Our Record Label of the Week series allows our writers to connect with their audience in a different manner; instead of presenting a new song they enjoyed or showcasing an artist they saw live, they attempt to explain the relevance and powerful presence of an entire label. Whether it houses a plethora of genres, or sticks to a specific theme, this series aims to provide students with a glimpse backstage – at the men and women that devote their lives to offering us the music that we care so passionately about.
Instead of choosing a well known hip hop record label such as G.O.O.D Music, Roc-a-Fella, Def Jam, Desert Storm or Aftermath, I wanted to do my research and use this article to push a label that might not be so well known into the spotlight to hopefully promote some knowledge.
I first heard of Fat Beats Records when they signed the Hip-Hop boom bap crew Clear Soul Forces who I’d been following since they released ‘Get No Better’, a track featured on their album ‘Detroit Revolution(s)’. Searching through Fat Beats’ artist page, I was ashamedly stunned when I saw the talent they behind them; Masta Ace, Black Milk, Kool G Rap, Eternia and Moss. Digging deeper a little deeper, I realised that this is what Fat Beats are all about.
Being a predominantly underground record label, finding information on the label company was somewhat difficult; but surfing through Google and social media sites, I managed to pull together a portrait of what Fat Beats are about and their method of operation. Fat Beats began originally as a vinyl-only distributor out of New York, specializing in underground and indie Hip-Hop. Establishing distribution stores across the States, including one in Los Angeles, Fat Beats continued to promote new artists that they felt represented the Hip-Hop culture. Their ‘About’ section on their Facebook page contains one sentence: ‘Rap is something you do, Hip-Hop is something you live.’
DJ JS-1 of Rock Steady Crew explained that his love for the store and label comes from its support of new Hip-Hop artists that can’t be found anywhere else. Where most vinyl stores supply soul and funk for samples, they lack the presence of indie Hip-Hop. Established artists, such as Thirsten Howl the 3rd, mention that Fat Beats as a store was a driving factor in careers. Whilst no other stores would take their CDs, 100 copies would be sold a week through Fat Beats. The Los Angeles branch of Fat Beats began in 1994 by Joe Abajian, AKA DJ Jab. Jab studied Business in college, and sought to apply this to Fat Beats; applying customer service to a crowd that, at the time, would be shunned and harassed by security. The major records didn’t get pushed as much because they didn’t need to be, and Fat Beats instead pushed independents. Jab notes that the reason for the success of Fat Beats was its foundation and community. If it weren’t for the original elements supporting them, they wouldn’t have lasted long at all.
‘Being that your audience is my audience too, I wanted it to compare the Hip-Hop community to what it is today, how rap and gangster life and all things that aren’t Hip-Hop have kind of taken over Hip-Hop, and call it Hip-Hop. And to me it’s very similar to the faith. Like if you ask the bulk of America, they say they’re Christian, but they don’t practice any Christian beliefs or follow really any Christian ways. And just like with Hip-Hop everyone says they are hip hop, but don’t really do anything to participate in the Hip-Hop community, and they are really just kind of high-jacking the name, like what most of America has done to the faith.’ – DJ Jab (2011 interview)
In a 2006 interview Ethan Holben, Vice-President, mentioned that as an independent label, they’re fortunate enough to have a sales and distribution team and retail stores to push their records. They want to be able to have their staff to work with artists they like, as opposed to and environment at a major label where they might not like who they have signed.
In 2010, the Fat beats Records distribution store in New York closed down, ending what many considered to prolific era within Hip-Hop. However, although it has lost its distribution centers, Fat Beats Records continue support new underground Hip-Hop artists and the Hip-Hop culture as a whole.
Words: Kitan Ogunfeibo