With a waistline as imposing as his street-rep for smashing liquor bottles over clubbers who get in his way, Fat Joe is clearly a man who is used to being catered to. Fittingly, All or Nothing, his latest release, is a silver platter of dense, stylish and almost satisfying rap melodies. Almost.

    For all of the luxury production work from young superstars Cool & Dre; the grimmest white boy studio-master in the game, Scott Storch; and future-hall-of-famer Just Blaze, Fat Joe still can’t let the beats do the heavy lifting. You’d think he’d learn from his past, considering that all of his major hits have come from his ability to shut up and let the melody and guest verses drag him around like a 300-lb terrier (“What’s Luv?,” “Lean Back”).

    But no, he does his best to scar “So Much More” and its Church-organ loops with Bad-Ass-Rap-101-level verses. His best line: “Make ya hair stand up like you ‘Growing Up Gotti’ ” gets lost in the shuffle of how much he misses Big Pun and how fucking awesome his own street buzz is.

    If you can tune out Joe for long enough, All or Nothing does have enough sprinting club-thumpers to fill a Jamaican relay team. “Get It Poppin’ ” seemingly ignores every single rap trend of the past four years (Crunk, Bollywood, etc.) and sticks with a reliable ratio of snares/kicks/handclaps/Nelly that make 2001 feel like it was 20 years ago. Just Blaze owns “Safe 2 Say (The Incredible)” and drives the linebacker-thick samples around the beat harder than a candy-painted Phantom.

    All this is fine and good, but damn if it doesn’t make you wish Jadakiss got his hands on this product. Or T.I. Hell, even Memphis “Coattails” Bleak might squeeze more out of this orchard of beats that Fat Joe.

    Even the softball of the moment, wailing on 50 Cent, evades Joe. In response to 50’s fish grease-hot “Piggy Bank,” Fat Joe makes the following observation on “My FoFo”: “Is it me or does ‘Candy Shop’ sound like ‘Magic Stick’ / In the video this nigga’s about to strip.”

        Wow, you know, I think it’s pretty much everyone who has listened to those two songs. But still, good try Joey.

    The instrumentals from All or Nothing are ripe for mix-tape hijacking and certainly boost the CV’s of Storch and Cool &Dre’s already soaring stars. But as it is right now, All or Nothing is best heard from a few rooms away where only the dirtiest of basslines and kinkiest of melodies are audible. 

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

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