To meet the lofty expectations of his debut album, Harlem’s A$AP Rocky called upon some of the biggest names in hip-hop to help on the project, from megastar rapper Drake to pop hit-maker Jim Jonsin. He also called upon Joey Fatts, a homeless 21-year-old who had been only making beats for a year.
It’s a telling anecdote of the talent level of the Long Beach MC, who, over a short period of time, has gone from being a gangbanger living out of his car to a rising young star in the game.
“I was just going through the motion of not being shit in life,” Joey told XXL on the phone. “Nobody wanted to give me beats and I wanted to rap, so I started making my own.”
Originally, the only thing Joey wanted to do was score touchdowns. At age 15, he moved from his mom’s house in the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach to play football, despite having nowhere to live in the city. He slept wherever he could—his friend’s garage, his girl’s house, the back of his ’86 Camaro—while chasing his dream of playing in college. Those aspirations went down the drain, however, when he started gangbanging with his friends. By the 12th grade, he had been arrested for robbery and was out of the sport completely.
It was his cousin, Vince Staples, an aspiring rapper, who then turned him on to music. Joey, despite having never rapped before, found that he had a knack for rhyming about the brutal happenings he saw in the streets everyday. He started writing rhymes and also making his own beats, constructing heavy slabs of sample-based trill music. He eventually gave a tape with three of his instrumentals to a friend, who happened to know A$AP Yams, the man behind the curtain that is A$AP Mob. Soon after, while sleeping on a cot in a garage, he got a call from Rocky, who wanted to use one of the beats for his upcoming debut, Long. Live. A$AP.
“He called me and told me I was his favorite producer,” Joey said. “I was desperate [at the time]. It was a surprise, definitely.”
That surprise led to “Jodye,” a murky bonus track off the album that served as a diss track toward Rocky’s former associate, SpaceGhostPurrp. Since its release, Joey has hired Yams as his manager, and his popularity has grown significantly through a string of singles, remixes and videos that showcase the now 22-year-old MC as a conscious street MC of sorts, who is as equally influenced by West Coast gangster music as he is J. Dilla. One of his most recent songs, “Karma,” acts as a perfect example of his ability, as it features Joey rhyming about the hardships that come with the hustle over a melodic, hard-hitting beat.
It’s uncertain where “Karma” and other songs he’s dropped will end up; he’s working on a mixtape called iLL Street Blues that will be due out in March. For the moment though, he’s focusing on helping Rocky with his upcoming instrumental project, flying back and forth from the East Coast. The trials and tribulations that got Joey here haven’t hardened him; instead, he’s just enjoying the moment.
“Everyone thinks I’m mean [cause of my music],” he said. “I’m the most outgoing, friendliest nigga you’ll meet in your life.”