Fat Joe

The Elephant in the Room

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If the title The Elephant in the Room represents anything, it's Fat Joe's solid and reliable talent. It can't refer to the rapper himself because the man gets press by the pallet, but if you sift through all the beef talk and the chump accusations you'll have a hard time matching it up with his output. Objectively, he's never embarrassed himself, and the behemoth-sized boasts he makes are all over gangsta rap, yet rarely backed up by the number of gold records Joe has on his wall. He's a survivor, a smart captain with protégés Terror Squad and DJ Khaled his crowning achievements, and for all these things he deserves respect. What's fascinating about The Elephant in the Room is that it doesn't hunger for adoration or accolades but it obsesses on acknowledgement, the lack of which puts an all-day knot in Joe's stomach. Rather than rely on the one or two quick-witted jabs he usually drops in a verse, here the rapper uses a slowly corrosive approach and wears down all enemies with a slower but ever so steady grind. Violent imagery is important to get the job done, and when the visceral highlight "300 Brolic" decides killing your mom wasn't enough, it offers "I am a professional/I will cut your testicles/Stuff 'em in your mouth where them li'l shits belong." Joe's driven enough that he actually breaks away from his usual monotone delivery and makes "Bumpin' that Kanye/You can't tell me nuthin' riiiiiiiiight?" a layered lyric through his snarky, indignant inflection. The few radio-friendly numbers included somehow work in this environment, with the J. Holiday collaboration "I Won't Tell" bringing especially sweet relief. Towering above it all is "My Conscience," where KRS-One plays the supportive angel on Joe's shoulder and offers "You was with Relativity/I was with Jive/All that bullshit you been through/How'd you survive," both a hip-hop history and frame of reference. Where Elephant falls off is with all the excessive cocaine talk -- which just seems to be taking away from the matter at hand -- plus the star-studded list of producers -- the Alchemist, Scott Storch, Swizz Beatz -- and their failure to match the rapper's enthusiasm. Still, Joe warns the listener right at the beginning that he's more Eazy-E than Ice Cube -- and for three-fourths of the album, he's spot on.

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