairs in the Village to learn about the culture they lived. Like The Bronx’s Sedgwick & Cedar, Fat Beats was a Hip-Hop landmark, a global destination. “We just became the hub where people would come just to find any information that was Hip-Hop-related.” Hours after Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito The Barber’s WKCR-FM radio show, Fat Beats was a store guaranteed to carry (or at least know about) the artists and songs played on Columbia University’s airwaves. In some cases, those very acts were employees. “Everybody that worked there was somebody; they were either an MC, a DJ, a producer, a B-Boy…Hip-Hop was our lives.” Eclipse recalls The Arsonists’ Q-Unique and Non-Phixion’s Ill Bill among his first hires. “You had to have a resumé to work there.” By the 2000s, members of Juggaknots, X-Ecutioners, Brown Bag Allstars, and prominent journalists, producers, and club DJs were record clerks. Other locations followed this acumen.
Eclipse details the early days to AFH TV, ones of limited shelf space for a burgeoning independent Hip-Hop scene. After two years in business, Fat Beats saw an opportunity to shape the culture it curated. He describes a mantra, “‘If your record’s good, and we think it’s good too, let us put it out for you.’ So that’s what we did; we set up Fat Beats Distribution in ’96. We took all the artists that were hanging out at the store, and we started putting out their records. So those five or six [independent singles] that were on the wall became two columns, then it became three columns, then it became four columns. Once we were in our heyday at Fat Beats, we carried everything, but we had sections.” The store also aided consumers curated placements by crew, listing producers, and more.
On the business side, Fat Beats made deals favorable to artists, allowing them to retain ownership of their art. Twenty-five years later, the major labels have had to mimic these deals as artists focused on equity.
While speaking to AFH TV, Eclipse (who bought his first vinyl in 1979 and has DJ’d since 1984), recalls some store highlights. For instance, he recalls August 1, 1996, a day where former Beatnuts member Al Tariq (fka Fashion) brought Kanye West with him. On Eclipse’s camera, he recorded a video (available at AFH TV) that features a young ‘Ye spitting a freestyle. Only recently did E realize what he captured during the store’s grand re-opening at its most famous location. “I went back and looked at it, like ‘what!?’…Everybody starts somewhere,” he recalls.
At 29:00, Eclipse recalls early encounters with Talib Kweli, El-P, Pharoahe Monch, Common, and Yasiin Bey at the shop along with first impressions. At 45:00 in the interview, the accomplished DJ/producer and Sirius Rap Is Outta Control co-host (with DJ Riz) recalls a Gang Starr in-store that ended in a brawl on Sixth Avenue. He details the incident which involved the late Guru as well as longtime affiliate Necro.
In recalling a Hip-Hop landmark, Eclipse also remembers the last days. “I took less money to make sure the store survived. We [all] did everything we could, for as long as we could, to make sure the store worked—until it just couldn’t work anymore,” he says. In September 2010, the inevitable happened. Fat Beats’ New York location shuttered. “Everything has to come to an end because nothing is going to last as good as it is forever: Stretch & Bob’, Def Jam, everything had its era of what it meant to the community and to the people at that particular time. That’s what Fat Beats had. Fat Beats is still here and still supplying the public, but what it meant to the movement has gone, has changed, has moved on. That whole era is now over.”
However, with a new L.A. location back in business, and the unwavering label and distribution business, Fat Beats’ story continues. Eclipse explains, “To me, the legacy of Fat Beats is the indie movement. We can take credit for part of that—not the whole thing, but we played a big part in that indie scene…there were always independent Hip-Hop records, but there was never a scene.” Fat Beats changed that, and continues to drive culture 25 years later.
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NYC: Come out and celebrate our 25 Year Anniversary on Sunday July 14th @sonyhall featuring @boxcutterpazzy @nonphixionnyc @brolicarm @mistasinista @djqbert and more! — Hosted by @djeclipsersc & @lordsear. Music by @djriznyc. Link for tickets in our bio. Also, stay tuned for an LA show! More info coming soon.
Press image provided by Fat Beats care of Diamond Media 360.