Legend has it, that in the 80′s, a young Jose Cartargena was a Bronx bomber, who tagged “TS” everywhere he went, which at the time stood for “The Squad”. However “The Squad” - whoever this consisted of at the time – wouldn’t begin to take form until the 1990′s, as Joe first had to get his own foot in the door, joining the ranks of D.I.T.C. While Fat Joe “The Gangster”, (as he was then affectionately known), was backed by Lord Finesse, Diamond D, Showbiz, and DJ Premier for his debut album, he didn’t get the props he strived for in the world of hip-hop music. Joe almost was the sore thumb in D.I.T.C. - while everyone within the crew had a sound or style they were known for, Fat Joe’s was the least popular.
Ironically, in the new millenium, things have changed. While the definition of what makes a good (read: marketable) hip-hop record is much different that in was 10 years ago, Fat Joe now sells more records than any of his former D.I.T.C. brethren. As a matter of fact, while many of his former crew members struggle to find work in this (unfortunate) new era, Fat Joe scored perhaps the biggest hit record of the summer with “Lean Back”, joined by a whole new crew of emcees, dubbed the “Terror Squad”.
But the True Story of how Fat Joe got to this point takes an even stranger turn yet. While T.S. rules (or at least contends on) the charts in 2004, it’s line-up is much different than what it was five years ago, when Terror Squad: The Album dropped. This overlooked debut featuring a six-man squad, led by Joe, with general Big Pun standing beside him, and grunts Prospect, Triple Seis, Cuban Link, and Armageddon. But after Big Pun’s passing shortly thereafter and lack of success on the LP, internal beefs split up this crew of well-dressed Latin gentlemen. After Triple Seis and Cuban Link’s deflection, rumors swirled throughout the hood of beef between the crew, with unconfirmed rumors of altercations between Joe and Cuban Link, some even suggesting the Don Cartegena later ordered assaults on the former ally.
All beefs and hood legends aside, the Terror Squad that appears on the cover of True Story are virtually all new faces, with Prospect and Armageddon the only original members showing loyalty to Joe. Most notably, the biggest addition to the crew is female Remy Martin, not to mention crooner/rapper Tony Sunshine, who’s been “made” a member, after merely singing a few hooks last time around. So it all comes down to this - with the biggest hit of the summer on their hands and a rich history behind them, just how does the Terror Squad’s True Story play out from here?
Of course the days of nine Wu-Tang members trading mics over beats by one producer are pretty much through, so True Story is instead a less cohesive crew album, mixing & matching different songs and styles. Nevertheless, “True Story” has its moments, however spread out they may be. The triumphant opener, “Never Gonna Stop Me” shows Joe at his finest, as he delivers his frustration over DJ Khaled’s cinematic production: “Ten years in this, the same shit / nothin but the same hits / revisit the catalog / been in it since analog / damn it dog!” Tony Sunshine joins him, as the two trade places, with Joe “harmonizing” after Sunshine’s own rap. Another outstanding moment comes in the form of the Lord Finesse produced “Bring ‘Em Back”, where Joe resurrects dead homies, Big Pun and Big L, for a truly classic moment.
Unfortunately, the ultimate irony is that arguably the best song on the LP (“Bring ‘Em Back”) doesn’t feature anyone from T.S.’s new lineup, which says a lot about how they measure up to the old favorites. This point is furthered on “Yeah Yeah Yeah”, where the overly unimpressive Remy Martin (“I knew a nigga named eat-it out / he liked to eat it out”) tries to keep up with Scram Jones’ blazing beat - too bad Jadakiss destoyed it on a Green Lantern mixtape just a month earlier. Youngster Prospect also struggles to keep up with his peers on “Thunder In The Air”, yet instead induces boredom. Armageddon however does an okay job on “Pass Away”, but does little to distinguish himself from any other emcee out there.
While much faith is being put in Remy Martin as Joe’s new front-running protege, ultimately Joe is the strongest member of the crew here. However, truth be told, much of Joe’s appeal is grandfathered in, demanding the most attention from listeners almost through means of nostalgia. “Yes Them To Def” features Joe going for ‘delf (and going after the NYC crown), with lines like “I heard a couple of you rappers wanna retire / such liars / First of all this is me - YES! / Joe Crack I’m a motherfuckin’ genIUS / I’m the only one that’s really from the streets, YES! / Walk through any hood with no police or no vest / YES!” While nobody disputes his street cred, it’s obvious that Joe’s taking an indirect pot shot at Jay-Z with that line. However, he shamefully imitates the flows and cadence of Jiggaman throughout much of the song, with deliberate pauses and vocal inflections typical of any S. Carter verse. Yes!
It’s this type of unoriginality which ultimately plagues this album and throughout it’s entirety, you can’t help but feel like you’ve heard it all before. But it is not always on purpose, like in the aforementioned Jadakiss freaking of “Yeah Yeah Yeah”, not to mention “Hum Drum”, which sounds curiously a lot like a recent Lloyd Banks track that used the same sample. However, other times, it’s blatant biting, like the Cool & Dre produced “Take Me Home”, which presents Kanye-less sped-up soul, hoping to make the T.S. “celebrities overnight”. This almost would have worked if not for Alvin, Simon, & Theodore sounding absolutely ridiculous as they sing “Daddy let me take you home, mommy let me take you hoooome” (not a sample). Again on “Let Them Things Go”, another Cool & Dre budget beat, this time mirroring the hard-pounding, electric Timbaland/Neptunes production style - they even got a Pharrell Williams sounding guy to do a Pharrell sounding hook. Yawn. The most original track on here is actually the second most commercially viable one, “Streets Of New York”, where Remy and Tony Sunshine throwback with a summertime doo-wop hip-hop anthem. The kids will love it.
But these gripes come from the pages of an aging hip-hop critic. Taken at surface value, the Terror Squad’s leap into the mainstream isn’t that bad of an album - it’s just not that good of one either. Unfortunately, the “true story” of Fat Joe’s career is much more compelling and interesting than what is displayed here - hopefully he can paint a better picture of it on his solo album due this winter.
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