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When the West Village record store Fat Beats closed its doors in 2010, the New York City hip-hop scene lost an iconic part of its landscape. But for the rapper/DJ/producer collective Brown Bag AllStars, the store’s demise smarted harder than most—they worked there. It’s a time in their lives the crew has now chosen to pay tribute to with the song “406,” named after Fat Beats’ address and included on their new LP Brown Label Part Two. In honor of the track, here’s the Brown Bag AllStars’ look back on their days tending shop, complete with favorite in-stores, famous customers, and the importance of the bathroom in the downstairs deli.
What do you remember about the first time you visited the Fat Beats store?
DeeJay Element: It was incredible and intimidating. I was afraid to check out new records from the DJs at the DJ booth because I thought they might clown on me if I requested to hear something that was played out or cliche. But it was really an amazing place for me, once I got over that.
How did you end up working in the store?
Koncept: Fat Beats was a place that I shopped at from the time that I was 11 years old. One day I was just going into the store to see what was new, to get some records, and when I walked in there was a cypher going on in the middle of the store. I just jumped in and started rapping and people were feeling it. It turned out that the beat that I was rapping to was by J57, who at the time went by a different name. We traded info and talked about working together on some music. After chilling a few times, and becoming tight, he spoke to DJ Eclipse and got me a job. It was an honor and a blessing to get a job and be a part of a place that I worshipped as a kid growing up. That place became our home.
Which album or single do you think you personally sold the most amount of copies of?
The Audible Doctor: Man, I have no idea… and I should definitely know because I was the buyer/manager for the store for years! I really tried to push anything that I thought was a good project that people were sleeping on; anything that wasn’t moving on its own that deserved a shot, I’d try to put people on to. Obviously the J Dilla, Madlib and DJ Premier records moved on their own but I always tried to push the underdogs.
Which artist put on the most memorable in-store?
J57: I started my career at Fat Beats in 2004 and was fortunate enough to be a part of many incredible in-store events, but the most important one to me took place in the spring of 2007—it was KRS-One. He spoke for two hours straight about his new book, The Bible Of Hip-Hop, which of course was great, but the reason this in-store was so important to me was that it was when I created the name Brown Bag AllStars. That stands out the most to me. Also, the DJ Muggs and GZA in-store in early 2005, too, because that’s how I met DJ Khalil and began building with him.
Did you get to serve any well-known hip-hop artists?
J57: Yes, Eminem. In 2009, Eminem stopped by with the Alchemist, Paul Rosenberg [his manager], Mr. Porter, and about five people from Shady Records on their way to his MTV VMA rehearsal. It was surreal meeting him and talking hip-hop with him for a bit. He bought Jay-Z’s Blueprint 3 and Raekwon’s Only Built for Cuban Linx 2 (both dropped that week), as well as a Thirstin Howl III DVD. Extremely good guy in general and great to talk old school hip-hop with.
What about the guys selling mixtapes outside of the store—part of the experience or an annoyance?
Soul Khan: Even though some took it as harassment, it became a part of the experience. Those rappers who were respectful were fine. The rare few who bothered our patrons ended up selling nothing anyway.
When Fat Beats closed, did you take home any memorabilia from the store?
E Holla: When J Dilla passed away in 2006, DJ Eclipse hand-made a poster in his memory to hang on the front door of the store. It stayed up until the very day Fat Beats closed. Eclipse gave Brown Bag the poster while some of the crew helped clear out the store the week after its closing. We’ve had it hanging up in Brown Bag Studio ever since.
Most importantly, what was the best thing to order from the deli downstairs?
Soul Khan: A plain bagel and cream cheese and a request to use the bathroom during the tragic period when Fat Beats’ toilet was out of order.
Brown Bag AllStars play Public Assembly with Nitty Scott MC, Sene, ScienZe, and DJ Wayne Ski on Thursday.