Fatlip – Thelonliest Punk

Fat Lip - The Lonliest Punk Artist: Fatlip
Album: The Lonliest Punk
Label: Delicious Vinyl

Rating: 4/5

By this point in the career
of Pharcyde exile Fatlip, written accounts of his work often employ
the phrase “self-deprecating. ” Fatlip’s long-anticipated solo
debut, TheLoneliest Punk, has already accrued such descriptions,
but the label is misleading: Fatlip sings the blues, and in that respect
is self-affirming, not the other way round. Like other blues musicians,
by allowing his audience in to his struggles and his faults, he lets
us know how human – how okay – it is to experience our own struggles
and insecurities, our own battles with human existence. The result is
a refreshing, funny, and brilliant album. 

There are a host of other,
cockier, MCs whose music could also be likened to the blues; hip-hop
in itself shares certain common aesthetic values with that older art
form, not to speak of ancestry. Before bling became real, when rappers
rhymed about criminal or sexual fantasies, that used to be the blues.
But now rap is a big industry, and when Jay rhymes about diamonds one
could reasonably assume that he’s often talking about his own, even
though one could also reasonably assume that to his audience, it’s
still a part of the wish fulfillment that it was 20 years ago. That
separation between an artist and his/ her audience is problematic; artists
stop becoming vessels, and instead become icons.

Back when they were kids, Fatlip
and his Pharcyde brothers-in-arms recognized the drawbacks of criminal
and money-related fantasies in their art, drawing stark parallels with
the extended Native Tongues family on the East Coast. The Phracyde not
only threw away the violence of their gangsta rap contemporaries, they
also threw away the revolutionary fantasies of politically-themed rap
artists, and in that sense shared much more in common with their audience
than either. On their first album, Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde,
they rhymed about normal things, and had fun doing it. They rhymed the
dozens; they rhymed about chasing girls and not getting them. And even
though they weren’t as Afrocentric as their peers, there was an inherent
optimism in their music; as if making music for fun, just for the sake
of having fun, was worth it. That era, however, is gone. Perhaps a fun-loving,
nearly hedonistic philosophy was too utopian to grow old with, or perhaps
the feel-good vibes of that hip-hop era died when the world got cold
and cynical again, but regardless, it’s all changed now.

Or maybe Fatlip just grew up.
Instead of making an album steeped in the commonality of good times, TheLoneliest Punk is a piece of art that does better than that –
allows us to share its bad times, and feel better for it. Here, the
album offers, is a man struggling with the seriousness of his adulthood,
with being separated from his baby’s mother, with seeing his kid only
occasionally, suffering from bouts of depression and insecurity, who
has trouble making songs that mean something but is unable to force
himself to write some bullshit. Fatlip presents us with his own existential
struggle – he knows that he has to keep on trying, moving, doing, and
searching for meaning, all the while knowing that meaning is fleeting,
and that the frustrating importance is in the moving.

The unshakable sadness of the
album is best represented by the song that made this album long awaited
by numerous fans, “What’s Up Fatlip, ” a single released way back
in 2000, in which Fatlip laments the reversal of his fortune – friends
who have turned on him, lies spread about him, and his own insecurities
catching up with him. The brilliance of the song might, to a less-talented
MC, weaken a follow-up album in contrast, but instead TheLoneliest
works the themes of its five-year old single – and its sound
– seamlessly and honestly into the rest of its offerings, demonstrating
that “What’s Up, Fatlip? ” was no happy accident. Insecurity, humor,
false bravado, and bitter reality weave throughout the album: in “Writer’s
Block, ” Fatlip rhymes about his lack of good material to rap about;
on “Joe’s Turkey, ” he rhymes about borrowing from his sister and
living with his mother to make ends meet; “The Story of Us ” and
“Dreams, ” both of which narrate his struggles to figure out his
family life, let us in to his search for redemption.

The mistakes that warrant that
search for redemption, which Fatlip makes no bones about, include too
many alcohol and drug binges, specifically coke ones. The numerous coke
references only augment the eerie similarity in style to Big Baby Jesus
himself, Ol’ Dirty Bastard. We first heard Fatlip’s ODB impersonation
on a collaboration ten years ago on Labcabincalifornia (on “All
Live “), but on this album, Fatlip’s styles includes ODB’s trademark
off-key screaming, his vibrato, his throaty, guttural singing, and even
some of his rhyme patterns. Whether he made these changes before or
after ODB’s death in 2004 is unclear, as this album has been about
five years in the making. When Fatlip shouts out Ol’ Dirty on “Joe’s
Turkey, ” the acknowledgment only underlies the homage Fatlip is clearly
paying to Russell Jones, whose recent death makes this album even more
poignant. Fatlip’s not biting, he’s channeling, and doing it well.

The vocal styles have changed,
but the songwriting style – that of pure, weird honesty – remains
the same. On “First Heat, ” Fatlip claims that he wants to “reclaim
my name again. ” He wants to be respected again. It’s real that counts,
and he’s been real with his audience; now it’s his turn to see whether
those fans who made this album hyped up over the years are going to
be real to him: “If I’m not mistaken, it’s taken five years in
the making, now we will see who real and who fakin. ” The xylophone-synthesizer
production, like most production on the album, only shows that he’s
back on the top of his game, and deserves that respect.

“Today’s Your Day ” perhaps
most resolutely channels ODB, and is also probably the funkiest track
on the album. The chorus is so catchy it’s hard to avoid singing along
by the end of the first verse, and then Chali 2na steps in to deliver
one of album’s few, but amazing, cameos. This is a fun song, and clever:
half-way through the song Fatlip changes a line in the chorus from “today’s
your day, babe, ” to “today’s your payday. ” He’s finished the
album, now it’s time to get paid. And that’s a celebration.

But he’s not being greedy;
it’s just that this money has been a long time coming. In “Joe’s
Turkey, ” he impresses upon us that the refrain “Get money, make 
money ” is more of a necessity than a luxury. He hasn’t been living
like a superstar. The sentiment is again evoked in “Writer’s Block “:
“the only way I pay rent / I represent / the only way I eat / I rhyme
to a beat / the only way I buy clothes / I rock shows / now you can
see why the problem is posed. ” He needs to make these songs to eat.
“Writer’s Block ” is truly a poverty-stricken song, as Fatlip rhymes
about knowing he has to write about something, but has nothing. That
he has made a song about this alone is a story of survival, of making
something out of nothing.

But Fatlip does, indeed, have
much of real substance to offer on the album, as we see in the next
song, “The Story of Us, ” in which Fatlip relates how he’s come
to terms with his children’s mother, separated from him for the past
year. She’s independent now, and instead of resenting her for the
past, Fat Leezy puts the priorities of his children in front of both
of them. It is, simply, amazing songwriting. When, after a short intro,
the organ-synthed danceable beats of “Cook ” swing into motion, this
seems like a change in direction, as Fatlip rhymes as if he’s picking
up a girl at a club, but the chorus soon reveals his true intention:
“hey baby / do you think, maybe / that one day / you can be my lady?
/ You look good, can you cook? / Let me put your number in my phone
book. ” He’s looking for a fuck, but he really just wants someone
who can take care of him. As the last verse finishes, he’s telling
his potential hook-up that he’s incredibly lonely, and just bored
of it. Unorthodox, and hilarious.

But “Y’all On Fly, ” another
attempt at seduction, is more orthodox, and is a less successful song.
A soulful, shiny chorus complemented the seriousness of “The Story
of Us, ” but falls flat on this one. Fatlip’s humor saves the song
from being skip-friendly, but still doesn’t save it from being, unfortunately,
probably the only blip on an otherwise masterful album.

“Freaky Pumps ” is another
nasty song about women, but works much better than “Y’all On Fly. ”
The song, like so many of the songs on this album, perfectly complements
its somber themes with on-the-surface abrasiveness: a strip club, the
song’s setting, is really the perfect place for a collaboration peace
with Volume 10, Shock G, and Shock’s alter ego Humpty Hump, and is
another comedic gem.

And then there’s “What’s
Up Fatlip, ” whose lyrics, on their own, paint a picture of a man blessed
with talent, but who squandered it all, and is left to face his insecurities
alone: “Who am I kiddin, who am I foolin / when they be like ¬Ç√Ñ√≤What’s
up, Fatlip?’ / and I say ¬Ç√Ñ√≤Coolin.’ ” The utter honesty of the
lyrics, however, become more poignant and unnerving when the laugh track
comes in. That laugh track is all of the members of Fatlip’s audience
who find his tribulations interesting solely for their entertainment,
who look at Black music as minstrelsy. Fatlip is a weirdo, but he’s
no clown, a role he feels unfairly cast in. But for those of us who
have shared the feelings of insecurity, depression, and/or paranoia
that “What’s Up, Fatlip? ” so eloquently portrays, the song is
an uplifting one: despite all of this shit, all these bad times, Fatlip
still moves onward; he keeps trying. Instead of wallowing in self-pity,
he’s made a song about it, a song his audience can share, and treasure,
when and if times are bad.

The brilliance of “What’s
Up Fatlip ” makes a following act nearly impossible, but Fatlip ventures
into the nearly impossible on this album, and succeeds, as the next
song, “Dreams, ” rivals its predecessor as the best song on the album.
Fatlip takes the role of talking man-to-boy to his son, giving him advice,
confident that he has something to offer despite understanding that
he’s a faulty individual. And by the end of the song, we’re confident
that Fatlip’s a good Dad. Just like this album: Fatlip has his faults,
his insecurities, but that’s what makes him human, and his admission
of this, and struggle to make good of it, is what makes this album so

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