Joseph Antonio Cartagena was born in the Bronx on August 19, 1970, where he was raised by parents of Puerto Rican and Cuban descent, they lived in the Forest Houses, a public housing project in the South Bronx neighborhood of Morrisania.
He began his music career as a member of hip hop group Diggin’ in the Crates Crew, and later on became a solo artist.
Fat Joe debuted his solo album, Represent, which was released in 1993 and included the hit single “Flow Joe”, which reached number one on the Billboard Hot Rap Songs chart.
His bestselling album to date was Jealous Ones Still Envy (J.O.S.E.) (2001); it was certified platinum and internationally certified silver by the BPI, it also reached the top 100 on multiple music charts.
Some of Fat Joe’s most iconic songs are “Lean Back” (2004) with Terror Squad, “What’s Luv?” (2002), featuring Ashanti and Ja Rule, “Make It Rain” (2006), featuring Lil Wayne and “All the Way Up” (2016) with Remy Ma featuring French Montana and Dre.
Growing up in the Bronx, Fat Joe witnessed the birth of hip hop, but he also contributed to that birth and its growth.
He’s also made hip hop history himself, with more than three decades in the game, he’s put out 13 albums.
Owns his own record label, mentored, helped or launched the careers of Remy Ma, Tony Sunshine, Cuban Link and a then-unknown DJ Khaled, as well as discover producers Cool & Dre and last but not least the late great legendary rapper Big Pun.
But, everything has not all been rosy, he’s also faced multiple bankruptcies and battled depression, and he’s open about: he wants people to learn from his successes and his failures, which he goes into detail on his memoir “The Book of Jose”.
The Book tells the tale of Fat Joe’s challenging upbringing and give readers a look into his rise to stardom, while balancing the costs and rewards of that life: its tragedies, regrets, and glittering triumphs.”
“The Book of Jose is more than just a book about my career,” Fat Joe said of his memoir.
“It explores the darkest moments of my life that shaped me as a man, brushes with death, being locked up, losing friends and dealing with depression.”
He also added in a video, “This ain’t just a rapper’s story, it’s talking about everything [from] police brutality [to] drug abuse, selling drugs, hustling, getting locked up, getting framed, getting betrayed, depression, hip-hop’s greatest moments — they’re all in this book.”
“I think I weighed about 450, 460 at my heaviest,” Joe shared with LT, explaining that his hip-hop success encouraged him to over-indulge.
“[I thought,] I’m rich now, I can go to Mr. Chow’s and eat me all the lobster and steak I want, plus I always took pride in being fat, that’s why my name was Fat Joe.”
The push for a lifestyle change first came in 2000, when fellow rapper Big Pun died from a heart attack. In the two years he told LT, six of his friends, all around his weight, died from heart failure.
“I realized at a certain point, all my big people were dying,” he said. “I couldn’t see a clearer picture, what’s the difference between me and him, of me being in a casket?”
He’s since hit the gym and changed his eating habits, eating healthier foods and smaller portions more frequently. The weight loss has led to other health benefits, as well. “I was diabetic for 16 years,” he revealed. “Being that I lost weight, no more diabetes.” Today Fat Joe weighs around 260 pounds, a big improvement from weighing 400+ pounds.
Fat Joe has appeared in several films, including Scary Movie 3 and Happy Feet, as well as Spike Lee’s Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It.
In 2018 he began hosting a podcast on Tidal, Coca Vision, where he discusses music, friendships, and pop culture with various guests.
In 1998, Fat Joe and Big Pun were arrested on assault charges for hitting a man with a baseball bat and stealing the man’s gold chain.
Joe was arrested again on May 12, 2002, for allegedly fighting with another man at B.B. King’s Blues Club in Times Square, but the charges were dropped on January 10, 2003.
Joe’s former bodyguard, Jose Mulero (also known as Sing Sing), was arrested in 2004, for the April 15, 1994, shooting death of Ernesto Rivera at a Bronx nightclub.
Responding to a subpoena, Fat Joe claimed to have heard the shooting and seen people fleeing the scene, but investigators argued that he was standing closer to Mulero, by a door. The DA did not prosecute him.
Miami Beach police also named Fat Joe as a witness in a Memorial Day double homicide outside David’s Cafe II in South Beach. Fat Joe and the two victims were sitting in a rented Cadillac Escalade parked outside the restaurant when a fight broke out between passengers and another man outside the car.
In 2012, Fat Joe pleaded guilty to tax evasion for not paying income tax on over $3 million from 2007 to 2010. On June 24, 2013, he was sentenced to four months in prison for tax evasion. He began the sentence in August and was released on November 28, 2013
Fat Joe has been criticized for his usage of the N-Word, both in his music and interviews. The Bronx rapper recently addressed his reasoning for the term being in his vocabulary during an appearance on The Breakfast Club, attributing it to being a habit he picked up early on in life due to the nature of his surroundings.
“First of all, my projects where I grew up is 90 percent black Joe said. “My grandmother’s projects is 99.9 percent Black to be clear. So I’m Spanish, i knew I was Latino, but the whole time I thought I was Black anyway.
So, my mom lives there 40 years before I was born, in this project, and I’m born blond hair, green eyes. This shit crazy, right? She brings me there, the first thing is they go, ‘Oh, look at this little nigga Joey.
He got green eyes.’ The minute I’m walking, the guys in the building is like, ‘Yo, look at that little nigga Joe, little Fat Joe.’ That’s all I knew my whole life before even elementary.”
The Terror Squad leader also said; “It’s a lot of woke society or something going on these days and Twitter and all that I guess they don’t understand where I come from, where I was born or how I was raised or how I lived my whole entire life.
Now we know, we use it as love. We know that the record states that this is a negative word and I wish we never used it, you know? And I try my best.
I been saying this thing, it’s in my DNA, It’s hard. Really, seriously I been trying to stop, but I been saying this since I was born.
However, Fat Joe made it clear that the backlash he’s received from his usage of the N-Word will not stop him from continuing to use the term, which he views as a term of endearment.
“No one’s going to pressure Fat Joe into [not] feeling or saying anything that he loves or believes in, “said the rapper defiantly.
“No one’s ever going to do that. You get one life and nobody gonna try to tell me what to say, tell me do, tell me what to think.”
Taking a break from music
Fat Joe shared with LatinTRENDS that he would be taking a break from making music, and pursuing other avenues in entertainment.
“I don’t think I’m making music no time soon,” he said. “It’s just focusing on media, TV and opening businesses.
I have a lot going on, many investments I’ve been doing and I’m looking forward to growing as an entrepreneur.”
- Early Influences: Before pursuing a career in music, Fat Joe (born Joseph Antonio Cartagena) was inspired by street poets like KRS-One and Grandmaster Flash, which influenced his early style.
- Terror Squad Formation: Fat Joe played a pivotal role in forming the hip-hop collective Terror Squad in the early 2000s, which included prominent artists like Remy Ma and Big Pun. The group achieved success with hits like “Lean Back.”
- Cuban Heritage: Fat Joe is of Cuban and Puerto Rican descent. His cultural background has played a role in shaping his identity and is occasionally reflected in his music.
- Business Ventures: Apart from his music career, Fat Joe has ventured into various business endeavors. He owns a sneaker store in New York City and has been involved in the fashion industry.
- Acting Career: Fat Joe has dabbled in acting, appearing in films such as “Scary Movie 3” and “Happy Feet.” This showcases his versatility beyond the realm of music.
- Legal Troubles: Like many artists, Fat Joe faced legal issues. In 2013, he served a four-month prison sentence for tax evasion, emphasizing the challenges that artists may encounter in managing their finances.
- Weight Loss Journey: Fat Joe underwent a significant weight loss transformation, shedding a considerable amount of weight for health reasons. His journey has inspired others to prioritize their well-being.
- Early Career as a Graffiti Artist: Before becoming a rapper, Fat Joe expressed his artistic talents as a graffiti artist in the South Bronx, where hip-hop was taking its roots. This early connection to the culture shaped his path in the industry.
- Collaborations with Latin Artists: Fat Joe has collaborated with various Latin artists, contributing to the fusion of hip-hop and Latin music. Notably, his collaboration with Jennifer Lopez on the song “Hold You Down” showcased his ability to blend different musical styles.
- Philanthropy: Fat Joe has been involved in philanthropic activities, supporting causes such as hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico. This reflects his commitment to giving back to communities in need.