On the Scene: FatRat Da Czar is hip-hop’s big brother hungry for more

otaylorNovember 2, 2012 

On “A Czar is Born,” a song on FatRat Da Czar’s new mixtape, he raps that he’s the “Obi-Wan Kenobi to you young Skywalkers.”

It’s a statement loaded with meaning. And it’s true.

FatRat, the calculatingly baleful MC, has become a mentor to the younger generation of Columbia hip-hop.

“The best way I can describe it is like a basketball team,” FatRat began. “You got these really talented athletes. And yet they hold on to the 15-year veteran. He’s the core of the team. He might not start and he might not play as much. But they recognize his value at the end of the game and in the playoffs.”

One of many rappers who sought out FatRat’s guidance was Ben G, the catalyst of the B-FAM movement.

“He actually ran up on me at Jillian’s and said, ‘I got a show next week. I want you to come,’” FatRat recalled. “What I saw was myself, from the aspect of a hungry MC that was taking time with his craft. When I saw him, I saw that hunger I had 10 years ago.

“I appreciate his spirit because that’s what’s going to take his crew a little bit further.”

FatRat, an imposing figure with long dreads, is still hungry. The next mixtape, “Da Cold War 3,” is the culmination of the trilogy that put FatRat’s gritty storytelling at the forefront of South Carolina hip-hop. It will be released on Election Day.

FatRat, who opened for Killer Mike and the Wu-Tang Clan’s Gza last weekend at the Music Farm in Charleston, has more on his plate these days than rapping. He runs The Boom Room, a hip-hop extension of the Jam Room, the Rosewood Drive recording studio.

The 35-year-old rapper, producer and now mentor will perform at 10:40 p.m. Saturday at Kelly’s as part of the Free Times Music Crawl. The following is an edited conversation that covered topics such as music, brand building, politics and even a bit of fashion.

The first “Cold War” was released in 2008. What has changed in four years?

Personally, I’m four years older. My position in the Columbia hip-hop scene, it’s changed a tad. I’ve turned into the big brother of hip-hop around here, which I particularly don’t mind. I’ve had fun and taken pride in that position.

MCs haven’t had that around here before.

We didn’t have that when we were coming up. It hasn’t been anybody in town. There was nobody in the studio that we could go to. That’s part of what it takes to make a scene.

Is this third installment the end?

It is. We did what I wanted to do. We went from Streetside to (a rapper) stepping out on his own to making a name for (himself) within the state and the region. I don’t think there is any doubt about FatRat Da Czar’s music. Hip-hop music in South Carolina is in a great place. I think I did my job.

With “Da Cold War” series, you set a bar for marketing and branding. Is that something you’re willing to share with young rappers?

I’ve been finding some really good artists. Talent, it opens the door, but it’s peanuts compared to getting somebody where they need to go. That’s the purpose of the O.G. being around. They keep me alive and I know that. It’s not us against them. It’s me being able to show them as much as I can show them. We can definitely help them speed up that trial and error process.

Is “Da Cold War 3” more of an album than a mixtape? It doesn’t feel like a mixtape. With that said, do most of your projects feel like albums?

It’s put together like an album. The only difference with this one is that Shekeese (FatRat’s DJ) is not blending the records together. (The albums) have themes. That’s why most people consider “Da Cold War” series albums. I still have yet to put out a debut a album, if a debut album comes.

With the trilogy complete, you’ve left your stamp of South Carolina hip-hop. Really, you could step off into another facet of your music career and just do features on other people’s albums?

I think 2013 will determine which way I go. I can definitely say 2013, there’s some artists I’m focusing on to get their stock up. Everything is going to be for the benefit of the culture. 2013 should be very interesting.

Getting back to the album, on “Streetside 4 Life,” the song’s intro includes a sample of a local news report on Wet Willie’s canceling on the Free Times Music Crawl last year because of the musical content of the performers, including yourself. Are you still upset by that episode?

FatRat Da Czar is a professional. At the end of the day, if it’s not going to increase my wealth as a human, and my life in general, I don’t have a response. There’s a medium I have to speak about these things and that’s my music. We represented for the streets for years and I continue to do so. It’s just a way to approach it.

Streetside Records was the crew you came up with. How does it feel to be to still be doing this, but solo?

Everybody is in full support of me. And that’s probably the best feeling. That makes me feel I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. A lot of times when groups don’t put out music together, there’s a lot of friction.

Your position in South Carolina hip-hop is solidified. As you get older, do you want to move away from the street vibe since you already have your stripes. Songs such as “With You in Mind” show a different, warmer side of your persona.

You know, I’m getting older. I’ve lived a little. I’ve seen a few things. Songs are photographs to me. Every picture is not the same. I just try to take snapshots. Songs like “Scarlet Letter,” which is about infidelity...it’s therapeutic for me. Nobody knows how I feel about these things because I don’t discuss them. The music has always been my best friend.

The election ads you released on Facebook are hilarious, particularly the one with you in the suit? I had to re-watch the video to listen to the words. Why Election Day for the release?

I’m not sure if we knew that the date was Election Day at first. The date was set back in the summer. At the point that I realized it, you gotta be crafty when it comes to the approach of promoting yourself. There are so many sides of FatRat that people don’t know. They don’t see my joking side. What better way than to slap on a suit with a tight necktie?

Hip-hop is a genre that is built on credibility and trustworthiness, qualities that are also touted — or debunked — in an election year. But then there are rappers like Rick Ross, who will perform Nov. 13 at the Colonial Life Arena, who have been outed for lying about their pasts. Does that matter any more?

I don’t really try to figure out what everybody else means to hip-hop. I’m sure there are elements to Rick Ross’ style, delivery and content that are attractive to fans. He’s a lucrative entity. When you come from the hustle, you kind of respect that on that level. I think that he moves people with music.

I’ve come to expect words of wisdom from you in our conversations, so I’ll ask, what is hip-hop’s beef with skinny jeans?

I don’t know if they are beefing with skinny jeans.

OK then, what’s yours?

It does distinguish the era that I come from. I’m not from the swag, pill-popping era. We’ll connect on several different levels, just not on that level.

Talk about the concept behind The Boom Room, your partnership with The Jam Room. What are you establishing?

The Jam Room is always going to be a central location for musicians and artists in this town. Me and (Jam Room owner) Jay (Matheson) talked last year — I think it was at the Free Times Best Of party — and him telling me he was thinking about opening up a space that didn’t really need the live band aspect. It’s obviously a really good move. Not only for me, but for hip-hop. Hip-hop needs a studio. I’m happy that whatever I’ve done in my career to push someone like Jay Matheson to make that kind of commitment to the culture.

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