WHY FAT BEATS MATTERS TO HIP-HOP
by DJ Kuttin Kandi
Fat Beats recently announced that they will be closing their legendary Fat Beats Record store in Los Angeles and New York City in early September (New York: Sept 4, Los Angeles: September 18th). Upon hearing this sad news many things came to mind, but first my emotions got the best of me. My heart stopped breathing and I felt as though I was going to choke. It was like the world suddenly ended. I felt like I lost a best friend and a big part of my identity. That’s simply because Fat Beats was truly like a best friend to me. But even more so, Fat Beats had much to do with my identity. Like many Hip-Hop heads I pride myself in stating the words of KRS One – “I AM Hip-Hop”. And like many true Hip-Hop heads know, Fat Beats IS Hip-Hop and Hip-Hop IS Fat Beats. So, it’s only natural when a Hip-Hop head like myself hears the news that the world famous Hip-Hop store is closing they know that it’s like losing a big chunk of Hip-Hop. Suddenly the words of “I AM Hip-Hop” can’t seem to ring true anymore when Fat Beats closes.
For those that are just now learning of what Fat Beats are I am saddened that you are just learning about Fat Beats now and that you won’t be witnessing the Fat Beats that many of us once knew and loved to heart. I will do the best that I can to give honor to the store that paved the way for all of us.
Fat Beats is a place for which many of us call “underground Hip-Hop” or “real Hip-Hop”. As much as many of us don’t like to divide Hip-Hop, the truth is the mainstream music industry creates those rifts where independent Hip-Hop just don’t get the opportunity to have mainstream airplay. The co-optation of Hip-Hop culture of big corporations many of which are record labels and etc. controlling and monopolizing mainstream airwaves, many of whom don’t know a lot about Hip-Hop history or culture, play a huge factor as to why many independent artists are never heard. So, many of those great legends in Hip-Hop and dope Hip-Hop top-notch-ill-lyricist who can actually rhyme, you might not ever get a chance to know about unless you went to Fat Beats or were part of that “underground Hip-Hop” scene in which Fat Beats played a huge role.
Before I even get into how Fat Beats played a huge role in Hip-Hop, let me start how it played a huge role in my life. Memories of Fat Beats are starting to play like a needle to the groove as I reminisce my earlier days in the scene. The year was 1995, and DJ Roli Rho and I walked throughout the Greenwich Village of New York City, looking for the record store we had heard about from other friends. The original store was located in a basement and if you were a regular passerby you probably would never notice it was there unless you were intentionally looking for the spot. The minute Roli and I walked in we were mesmerized. We knew we walked into a paradise of not just records, but pure, original, organic, and true Hip-Hop. That was the day we also met Joe Abajian aka DJ Jab, the owner of Fat Beats. When we left Fat Beats that day, Roli and I, like little kids who found a secret stash of candy, swore to each other to keep the place secret and to only show people who were worthy. I know, right? What the heck? Lol, why so secret? Well, quite honestly, we knew we found something so valuable. We knew it was a treasure we felt we had to keep safe. We had to protect Hip-Hop. Eventually, we couldn’t be that selfish. We knew we had to share it amongst folks and deepen the knowledge for others who were looking for really good music.
It was from that point on that my world changed. Through Fat Beats, I’ve met some of my greatest friends as well as some of my idols, inspirations and mentors. Fat Beats introduced me to a whole world of true Hip-Hop. They’ve introduced me to my crew the 5th Platoon. I probably would have never met my all-female-crew Anomolies had it not been for Fat Beats. So many moments, so many memories, so many people. People we all grew up together with in this culture Hip-Hop we loved so much… Arsonists, Non-Phixion, Stronghold, Percee P i’ll never forget you chillin there! I mean, i can’t name everybody, but we all were there. Visitors all over the world, comin through to the tiny spot that moved to upstairs ave of america’s. We moved on up! Fat Beats was the place to be, the place to go to find out all the underground Hip-hop events. It was the place where I met Gangstar, and had it not been for that moment of truth time Guru (rest in peace) and I might not have been longtime friends. Fat Beats had seen me grow as a DJ, has helped me to become a DJ. They sold my mixtapes. Then when I proved my skills, Fat Beats invited me on stage to perform with legends. One of them being in 1995, our very first Fifth Platoon show for Fat Beats Anniversary and for GrandMaster Roc Raida’s (rest in peace) birthday. That was the day I also made my debut. Fat Beats developed my name – Kuttin Kandi – could not have existed without Fat Beats. And right now, as I am 3000 miles away from Fat Beats NY, our 5th Platoon signed picture still hangs on their ceiling till Fat Beats closes.
Memories, so many of them. And I am sure it is not just me reminiscing….
Long before twitter, facebook, and blogging ever existed – people relied on fliers, word of mouth and real contact with people. Fat Beats was the place to find out all the upcoming Hip-Hop events, where’s the next open mic spot, who’s the next artist. You had to go to Fat Beats because there was going to be an MC Battle, a record release, a DJ Battle. You had to go to Fat Beats because they were going to tell you the newest artist. You knew they were going to be the first to play the artist before they blew up. You were going to see cats outside of Fat Beats selling you their CDs. There were going to be lines outside of Fat Beats. Tickets to the hottest Hip-Hop event were going to be sold at Fat Beats. They promoted our events. They pushed and moved our careers. They’ve seen us come up and make it. And they kept the buzz going. But most of all Fat Beats kept true to keeping vinyl alive. Even as I’m sure vinyl sales went down over the years and the rent on avenue on the america’s were going up, Fat Beats still kept trying to go on. I’m surprised it stood ground for this long, but then again I’m not that surprised because they knew how important the music and the culture was to all of us. And because Hip-Hop knew how important Fat Beats was to keeping true Hip-Hop alive.
So what does this mean for Hip-Hop? Well, the good news is that Fat Beats will still continue on with their website, retail and their wholesale distribution. Of course, on our ends will need to continue supporting Fat Beats. But while it’s a good thing that Fat Beats will continue online and etc, I am still saddened. Having a space for Hip-Hop heads to gravitate to is so important for the culture. Sure, I know we’ve got our open mic spots and other little spots. And i know we’ll survive this just as we survived when the Stretch and Bobbito show ended. Even recently good long-time friend dope ill battle MC Sara Kana from Grind Time reminded me and told me that, “We Are this Underground Hip-Hop”.
But this is big, at least this is big for me… having a record store may not be the full representation of Hip-Hop but it definitely plays a huge role in bringing us together.
Let’s bring this to the perspective of community.
Starbucks, and other coffee spots, a fairly known place, has been labeled a “third space”. “Third Space”, is a popularized coined term created by urban sociologist, Ray Oldenburg which is used to label spaces created by businesses that create an “anchor of community” to have conversation, dialogue and discussion. While I often enjoy a good latte once in a blue, hanging out starbucks will never be my “place to be” nor are folks from my community really chillin there. I don’t consider the “third space” of starbucks a place where I find a sense of community. And again, it’s not my community. Nor do I want it ever to be my community.
Fat Beats is that third space for me, and for many of us, particularly for us, people-of-color (and our allies) who love real Hip-Hop. Fat Beats is that independent store we love to support, because they support independent Hip-Hop artists. They support people-of-color. They support our communities. They support our history, our culture, our passion, our friends, our music. And I am sad, that we lost this third space. Where and when will we have that space again? A space where we can be truly who we are… where we can get down.. listen to what we love… and not conform to the mainstream status quo. Where will we have that space for us again?
While I love the fact that the internet has opened up doors, bridged some divides, and actually helps independent artists, it has also closed a few doors for us.
Again, don’t get me wrong, I still support newer technology. Serato has made things easier in my life, at the same time there is still a loss. Everything is so accessible to us now. We no longer have to dig in the crates and search for a record. It’s just with a stroke of a key that we can get that joint. You don’t even need to memorize the color of the label no more, because you just enter the title and the song comes up. Record shopping created relationships and friendships. Crate diggers know this, especially all of you who are true classic collectors. And I’m sure you all still do this in whatever record store still remains in your city. But losing Fat Beats is a sign for us to find ways to stay connected. It’s a sign for us to not lose ourselves completely to technology. We are losing human connection. While we connect with people, more than we can imagine, via the internet… we are still losing the human touch. We need to walk out the door, go to a record store, meet that lifelong friend who knows exactly how you feel when you put the needle to the groove. Listen to the music together at the record store. Nod your head. Bboy, Bgirl… cut it up… because it connects you to Hip-Hop. Hip-Hop connects you to your community. This is what Fat Beats taught us throughout the years.
Thank you for believing in me and thank you for supporting me all of these years. Thank you Joe and for all the staff throughout the years (DJ Boo, Lalena, Max Glazer, and so many others), especially the legendary DJ Eclipse for holding it down all these years. You will never be forgotten!
Thank you Fat Beats for a lifetime of memories, music, love, hope, independence, vinyl and true Hip-Hop.
DJ Kuttin Kandi
5th Platoon, Anomolies, Guerrilla Words, R.E.A.C.Hip-Hop
DJ, Poet, Writer, Activist
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