By Gili Malinsky
By Bob Ruggiero
By Hilary Hughes
By Peter Gerstenzang
By David R. Adler
By Devon Maloney
By Brian McManus
By Jessica Hopper
Fat Joe picked up his graffiti nom de plume, Joe Crack, because of sagging pants. But maybe since '80 hip-hop cred doesn't sell much, a couple of years back the Bronx rapper updated to Cook Coke Crack. The shrewd moniker move is an example of his deftness at keeping up with the rap times. After all, plumbers or aerosol artists don't push Bentleyswhich you'll know he does after listening to his sixth foray, All or Nothing.
A dozen years after debuting as the "project" of DITC (that's Diggin' in the Crates, home to post-golden age rap laureates including Lord Finesse and Showbiz & AG), Joe outlasted their relevance, at least to those who prefer their rap spoon-fed. He did it by throwing half of that no-airplay-getting, rap-purity bullcrap out of his Forrest Projects window. Sure, skills help: His Padawan Big Pun tempered the labyrinthine wordplay enough to make boricuas and morenas hum along and dance. Since Joe's vicarious, smooth road to retirement was cracked by Pun's passing, Joe has carried the Latino rapper torch. He's improved his once-elementary flow continuously enough to raise ghostwriter questions, while hip-pop-bopping with R. Kelly and Ashanti into the cusp of mainstream visibilitythough not to the extent of newfangled nemesis 50 Cent or pseudo retiree Jay-Z.
Joe knows the game, but when he enlists Nelly for a drivel hook on "Get It Poppin'," somewhere KRS-One just might be speechless. Cool & Dre anchor a chunk of the album's production, their sample-swiping signatures setting them up as hip-hop's Gamble & Huff. The tandem pushed Game's nouveau N.W.A. musings on "Hate It or Love It" but here they're trumped by DJ Khaled's brass blasts in "Beat Novacane" and Just Blaze's channeling of his inner Rick Rubin with the spastic metal guitar of "Safe 2 Say (The Incredible)." These allow Joe not to marinate in Miami (the album's recording locale), but to Bronx-bomb on the microphone.
Foolproof blueprints don't existask George Steinbrenner-and J. Lo's banal singing on rap records must be stopped. Machinating a stock CD of '05 rap commodity will keep marketing-outline drones content for a couple of months, but only at the cost of making enduring art.