KRS-One once talked about “bringing back that ol’ New York rap,” and that’s exactly what the Terror Squad intend to do with their sophomore LP, True Story. “We’re taking hip hop back to where it started,” says Joe, explaining the album’s sound, “We’re taking it back to the Bronx.” And though there is nothing throwback about the album, as it pushes the envelope of contemporary production, as far as attitude is concerned, Joe couldn’t be more right. Proud and defiant, yet calm cool and collected, Terror Squad represent exactly what makes hip hop so damn fresh.
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Terror Squad, the brainchild of veteran Latino Bronx rapper Fat Joe, began when Joe found his protégé and fallen superstar, Big Punisher in ’96. Together the two made platinum magic on Pun’s two classic albums, Capitol Punishment and Yeaah Baby!, and introduced the world to their BX-based crew, with their critically hailed, self-titled debut. Though Pun passed in 2000, as an unfortunate result of his obesity, Fat Joe has persevered against all odds both as a soloist, experiencing his greatest commercial success with his fourth album, ‘01’s Jealous Ones Still Envy, and as a leader, holding Terror Squad together in spite of haters and skeptics who predicted a collapse after Pun’s demise.
“In between every album people want to count me out,” says Joe, “but I’m not going no where and this new album is the proof.” In an exciting twist Fat Joe decided to add female battle rap champ Remy Ma (Pun’s personal talent find) and R&B singer and heart throb, Tony Sunshine to T.S.’s lineup of Prospect and Armageddon. “I feel like my squad is better than ever right now, as far as lyrics,” says Joe, “and I think that the addition of Remy and Tony really just gives us the diversity that we were missing last time.”
“When we started recording this record,” says Joe, “my goal was to find special beats, that sounded different from anything that we’ve ever done before, but that still have that hard NY shit that our fans have come to expect.” The result is undeniable. True Story has a lush musical landscape that at the same time recalls the greatness of Joe and Pun’s respective pinnacles as well as ushering a new and soulful feel to the squad. Songs like “New York State of Mind,” which features a brilliant sample of Billy Joel’s famous tune of the same name, and “Lean Back,” the infectious first single which caught fire at radio from the moment of it’s release, exemplify the LP’s ornate, but roots hip hop production.
Though all members shine on True Story, everyone in the crew agrees that the album is Remy’s in its essence. “I didn’t go into this trying to dominate the album,” the surprisingly gentle thug princess says, “but I’m honored that the guys feel like I did such a good job, because I really used all the energy and creativity that I’d been saving up when I recorded.” With the most verses on the LP, other than Joe, Remy Ma, a Bronx native who was discovered and recruited by Pun, has been waiting in the wings since 2000 when she signed to the now out-of-business Loud Records (and actually made an LP, which was sadly shelved). “I’m actually glad that things didn’t work out with that first album,” she says with a surprisingly upbeat tone “because I still had a lot of growing up to do, as an artist and a person, and now I’m finally ready.” Remy recently lit up New York this spring with her crushing defeat of another female rapper, Lady Luck, at a closed-door battle. “I still don’t think that beating her was that big a deal,” says the 23 year-old, “but ever since I did that, I’ve been hearing my name all over the place: on radio, in magazines.” Backed by her staring turn on the T.S. single, and negotiations with several interested major labels, Remy is sure to continue hearing her name all about town.
Adding a unique flavor to the album, which sets it apart from its predecessor, Tony Sunshine, who also recorded a shelved LP for Loud, also stands tall in the mix. “I’ve been singing basically as long as I can remember,” says the soft-spoken, thoughtful Sunshine, “but I really started out singing Latin music as a child, and it wasn’t until high school that I discovered Motown and Stevie Wonder, which was the music that’s become my passion.” And it’s that supple blend of Latin flavor and R&B soul that the 24 year-old BX native Sunshine lends to True Story. “For me it’s all about balance,” he says, “because people want to assume that because you sing you’re soft, so I didn’t want to live up to that, but at the same time, I knew I wanted to make something that the ladies could relate to.” Evidence of this balance can be found on Tony’s emotive solo song “Streets of New York”, as well as on the hilarious “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me” in which Tony actually rhymes while an off-key Fat Joe belts out the melody. In addition to lacing True Story, Tony Sunshine has also been putting the finishing touches on his Terror Squad/Epidemic Music/Jive solo album, which is produced by Miami heat-makers, Cool & Dre. “It’s so crazy for me right now, because I got the Terror Squad album bubbling at the same time that radio is starting to play my first single “Oh My God” with P. Diddy and Dirtbag.”
Not to be eclipsed by the newcomers Prospect and Armageddon both demonstrate new energy and a renewed approach on the new album. “I have nothing but trust for Joe,” says Prospect, “so I just keep workin’, yaknawmean? And I come through and play my part, just like on the first album, ‘cause I know my time is coming sooner or later.” And it is with that soldier-like attitude that Pros wrecks havoc on the mic throughout True Story, adding his sharp lyrical barbs wherever Joe felt they were needed. And Armageddon, who Fat Joe describes as “the deepest lyricist in the crew,” finds new life on the LP contributing not just rhymes this time, but also beats. “I been making beats for a couple of years now,” says ‘Geddy, as they affectionately call him, “but I really started taking it more serious recently, ‘cause I see it as another way to add on creatively.” Sticking strictly to samples, which suits Geddy’s no nonsense demeanor, he gives the LP it’s dark side, the Yin to the somewhat upbeat Yang provided by big name beatmakers like Scott Storch, Buckwild and Lord Finesse.
“This summer is gonna be known as the summer of T.S.,” Fat Joe proclaims, when asked what his goal for the LP is. “People don’t even know what’s gonna hit them when they hear this record. And this is just the beginning.” Indeed, after just over a decade in the game, slowly cultivating his loyal fanbase and growing his team, naturally, and at their own pace, Fat Joe is ready to begin anew, as both his team’s franchise player, coach and owner. And as unlikely as it sounds, Joe’s Bronx tale is no doubt, a True Story.
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