The other day, I was in the Cynic office listening to the 1992 release of Showbiz and AG’s Runaway Slave album. In case you did not know, Showbiz and AG are two heavy-hitting emcees from the legendary and yet little known Diggin’ In The Crates (D.I.T.C.) crew. Although never blessed with wild commercial success, the group earned critical acclaim from hardcore hip-hop heads. D.I.T.C. is probably best known for member emcee Big L’s delivery of fiery freestyles and ability to let brilliant rhymes and jokes roll off his tongue with the greatest of ease. One member of the old crew may have played the bench to a certain degree in the early nineties but has certainly stepped out into the limelight in the last few years. In a testament to the idea that practice makes perfect, D.I.T.C. rapper and Terror Squad crew front-man Fat Joe has stepped up his game over the years and has proven he should be considered in the upper echelon of the rap elite. 2004’s Terror Squad crew’s album featured “Lean Back,” one of the most rotated smash-hit singles of all time, but it was also packed with thoughtful verses, banging beats, and incredible rhymes. With a few blistering solo tracks, Fat Joe (a.k.a. The Don Cartagena, a.k.a. Joey Crack, a.k.a. Cook Coke Crack) set the bar extremely high as fans waited with anticipation for the release of his solo album. With the late summer release of Crack’s All or Nothing fans finally got what they were waiting for. It’s somewhat of an understatement to say that Joe went for the “All” rather than the “Nothing” when making the album. The beats are ridiculous, and the album contains a variety of hard rap tracks and more club-friendly bangers. But, unlike 50 Cent who prostitutes himself for a club hit, Joe maintains his integrity as an artist and simply makes good music. Even Joe’s club tracks are more street than most rappers’ entire albums. Joe’s veteran status in the rap game is evident on All or Nothing. Listeners with a discerning ear will notice references to Public Enemy’s Chuck D (“Once again it’s the incredible….”), KRS-One (“Listen to my 9MM go `BANG!'”) and himself when he borrows one of his own verses for the hook on “Temptation.” On “Temptation” Joe also pays homage to the late-great Notorious B.I.G.’s classic concept track “Warning” from the Ready to Die album. Like Big, Joe brings phone conversations and dialogue into his rhymes as he brilliantly delivers a plot-twisting story of Bronx-style street politics. Another standout track is “Does Anybody Know” in which, over a fierce beat with an interesting mix of a heavy bassline, delicate piano playing, and subdued electric guitar riffs, Joe urgently delivers verses about the stress of rising up in the game and loneliness of holding down the number one spot. Although Joe’s lyrics mesh perfectly with and match the emotional intensity of the beat, the best part of the song is how he plays with the sped up Kanye West style sample used for the hook and how he incorporates it into his rhymes. Joe raps “If I fall off who can I ask to help? Not a damn soul, my mind is out of control. […] And everyday somebody new s’posed to blast me. Changed my phone number got every body asking …” As Joe’s lyrics end, the hook kicks in to a woman’s voice urgently singing, “Does anybody know, know, know, how I could get in touch with Joe, Joe, Joe?” With All or Nothing, The Don Cartagena proves a lot. He shows that in addition to simply being a self-proclaimed heavy man he deserves the respect of being one of the rap game’s heavyweight emcees. To diehard rap fans he shows that after more than thirteen years in the industry, he maintained the momentum of the early nineties’ D.I.T.C. releases to build a successful solo career and a decade and a half later become one of the most well regarded rappers in the game. Look for All or Nothing at Pure Pop Records in downtown Burlington.