Pros: He continues surprising late-career improvement.
Cons: He has been making the same album for over a decade.
Bottom Line: Possibly Fat Joe's best album.
During the mid-'90s, New York produced a legion of rappers who had come of age during the crack cocaine epidemic. In that context, Fat Joe's forgettable 1993 debut Represent hardly foretold greatness. There was already one fat Puerto Rican rapper from the Bronx, Big Pun, a gifted lyricists with all-time great talent.
Joe achieved some success with 1998's Don Cartagena, but Pun's death soon afterward cast a shadow over his career, while the violent shootings of Biggie and Tupac chastened the rap community. The market for crack rap quickly dried up. As rap shifted South and returned to its party roots, Joe, a consummate survivor, leveraged his industry connections to stay relevant, a relic of a bygone era.
The Murder Inc-assisted "What's Luv" made him a mainstream star in 2001. Three years later "Lean Back", a No. 1 record with stunningly low album sales, ushered in the era of the ringtone rapper. Recently he has survived independent label banishment and a running WWE-style feud with 50 Cent to appear on hit after hit — from "Make It Rain" to "We Takin Over."
Elephant in The Room stays strictly within his wheelhouse: a refreshingly concise mix of 12 tracks of unrepentant gangsta lyrics over hard-hitting commercial beats. His brand of lyrics hasn't changed much: "I done did some things that made some killers drop they jaws / I done been on boats in Colombia shipping raw (cocaine)."
What keeps them fresh is his steadily improving flow, sharper and more on-beat than ever before. As a result, he has rightly started calling himself one of the most improved rappers ever.
The production is pitch-perfect for his style — featuring both rejuvenated old-school producers like Gangstarr's DJ Premier ("That White") and Puff Daddy's Hitmen ("I Won't Tell") and a roster of modern-day hit makers (Cool & Dre, Scott Storch).
Throughout his career, Joe has made the same album over and over again, each time improving from the same formula. Elephant in the Room sounds like the best album of 1998. Will anyone still care ten years later?