Standing on a rooftop in New York City's NoHo district, Fat Joe can easily close his eyes and transport himself back to the days when he was a fledgling rapper growing up in the Bronx. Only these days, the Terror Squad head honcho doesn't need to hide his jewelry from jealous neighborhood drug dealers. He flaunts it, for good reason.

"I like to say if I die tomorrow, they gonna have to say, 'He did it big," Joe tells The BoomBox. "I started with nothing. Come from the Bronx. Grew up on welfare. One outfit a day to go to school for the whole year. I like to treat myself and I like to look good."

While critics may question his reasons for treating himself when sales for his tenth studio effort, 'The Darkside Vol. 1,' were less than stellar in its first week -- approximately 12,000 units sold -- Joe's celebrating simply because he's made what he calls a "classic album." "I wouldn't say it if it wasn't," he admits. "Take your bias aside. Take your earmuffs out your ears and just listen."


The days of pulling in similar sale numbers to Terror Squad's hit single 'Lean Back' are long gone, but that doesn't deter Joey Crack from his passion. "To be honest with you, it's really all about doing what I love to do," says the 39-year-old. "I got money, I got big homes, I got big cars, I tour. For me, it's just the legacy of making great music. You can't base album sales off of how good is the music."

Listen to 'The Darkside Vol. 1''s Rico Love-assisted 'No Problems' or the Cool & Dre-produced 'Valley of Death' to get a clearer picture of the "good" tracks he speaks of. Both songs showcase the rapper's satisfactory position as a speaker for the streets. Joe--who lends his support to the K.A.R. (Kill All Rats) movement, namely rapper Leader hailing from Yonkers--showcases his back-alley vernacular throughout the effort. While this album glorifies drugs and money, straying away from his previous pop jams -- Jennifer Lopez's 'Hold You Down' and 'What's Luv?' featuring Ashanti -- Joe did create an introspective record, which pays respect to a fallen hip-hop soldier.

"The one record that is really special is 'I'm Gone,' which is the outro to the album," he says. "Guru had passed the same day that [DJ Premier] had sent me that track. That track is like somber, it's not your normal gangsta killing-music Preemo does. It was sad. So I almost made it like a dedication to Guru. To me, I feel like Gang Starr is the most uncompromised hip-hop group ever in hip-hop. When I hear rumors about Guru and all that, that really offended me. So I had to salute."

If not for that reason alone, the former D.I.T.C Crew member wants true hip-hop aficionados to listen to his new album as a full-fledged body of work. One in which he hopes can be used as an arsenal during those "Top Five, Dead or Alive" arguments on which rappers reign supreme.

"I keep trying to give you ammunition," Fat Joe says, directing the message to his fans. "Hip-hop's all about arguing and saying, 'Yo, this one's better than that one.' For everybody that supports me like that, that's why I put out music like 'The Darkside Vol. 1.' So you could have something to fight with. I'm giving you bazookas, tanks, pistols. So when you have them hip-hop arguments, you say Fat Joe, No. 2 song of the decade according to Billboard -- 'Lean Back.' Countless No. 1s. Jay-Z just got his first No. 1. Fat Joe, one of the only dudes relevant for 16 years repping the Latinos. I brought you Big Pun, two million sold. Every time you hear, 'We da best,' it's Fat Joe, it's DJ Khaled. There's so many things I could tell you."

For now, fans will have travel to the 'Darkside' to hear Joe's stories.

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