QUOTED: The Closing of New York’s Fat Beats Store
by Couch Sessions
It’s been a few weeks since beloved underground hip-hop store, Fat Beats, closed it’s doors for the final time, throwing quite a send-off party while they were at it. The tiny store served as a home to record nerds, a hang out for now-legendary hip-hop DJs, and more than it’s share of in-store performances. We caught up with some of New York’s finest for their favorite memories:
2 memories out of thousands stick out from all my hours spent lurking at Fat Beats:
I remember coming in to the store in 1997 and having Max Glazer hip me to this weird looking cassette EP by a then unknown rapper named Marshall Mathers aka Eminem. Max told me it would be right up my alley, I was skeptical. I took it home and, after reading the Wax Poetics I copped that day, I put it in my cassette deck and knew that rap music would never be the same.
Another amazing moment at Fat Beats came when I introduced my partner in crime, Everlast, to Ill Bill in the store. They bonded instantly exchanging numbers and stayed in touch eventually creating La Coka Nostra. Bill recently told me that was the basis for them forming LCN more or less. This was only 3 years ago or so. I mentioned this because through out my life whatever I’m up to I always popped in the store to see Eclipse or Bill and check the pulse of what I really appreciate underground rap music.
I also discovered my Love for Sean Price there. I use to come and count how many 12 inches I had on the wall (my record was 4, I think). I went to Japan with Joe and Rich King a few times bringing Sadat X, The Brand Nubians, Pete Rock and my man DV alias Christ with us. One time, after a jaunt with Fat Beats in Japan, we were so in need of good weed that we got out promoters to change our flights back to the bay area where we were met at the airport by Casual (of Hiero fame) who had a ounce of greenery for us. We stayed over night, smoked out, and trucked the remainder back to NY with us. I use to spend a lot of time buying break re-issues there… as well as picking up what was new and dope. I put out a few unreleased white labels with the fellas as well.
All in all I spent a lot of time there and also at the store when it was on 9th street. It was a important part of the culture of hip-hop in NYC and I forged life long friendships with Eclipse, Max Glazer, Nasty Neil Santos,Q Unique and especially Ill Bill my brother from another. I will truly miss the energy the store put forth in to the world……
I don’t remember the first record I bought at Fat Beats, but I do remember doing a couple of in-stores at the shop back when I used to enter all the DJ battles. I was in a crew called the Allies and we all showed up with our stacks of vinyl marked with various stickers that helped us read the record like a clock and to jump to specific grooves when we did our routines. It was a bit surreal to perform in this store where I had seen footage of so many other classic in-stores in the pantheon of hip hop. I had a close relationship with Fat Beats because they were the distributor for my indie label Audio Research. My label also released what was called “battle records”, which are basically tools for DJs with a bunch samples and beats that lend themselves well to scratching and DJ tricks. For some reason there was a tradition of making silly album art for these records, which all had ridiculous titles. For one of these covers I dressed up as a then-teenage Lil Wayne with fake tattoos, wearing a bandana and boxer shorts with the Canadian flag on them. I remember going to the Fat Beats store and buying a copy of my own record (gotta support the economy!), and the cashier cracking up when she realized I was the bozo on the record.
I just thought of another Fat Beats memory, perhaps more in line with the spirit of the store. My brother Dave and I were visiting from Montreal – my brother was starting to be friends with Ill Bill from Non Phixion, who worked at the store and was a fan of Dave’s beats. Bill was usually rude to customers, but with us he was nice, I would even say protective. We bought some records and walked out to look for a cab. Bill look out the window and saw my brother try to hail one shyly from the sidewalk. He then ran down and said something like “you’ll never catch a cab like this in New York”, walked to the middle of the street and sure enough, got us safely in a yellow car. Fat Beats was our family.
Although there were many, my most memorable moment in Fat Beats has got to be meeting DJ Premier. Growing up listening to hip-hop and then getting into DJing when I did, Premier was this mythical figure. He was larger than life as a DJ and producer, so to be standing behind the turntables in Fat Beats and DJ Premier walks in and starts handing me records to play, and asking “what’s new?” completely blew my mind. But, Fat Beats was just that kind of place and all the people involved became some kind of weird extended hip-hop family, customers included. It was a great experience to meet so many people there over the years and then to DJ for the last day of the store in a line up that included Cipha Sounds (who worked in the store with me), A-Trak (who I met in the store when he was around 15?) and the legendary DJ Premier, was an unbelievable honor.
My favorite memory of Fat Beats was when Bobbito and I opened Footwork Illadelph in 97. We were looking for distributors to provide us with records for the store…Fat Beats stepped right up and gave us account immediately, due to their pre-exisiting relationship with Bobbito trough the NYC store, and their relationship with me as a loyal customer. Through that business interaction I got to know DJ Eclipse, Nasty Neal, Joe, Ryan, Rich King and Ahmir Abdullah. These guys collectively changed the face of independent hip hop by staying as relevant as they have through all the bastardization and commercialization of the music we all love. They also helped me get a better understanding of how record distribution works, and how they were always able to stay on the fragile wave, out in front of the pack, selling independent rap records to the retail marketplace through all the changes the marketplace has gone through over the years.
Fat Beats has been a rock in a storm of corny “me too” shops, and it’s just such a shame to have to watch the retail side of the company close like it is now. It hurts actually. I have benefited tremendously from my relationship with Fat Beats and the staff there. They have amplified my art as a DJ and a writer, fed my independent business acumen, and fortified my desire to be a successful entrepreneur. With all of that, my favorite memory of Fat Beats is the fact that I can say I spent well over 10 years having a personal and vital business relationship with them. The stories in between could fill up a novel to be honest. So… Thank you Fat Beats! We salute you for all you’ve done for all of us, especially providing us with incredible records, and being an essential watering hole for those of us who appreciate hip hop culture tot his very day. We collectively salute you all for your priceless contribution to independent hip hop, and we will continue to support your online efforts going forward. Salute!
First time I visited Fat Beats was in the summer of 95 when it was it was in a basement on 9th street. I was looking for the “Fathertime” 12 inch by Saukrates, a record that I couldn’t find anywhere and was getting heavy airplay on The Stretch Armstrong show. After that first visit, I would return regularly.
’95 to ’97 was a great era for independent hip hop. Stretch & Bobbito ruled hip-hop radio – Bob had started his label, Fondle Em, and would play his records on the show before Stretch got there. Rawkus was looking for a way to break into the music industry and hooked up with Company Flow and The Lyricist Lounge who were working with Mos Def and Talib Kweli. The art of turntablism and the crew The X-Men were on the rise (Fat Beats release their battle video documentary in ’96). There were a ton of independent releases that people were fiending to buy… and the only place you could find them was at Fat Beats.
One memory that stands out is going to the Fat Beats warehouse to pick up a check (for mixtapes) and meeting Big L after he had just released the Ebonics record. We’re both waiting in the conference room and started talking about sneakers He told me that he had a shoe coming out with Nike. I was shocked cuz Nike hadn’t did anything like that yet. As we continued to talk about it, he admitted that he was joking – fast foward twelve years and every sneaker company has collaborations with almost everybody in Hip Hop.
The first time Bobbito asked me to fill in for Stretch Armstrong on Hot 97, I went by Fat Beats the next day and Eclipse pulled me aside and said, in his understated way, “You sounded good last night”. Mind you, he didn’t say “Yo, you killed it!!!” or “Damn you got busy” or anything that enthusiastic, but it meant everything to me and I felt like I had received all the validation I needed as a DJ.
I think a lot of people don’t realize that by 1994-95, people who had grown up listening to rap in the 80’s were already quite unhappy with the state of the music. Remember, Common’s “I Used To Love Her” came out in 1994! In New York around this time, a whole community grew out of this state of dissatisfaction. People put records out on their own, threw shows and parties (like the Lyricist Lounge) and college radio was especially important as it was the ONLY place devoted Hip Hop fans could hear the music they liked. Fat Beats opened up at this crucial time and while stores like Beat Street and Rock and Soul carried some of the music coming out of this scene, Fat Beats had EVERYTHING. It was clearly being run by fans of the music and you could feel that right away. So it was certainly the home away from home for everyone involved with the underground in the 90’s.