There’s been a lot of reminiscing this past week about the closure of the Fat Beats stores in NY and LA.
The only thing I wanted to add was that I first started traveling to New York around 1996/7. Prior to that, I had barely visited it in during a cold ass winter in 1993 and before that, not since the ’70s. And seriously, there’s nothing like visiting New York in your 20s, especially as a hip-hop head. It was overwhelmingly and intimidating and inspiring all at once.
My shepherd back then was Ed Wong of Sandbox – a generous soul if ever there was one – who not only let me crash at his apt but would take me around to various record shops, including the original “basement” space of Fat Beats (where Bobbito’s Footwork eventually took over). All I really remember was that they had the new Fondle ‘Em joints and some surly guy working the counter (that seemed to be a requirement for staffing). It was tiny but you got the sense it wouldn’t always be that way, especially during that era where the indie hip-hop labels of the ’90s were just about to blow the fuck up.
I’d still visit FB on subsequent trips though I never really gelled to their new space up the street from W4th. Same goes for their LA store. I loved their original space, in Los Feliz, back when the Beat Junkies were pretty much running the spot and when they moved out to a godforsaken part of Melrose, I stopped going; wasn’t worth the hassle and more importantly, the vibe of the space just wasn’t the same.
But that was still a long time ago, back when Fat Beats still “mattered” as a retail space and I won’t bore people with the obvious chestnut about how digital media has changed everything blah blah blah. The graph from Hua’s piece that really stood out to me was this:
Mingling among the DJs, rappers, artists, promoters, writers and fans outside Fat Beats on Saturday afternoon, I felt like I was in the modern-day equivalent of one of those stories you hear about World War II soldiers stranded behind enemy lines, emerging from the woods years after the fact, unaware of the treaties and victory parades and Hiroshima. This was not the hip-hop that won. This was hip-hop that still viewed itself as a subculture, as opposition, as conscience; these were adherents to a philosophy about hip-hop that essentially has nothing to do with hip-hop nowadays, even if Eminem or Kanye once craved the store’s approval. Draped in vintage 90s tees and a frightening amount of Polo, they were drawn by an idea: this sense of accountability, this sense that hip-hop was a tradition that needed to be guarded.
And yeah, that moment feels really old. Not old-as-in-decrepit but old as in “a bygone, kind of wistful era,” back when I cared as much about “Competition Catch Speed Knots” as anything hitting the top of the charts.
Truth be told, I’d rather live in a world with a Fat Beats storefront out there, just to know that puffed chest, wary eyed hip-hop attitude was still alive and kicking even if only for a small sub-set of today’s rap fans (read: not the jerk crowd). We can always use people scrawling “independent as fuck” in the dead wax while ice-grill employers treat you as being lucky to even be let in the door. You can’t really know what it is to love a culture unless you’ve been humbled by it.