Phat Kat: The Upside of Anger

Considering that he’s built like a fullback, it’s only fitting that Phat Kat was the co-founder of a group named 1st Down. Long before the legion of hipsters bought their “Dilla Changed My Life” t-shirts, Kat and a virtually unknown Jay Dee teamed up to become the first Hip-Hop act from Detroit to secure a […]

Considering that he’s built like a fullback, it’s only fitting that Phat Kat was the co-founder of a group named 1st Down. Long before the legion of hipsters bought their “Dilla Changed My Life” t-shirts, Kat and a virtually unknown Jay Dee teamed up to become the first Hip-Hop act from Detroit to secure a major label deal.

Much like his football counterpart, Kat opened up a hole for acts like Eminem and Slum Village to bring critical acclaim and platinum plaques back to “The D.” He’s got the respect of his peers, he’s direct as a helmet-to-helmet hit, and he’s got enough exclusive Dilla tracks to keep releasing albums until the Lions make it back to the playoffs. Phat Kat drops his Carte Blanche album on April 24th, but we gave him the Carte Blanche to sound off on everything from his fallen comrades Dilla and Proof to his views on Detroit’s Hip-Hop scene. Pardon his French. Is it true that you got your first record deal with Pay Day after meeting Gang Starr in a record store?

Phat Kat: Yeah, that’s totally true. It was funny, man because they were on a promotional tour for Hard To Earn at the time. We just started talking and I was a friend of the lady who owned the store. She just put me on the spot like, “Oh, did you know he rhymes too?” I actually had a demo on me and I let them hear it. The rest is history. Was this during the time that you and Dilla were recording together as 1st Down?

Phat Kat: Yeah, the joint that they heard was our first one, “A Day Wit The Homiez.” That ended up getting us the single deal at Pay Day. Your big buzz came from an Okayplayer tour though…

Phat Kat: With that whole Okayplayer thing, it was like 50 cities. We were on tour for like three months. If you ever came to an Okayplayer show, you know that it was never really scripted. You never knew what to expect or who would be coming out next. It was a blessing for me to be out there and chop it up with the elite MCs and producers. It was a beautiful thing that they knew my music and they respected what I was doing. They gave me a lot of pointers as far as getting my point across and doing what I do. Some people stereotype Okayplayers as people in dashikis who burn incense. As more of gangster rapper, what kind of reception did you get?

Phat Kat: [Laughing] Yeah, it was a new audience from what I was used to. But, it opened up more fans to Phat Kat. It really just helped me perfect my technique for my stage shows. Considering what you and Dilla did for Detroit’s Hip-Hop scene, what are your thoughts on everyone jumping on the Dilla bandwagon after he’s passed away?

Phat Kat: It’s funny to me man…[laughing] it’s comedy to me. Everybody wanna jump on the bandwagon saying, “Dilla was this and Dilla was that.” My whole thing is, why motherf**kers didn’t say that when he was here? I’m quite sure he would’ve loved to hear it. I think that sentiment really comes through when you and House Shoes address the issue on “True Story 2.”

Phat Kat: Yeah, Detroit is one of the funniest places on the planet when it comes to supporting their own. Detroit would rather bandwagon everything else outside of the city…it’s funny. I can say that a year ago it wasn’t like this. A while back when people mentioned Michigan the only names that came up were MC Breed and Esham. How do you feel about the evolution of Hip-Hop in Michigan?

Phat Kat: Cats was always doing their thing, but you had people like Esham and Breed who were more in the limelight. We’ve always been doing Hip-Hop here in the city. True. You named this album Carte Blanche, which is French for blank document or having full discretionary power. You’ve been independent for a while and you’ve never seemed like one to bite your tongue, so who or what has given you carte blanche on this LP?

Phat Kat: With The Undeniable, I didn’t really have creative control over the music that I wanted to do. I have a lot more control on this album. Really? You did a good job of hiding it. How did you lack control?

Phat Kat: There were songs on The Undeniable that I didn’t even want to record. You know what I mean? Was that the reasoning behind releasing two versions?

Phat Kat: Exactly. With this Carte Blanche project I was in charge of the whole process—from arranging, beat selection, artist features right on down to the album cover…everything. I had carte blanche on all things. Your flow definitely has a distinct “in your face” type feel, that may not be the most marketable these days. How much does that play into you touring so much overseas?

Phat Kat: Oh my goodness, man. It’s a totally different world over there. A mainstream only artist wouldn’t have a chance over there because people in Europe are more into the music than we are. It’s so watered down and fabricated to the point that motherf**kers don’t even know what’s real anymore. In Europe, it’s like the golden era. Cats like myself can go over there and eat, live good and still make a lot of money making the music that we wanna make. The fan base over there has open arms for the music that I make. Now that sales in the U.S. are way down and people aren’t going multi-platinum anymore, do you see the focus shifting back to the music?

Phat Kat: That’s kinda funny. Do you really think cats was doing those kinds of numbers without somebody boosting those numbers up? It’s all politics and bulls**t to me. It’s funny though, because a lot of those cats that were doing numbers like that are not going to be able to survive. It’s getting back to the music and the lyricism and a lot of cats don’t have that. They just have the camouflage—the chains, the cars, rims and a $100,000 video. All that stuff was a fad, and now it’s getting back to the true essence of Hip-Hop. A lot of motherf**kers don’t even know what Hip-Hop is, so it’s gonna be a lot of motherf**kers drowning. Hip-Hop has a weird relationship with money and Corporate America. You’re a fan of Polo gear, but on “Game Time” you also say, “Independent got dollars and chips so you can keep your sponsorships/I’m a monster with this.

Phat Kat: Exactly. Suppose Ralph Lauren’s people called you with a check ready? How do you balance shouting out your favorite brand as opposed to getting paid to represent a company?

Phat Kat: Oh my goodness, I’m taking that bread. I’ma take that bread! When I say, “Keep your sponsorships/I’m a monster with this,” I mean that I’m never trying to go the major route again. People get it twisted because that’s a trap. How so?

Phat Kat: Because you sign those big deals and you start off in the hole. All you gotta do is sell 20,000 to 30,000 records independently and you’re good. That’s $300,000 that you’ve made yourself. A lot of major label artists don’t and won’t ever see that kind of money. All they get is the starter kit—a couple chains, rings and a car. If that s**t don’t sell, you gotta go back to your mama’s basement. I’m done trying to that route. I think people need to know that it’s all smoke and mirrors when it comes to these major labels; it’s all bulls**t. In line with being independent, have you had any contact with your current label-mate A.G.—especially since both of you started out on Pay Day?

Phat Kat: Yeah, man A.G. is a good dude. I actually met A.G. at a show in London where the whole D.I.T.C. crew had a show. It was like a big ass festival, and we chopped it up back then. It was just ironic that we met up again during the whole Look Records thing. It comes full circle and it’s a beautiful thing. A.G.’s got an album out too [Get Dirty Radio] so we’re starting to get heard. We’re starting to bring that balance back, because it has to be bad in order for motherf**kers to know what’s good. I want to switch it up and get your thoughts on people’s perception of Detroit. A lot of people have seen 8 Mile, but they don’t know about The Errol Flynn’s or going to Cabaret and things of that nature.

Phat Kat: [Laughing] Okay, you want my opinion on Detroit as a whole? Yeah, because a lot of people see one thing through movies or TV, but we get a different view from artists like yourself and Slum Village.

Phat Kat: That’s crazy because a lot of people do think about 8 Mile when they think of Detroit. If you come to Detroit you’ll see that Eight Mile [Road] is the borderline that separates Detroit from the suburbs. It’s a bit wild, and people don’t talk about it as sunny, but Detroit is a Black city. A lot of people wouldn’t know that. All they know about is the crime and the violence, but we’ve got a real strong musical culture here that goes all the way back to Motown. There’s still real soul music that’s being made here and I’m just glad to be a part of that. You talk a lot about that on the “True Story” series from your album and also Dirty District 2. Do you have any favorite memories from the days of St. Andrews and The Hip-Hop Shop?

Phat Kat: Every Saturday it was like some gladiator s**t poppin’ off. We were at the Hip-Hop Shop, and Proof was the host. It was just a place where all the elite MCs would come and sharpen their swords at. It was a beautiful thing ‘cause you had La Peace, Elzhi, Proof, Dilla, Slum, everybody. Everybody was all cool. No doubt. Well, we have some time to have a little fun. I know you’re a big football fan and the Lions have the number two pick in the draft. Do you have any recommendations for Matt Millen besides quitting his job?

Phat Kat: The recommendation I have for Matt Millen is work on that line. If the offensive line is not in tact then it’s not going to give the quarterback enough time to execute his plays. We need to fix the whole offensive line at the house, because if they don’t have that in order s**t ain’t gone be right. So you’re in favor of trading the pick?

Phat Kat: Yeah, we need some offensive linemen. True. How did you feel about Chris Webber coming back home?

Phat Kat: I feel real good about C-Webb coming back home. A lot of people wasn’t really understanding it, but I did. Chris Webber is a veteran and he’s playing his part. He goes out there and does a specific job.