Grammy-nominated, multi-platinum–selling artist, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Fat Joe pulls back the curtain on his larger-than-life persona in this gritty, intimate memoir about growing up in the South Bronx and finding his voice through music.
“An adrenaline rush . . . buckle up and lean back.”—Spin
Fat Joe is a hip-hop legend, but this is not a tale of celebrity; it is the story of Joseph Cartagena, a kid who came of age in the South Bronx during its darkest years of drugs, violence, and abandonment, and how he navigated that traumatizing landscape until he found—through art, friendship, luck, and will—a rocky path to a different life.
Joe is born into a sprawling Puerto Rican and Cuban family in the projects of the South Bronx. From infancy his life is threatened by violence, and by the time he starts middle school, he is faced with the grim choice that defined a generation: to become predator or prey. Soon Joe and his crew dominate the streets, but he finds his true love among the park jams where the Bronx’s wild energy takes musical form. His identity splits in two: a hustler roaming record stores, looking for beats; and a budding rapper whose violent rep rings in the streets. As Joe’s day-to-day life becomes more fraught with betrayal, addiction, and death, until he himself is shot and almost killed, he gravitates toward the music that gives him both a voice to tell the stories of his young life and the tools he needs to create a new one. The challenges never stop—but neither does Joe.
This memoir, written in Joe’s own intensely compelling voice, moves with the momentum of pulp fiction, but underneath the tragicomedy and riveting tales of the streets and the industry is a thought-provoking story about a generation of survivors raised in warlike conditions—the life-and-death choices they had to make, the friends they lost and mourned, and the glittering lives they created from the ruins.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Fat Joe doesn’t pull punches—not with his rhymes, and not with his raw, honest memoir. Born in 1970, Joseph Cartagena came up in a Bronx neighborhood full of drugs, violence, and the excitement of the burgeoning hip-hop movement. The rapper gives us plenty of tales about the early rap scene and his first forays into the record industry, where he crossed paths with the likes of Jay-Z and DJ Khaled. What really stuck with us were Joe’s recollections of the tough neighborhood that kept him inspired and the caring family that kept him grounded. With a storytelling flow that feels a bit like a song, the rapper makes it abundantly clear that he doesn’t take his good fortune for granted. The Book of Jose is clear-eyed about the struggles of urban life, but it proves that passion and talent can help lift anyone out of their circumstances.
Rapper Fat Joe debuts with an unflinching portrait of his rise to fame set against the backdrop of 1970s and '80s New York City. Joe recounts his youth in the South Bronx projects, where he grew from a rambunctious loudmouth into a ruthless gangster after being bullied by his street-savvy peers. "At the start of puberty," he writes, "I was way more concerned with getting revenge and levying brutality than the average boy." Joe and cowriter Reid detail the rapper and his peers' youthful criminal exploits—mainly drug dealing and violence—with the enthusiasm of a good boast track, then cut that slickness with genuine pathos, as when Joe reflects on the ravages of his drug game: "The disease, the violence, the incarceration: We didn't invent any of it. But it ripped us apart." Joe is a charismatic narrator who owns his faults even as he celebrates their spoils, chronicling the ups and downs of his lifestyle, including being shot when he was 17 and signing with his first record label in the early '90s. As well he makes clear his admiration for musical contemporaries Nas and Jay-Z, writing breathlessly about their talent and influence on his music. The narrative is largely unstructured, but that anarchic energy enhances the authenticity. This is a must-read for hip-hop fans.
I’ve been following Joe’s career since Jealous Ones Envy. I’ve seen him one year at a Puerto Rican Day parade many years ago. I’ve also had the privilege to see him perform on stage and shake hands with the icon.
This book is amazing. Thank you. And, thank you for being such a major role and influence in hip hop.
I read this whole book in Joe’s voice lol Thank you for sharing your life story. God bless you and your family🙏🏽
I met Fat Joe back in 98 when NORE was filming his N.O.R.E video. Joe is a real dude and was a down to earth guy. I really enjoyed the book.