Remember when being a hip-hop producer meant spending endless time searching through stacks of vinyl, piecing together little snippets of music here and there until you had a unique track on your hands? Can you recall when being an MC—a respected one, anyway—meant you were saying something substantial? Yeah, most people don’t either. Luckily for us, Philly-based beatmaker/wordsmith Fatnice wants to remind everyone.
His two-week-old debut LP, It’s Nice to Meet You, is a meticulous affair that, in the best way possible, sounds straight out of the ‘90s. On “You Know the Name,” he goes over Jay Z’s white-hot ‘97 jam “Where I’m From” and gives the latter’s career-defining moment a serious run for its money. Mixing together his intelligent flow, jazz-inspired beats, a slew of classic samples, and of course, cuts, Fatnice’s whole record showcases an artist who not only has a deep respect and admiration for classic hip-hop, but, at 39 years young, someone who lived through it. “He has a real foundation in hip-hop,” says Mr. Sonny James, a longtime Fatnice collaborator who makes a guest appearance on “Each and Every Day.” “A lot of newer artists are influenced by people who just came out a few years ago, but not him. He’s genuine and traditional.”
We’ve already established he’s traditional, but calling Fatnice genuine may be the understatement of the year. After attending University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice, the native Chicagoan (real name: Derrick Jackson) became a middle school counselor and has since been promoted to the role of parent and community manager at Universal Vare Charter School in South Philadelphia. “My life is about working with kids,” he tells PW, “and making sure some of our disenfranchised kids have some of the same opportunities I had when I was their age.” Working with children also gives him an educated point of view on how many youth are impacted by hip-hop and the opposition his brand of music faces now against the Waka Flockas and Rick Rosses of the world.
Asked about the difficulties of going against the grain musically, Fatnice lights up. “It actually helps me,” he says animatedly. “As a counselor, I love a challenge, first and foremost. Any time I’m faced with a student or a parent—or anybody, for that matter—who feels that something is wack or it’s corny, and they don’t understand? That’s a teachable moment for me! That’s an open door to say, ‘Okay, I hear what you’re saying, I understand why you say that.’ I have to put myself in their shoes. As a child, you’re wrapped in your own little world, so it’s hard for new things to get in. So, that’s when I say, ‘Tell me why you think it’s corny.’ And once you get them to talking, and you start picking the little pieces apart, you’re able to say, ‘I understand that, but check this out.’ That opens the door for so much, man!”
That said, its obvious that this is bigger than music for Fatnice. In fact, putting kids onto seminal rap albums of the past, such as O.C.’s 1997 classic Jewelz, is just a small tool he uses for helping them in bigger ways. “I use music as a vehicle for therapy on a daily basis, not just for myself, but for people I work with,” he says. He’s succeeded in combining his work and his passion in a way that most people can only dream of, because, as he is quick to remind you, they not only go hand in hand, but are the same thing.
Neither his efforts nor his skills have gone unnoticed either. University of Chicago’s radio station, WHPK, recently aired It’s Nice to Meet You in its entirety to great hometown acclaim, and he has a plethora of LP orders from all over Europe. But ultimately, the most important accomplishment for Fatnice has been having the chance to affect listeners with his music. “People have mentioned to me that they haven’t heard anything like it in a while, and people have said it makes them feel good,” he says, sounding genuinely thrilled. “The same way I’m talking about how music was therapy to me, this has been therapy to them.”
PW's Music Issue 2014