All Or Nothing
ore than a decade deep in the game now, Fat Joe can now stand tall as a rap veteran and a king of New York. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s spent most of his career as an also-ran. As a member of the respected crews D.I.T.C. and Terror Squad, he watched more talented peers like Big L and Big Punisher move ahead of him, with the younger Big Pun becoming the first Latino solo rapper to go platinum. And after Pun passed away, Joey took on the Puffy role of keeping his memory alive while not exactly filling the void he left. When Joe did score hits of his own, it was with the help of R&B singers like R. Kelly and Ashanti.
All that changed last summer when “Lean Back” became not only Joe Crack’s first hit carried almost solely on his own shoulders, but a gargantuan #1 summer smash. That it was credited to Terror Squad and that group member Remy Ma contributed a verse were moot points as far as how song elevated Joe’s status. But unfortunately, a cardinal rule of major label hip hop is that group albums never sell as well as solo albums, and no matter how big “Lean Back” was, the Terror Squad album to which it was attached failed to even go gold.
Joe was still primed to capitalize on his new level of fame, though, following up with a solo album, Things Of That Nature, that fall. Six months of delays and a title change later, All Or Nothing arrived in stores this summer with a somewhat deflated momentum. The title was apparently switched so late in the recording process that Joe shouts out the wrong title 3 times on “Intro” alone, as well on one of the singles, “Get It Poppin’.” Joe has stated that the raised stakes of his post-“Lean Back” fame and beef with 50 Cent inspired the change to All Or Nothing. But in a recent XXL cover story, Joe was surprisingly blunt about the odds stacked against him: “Right now, I look like I’m gonna sell 300...400,000 for All Or Nothing.” If it’s All Or Nothing, it would seem Joe’s ready to settle for nothing, or at least not much.
Joe shouldn’t despair, though. Even if he sells a fraction of the copies that 50 has, he can take pride in having made a slightly hotter album than The Massacre, as dubious as an accomplishment that may be. All Or Nothing is essentially the same album Joey’s been making for a few years, including the kinds of slightly embarrassing crossover attempts you’d hope he’d have enough confidence to abandon after “Lean Back” blew up bigger than “What’s Luv.” But there’s also a generous share of stubbornly classicist 90’s NYC shit, from the fantastic opening salvo of “Intro” and “Does Anybody Know” to the two-part narrative “Temptation,” though “Trapped In The Closet” it is not.
And the cameos from Nelly and R. Kelly don’t quite do their job anyway, because the catchiest hook is on the album is actually on the diss record. “My Fo Fo,” Joe’s response to 50 Cent’s “Piggy Bank,” interpolates the Flintstones theme song for a hilarious singsong schoolyard taunt. It’s also the closest the album comes to the reproducing the head nodding street anthem quality of “Lean Back,” and you may be tempted to do the Rockaway while singing along “Fifty, Fifty Fifty, he’s the fakest thug you’ve ever seen.”
Miami production duo Cool & Dre, who had a significant presence on previous Fat Joe albums, are promoted to executive producers here along with their heightened profile, thanks to a string of recent hits, most notably The Game’s “Hate It Or Love It.” Aside from the bumping beat and distinctive synth whine of lead single “So Much More,” though, they mostly punch the clock on their contributions. And Dre, who hogs the camera at video shoots as shamelessly as Pharrell or Kanye ever did, insists on doing hooks as often as possible and raps a corny Fresh Prince-esque verse on “I Can Do U.” Meanwhile DJ Khaled, Streetrunner and Just Blaze make off with the hottest beats on the album.
The album ends with a high point and a low point, courtesy of two tacked-on previously released collaborations. The “Lean Back” remix, on which Lil Jon turns Scott Storch’s banger from the original into, well, a Lil Jon beat, is nearly a year old, but holds up well aside from Ma$e’s comeback verse, which may as well have “Summer 2004” stamped all over it. But there’s no reason Joe should be proud enough of his appearance on J.Lo’s “Hold You Down” to recycle it on his own album, and it ends an otherwise decent album on a sour, treacly note.
Reviewed by: Al Shipley
Reviewed on: 2005-07-13