On February 17, Joseph Antonio Cartagena and Reminisce Mackie, better known as Fat Joe and Remy Ma, released a twelve track LP, entitled Plata O Plomo. The ex Terror Squad members collaborated for the project in what is the follow-up album to Fat Joe’s The Darkside Volume One (2010) which was also executively produced by Cool & Dre in addition to this more recent project.
Criticism regarding the duo for being less than dynamic was of concern, however, it is their rap parallels that allow us to comfortably position ourselves between their vocal articulations and, in turn, transporting us to an era of hip-hop that most millennial rap-heads did not get to experience first-hand.
It’s not 1988 and we do not need DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince to remind us that “He’s the DJ, I’m the rapper”, nor do we require a distinguished Ying and Yang style of rap from pioneers such as Joe and Remy.
If Wiz Khalifa and Snoop Dogg could provide complimentary ambiance in the Mac + Devin Go To High School soundtrack (2011) as two drawling stoners; and Kanye West and Jay Z could sound like privileged clones one-upping each other in Watch The Throne (2011), there is no reason why Fat Joe and Remy Ma should be criticised for their vocal similarities.
After all, Plata O Plomo is not a feature album, but more accurately, a collaborative LP with equal weight being carried between the pair.
This being said, the features on behalf of Ty Dolla Sign, French Montana, RySo Valid, The Dream, Stephanie Mills, Kent Jones, Infared, Vindata, Kingston, Kat Dahlia, Sevyn Streeter, and BJ The Chicago Kid, are more than enough to add seasoning to the New York slice of East Coast hip-hop that Joe and Remy serve up.
The ex members of Terror Squad pay homage to their New York roots via aggressive lyrics, polyrhythmic flow, and that characteristic confidence that makes you Lean Back (2004) as if you own the joint.
The lead single off the LP is “All The Way Up”, which was released in March of 2016 becoming a hit on the commercial hip-hop scene, earning Joe and Remy a handful of Grammy nominations. The formulaic structure depends on the repetitive vocal hook where different members of the rap clan chant “I’m all the way up” among a variety of other exemplary objects that are sung/rapped about that are (funnily enough), also, “all the way up”.
No mainstream hip-hop single of this decade would be complete without an inspirational speech from DJ Khaled… So naturally, the music video edit of the track takes a literal pause in 2003-esque fashion when DJ Carmelo is asked to “hold up” and “stop the music”.
An infamously nostalgic siren call is then heard before we hear Khaled preach that “they don’t want us to be all the way up; so we gonna BE all the way up”. Quite the rebel, that DJ Khaled.
The midway point in the LP is marked by “Go Crazy”, which is an R&B track among a predominantly hip-hop based project. The slow grind vibe is provided via ultra syncopated snare hits, autotuned chants, and multilayer vocal harmonies. The contributions from Sevyn Streeter and BJ The Chicago Kid fuse well with Fat Joe and Remy Ma, and the hybrid timbre complements the secondary production from 808 Ray.
The beautifully misogynist lyrics take us back to that testosterone-driven bottle-popping era of mainstream urban music. In “Go Crazy”, Joe reminds us that “women ain’t supposed to work,” that we should “let a man do a man’s job,” and that he is “the don of all dons,” whilst Remy works wonders for women’s issues by rapping that “I said nah, but meant yes,” and is body confident when telling us that she has “a nice set… oh, they perkin'”.
Track eight is entitled “Heartbreak”, and provides a more delicate touch to what was becoming a more than aggressive album listen. With a vocal feature from The Dream and production from Vindata, the track boasts dembow rhythm throughout. This Caribbean flair gives a shout out to Fat Joe’s Spanish Caribbean roots and jumps on-board the dancehall trend that has recently been dominating mainstream urban pop.
Although the electronic treble motif that is heard throughout is more reminiscent of Justin Bieber’s later repertoire, as opposed to anything one would genuinely whine to, the track provides a fun-filled groove suitable for any house party.
Remy’s verse in “Heartbreak” seems out of keeping and does not contribute much to the overall success of the track but allows for us to hear her softer lyricism which was becoming overdue nearing the end of the LP.
The expression ‘Plata O Plomo’ makes reference to fiscal extortion punishable by death if denied and has been used in Spanish American slang for decades. Despite people feeling rather street savvy in that I watch VICE documentaries about Latin gang culture so that makes me edgy kind of way, incorrect definitions of the expression still flood internet search forums.
In the case of this album, Plata O Plomo is a reference to Fat Joe and Remy Ma’s confidence in their project. They know that listeners will hand over their plata (silver/money) and therefore there is no need for plomo (lead/death by a bullet).
Arrogance reaps through this LP, complementing percussive flow and aggressive lyricism in a manner that has not been executed in mainstream hip-hop for nearly a decade. Regardless of whether or not the collaborative project was too overbearing or not, one thing Joe and Remy do successfully is represent their generation of Bronx MCs with pride. Fat Joe & Remy Ma’s Plata O Plomo can be bought on iTunes here.
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Words by Olga Maher