As a Black Puerto Rican from the Northeast who grew up immersed in hip-hop culture, I was virtually expected to be a fan of Fat Joe simply because he is Puerto Rican (and Cuban). I was ten years old when his Represent album was released back when he was known as Fat Joe da Gangsta. As the lyrics to his single, “Flow Joe” started playing, the uber-light-skinned Boricua rapper from The Bronx immediately led with, “Bust it, check it, watch how I wreck it/N***as watch your back, s**t is gettin hectic.”
As the song continued, Joe sprinkled several more aggressive versions of the word that should have been taboo for him to say. Over the past nearly 30 years that followed his debut, he’s continually gotten away with heavy use of “n***a,” most likely due to the fact that it’s been infused in song lyrics and not exactly on full-on public display. That is, until his Verzuz with Ja Rule, when he sprayed n-bombs throughout the night, referring to himself, Ja Rule and even the audience as “n***as.” The conversation to check him quickly became a Twitter theme with some fans even wondering why Ja Rule was using the word towards Joe.
Why is Ja Rule calling Fat Joe nigga?? pic.twitter.com/9wYFHU4iuY
— BIG MALCOLM X PLAY COUSIN (@Omowale99949437) September 15, 2021
While some tweeters were reasonably up-in-arms, others were unclear what the issue is with Fat Joe’s use of the word.
So, let’s start with the obvious, Fat Joe is not Black.
While the rapper has leaned into his alleged African ancestry as a pass for using the word, he, himself, is not a Black man. He has also effectively made the distinction between Latinos and “Black people.”
“I treat Black people and Latinos the same way, 100 percent. I treat them all the same way,” he said in a 2019 radio interview on 92.3’s The Real with DJ HED and Bootleg Kev.
Pause, because I’m struggling here. So, he claims African ancestry, but he does not claim to be Black, because he thinks Latino and Black can’t be the same thing, even though there are plenty of Black Latinos. Still, he feels entitled to use a word that Black people use as a means of reclaiming something meant to be negative. Joe further said that he does not maliciously use the word, adding that being Latino gives him the privilege of not being racist when using a word completely derived from racism.
Joe has made some questionable statements in defense of continually slurring on his records. So, after making the generalized distinction between Latino and Black folks, he then went on to say that Latinos are Black.
“Let’s speak about Latinos not being Black. Latinos are Black,” he said on Hot 97’s Ebro in the Morning radio show in 2019.
While not exactly a true statement, it’s not even the most damning thing the rapper said during that quite unfortunate interview.
“Sometimes, Latinos may even identify themselves with African and Black culture more than Black people,” he continued, bringing back his previous distinction. “This ain’t no crazy thing. Fat Joe ain’t on crack. He know what he talking about.”
To bring home his point, he began talking about the American Slave Trade and the intermingling of Cubans and Africans, before bringing up the rich Afro-Latino population in Loiza, Puerto Rico.
He didn’t seem to realize that his comparison pitted a community of Afro-Latinos able to maintain African traditions to African Americans who generally lost ancestral traditions at the behest of American slavery, which forced European ideals and concepts upon their ancestors as early as the 15th century.
But Joe is far from the only non-Black artist to believe their affiliation with hip-hop has granted them a pass.
Jennifer Lopez was dragged in 2001 when she sang a verse written by Ja Rule on the remix of her song “I’m Real.” The lyric in question being: “people screaming what’s the deal with you and so and so/I tell them n***as mind their biz but they don’t hear me, though.”
When a former Today show host asked her about it, she had a similar, “no harm, no foul” response to her Bronx brethren Fat Joe who, by the way, is on Lopez’s debut album trading n-bombs with the late Puerto Rican rapper, Big Pun.
“For anyone to think or suggest or say that I’m racist is really absurd and hurtful to me,” Lopez said during a July 2001 Today show appearance. “The use of the word in the song, which was actually written by Ja Rule, was never meant to be hurtful in any way to anybody.”
Hurtful to her? Well, well, lookie who deserved all that smoke. But please direct some of that energy to Fat Joe, because unlike him, Jenny has removed the word from her block.
Fat Joe has stood on the mountain of his right to say a derogatory word for so very long that he doesn’t even seem to realize that the belief that he has an unwavering right to do something is embedded in white supremacy culture. You know what else is indicative of white supremacy culture: defensiveness, which we’ve seen plenty of from Joe.
According to the characteristics of white supremacy culture, “white people spend energy defending against charges of racism instead of examining how racism might actually be happening.”
Now, I’m not calling Joe white and I’m not saying that he has the power necessary to live the true definition of racism. I am, however, saying based on his very own logic and defensiveness, he is leaning more white than Black, and if you’re running around trying to throw slangs, well, then that’s a problem.