If an MC’s place in the hip-hop game depended solely on keeping it real, Fatlip would be the one dating Beyoncï¿½. His long-awaited solo debut, TheLoneliest Punk, is a candid look at a life in shambles: He’s broke, he lives with his mother, and he borrows clothes from his siblings. While most Left Coast rappers of his caliber brag about drug deals, doin’ time, and fat chrome, the L.A.-based Fatlip eschews gangsta posturing altogether: “I’m sort of like a dweeb, but that don’t sell / I’ve never been shot or been to jail,” he raps on “Writers Block.” Besides, he’s got bigger problems than the police, namely child support and erectile dysfunction.
In the early 1990s, Fatlip’s future seemed somewhat more assured. He was the most eccentric member of the Pharcyde, an influential West Coast crew that met with solid crossover success, particularly on college campuses. Even after he was booted in ’97 for erratic behavior, solo success seemed a forgone conclusion. But a few years later, when a proper full-length hadn’t yet materialized, fans began to worry. The Spike Jonze-directed video for the rapper’s 2002 single “What’s Up Fatlip?” snowballed into a short documentary on his M.I.A. status (Watch the documentary!).
For Fatlip (real name: Derrick Stewart), the past ten years were mired in a fog of cocaine abuse, creative stagnancy, and the accidental courtship of transvestites, according to the documentary. But just before the album could have turned into Chinese Democracy, TheLoneliest Punk finally arrived, and, given its tortured history, it’s one of the most surprisingly vital hip-hop records of the year. Tracks like “Joe’s Turkey” and “Cook” are the immediate standouts, their lyrical candor matched only by the shamelessly old school beats. And even at his most self-effacing, Fatlip’s sense of humor and inventiveness shine through. When he claims, “I could’ve been a legend like B.I.G. and Pac, but I caught a bad case of writer’s block,” you’re almost inclined to believe him — and give him Beyoncï¿½’s digits.