[caption id="attachment_17655" align="alignleft" width="640" caption="Fat Joe at MTV's Total Request Live in New York City, March 2008. Photo: Scott Gries/Getty Images"][/caption]
Fat Joe released The Darkside Vol. 2, his first mixtape in three years, today. It's the followup to 2010's studio effort The Darkside Vol. 1, and like the original Darkside, Joe forgoes the pop chemistry of his biggest singles and packages a top-to-bottom street album padded with gritty, cracked-out anthems. The combination of brass sections, organ stabs and guitar riffs creates some powerful energy here, but that energy ultimately dwindles due to sub-standard rapping.
You get that sense right at the opening track, "Welcome to the Darkside," where an epic chorus sample and almost-psychotic snare drum meet French Montana's unenthusiastic moaning of the opening hook. The beat stutters repeatedly as Joe squeezes in weak punchline after weak punchline about cooking in kitchens, flipping eighths and making it rain (still?). On “Fuck Them Other N***as,” Fat Joe does his best Teflon Don impression over a poor man’s J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League beat, his voice too sharp to ever successfully mimic Rick Ross’ guttural flow. Even the guest spots are disappointing. Jadakiss gifts a solid verse on “Dopeman," but Raekwon uses his mic time on “Pushing Keys” to talk completely unproductive, nonsensical smack.
To make matters worse, The Darkside Vol. 2 metaphorically frames Fat Joe’s career as that of a drug dealer facing retirement. He’s conquered his niche, made a ton of money and can rest comfortably on his reputation -- the only question left now is whether Joe is hooked on the game or can enter retirement gracefully. That actually puts him in the Brett Favre stage of his career: no progression in skill but a willingness to keep giving it that one last go, for better or worse. [Download The Darkside Vol. 2 here.]