Wale’s Board Administration imprint slow-cooks its roster of rappers like brisket. Mixtapes are indiscernible from albums nowadays, but one flaw in the free .zip file model is that rampant digital droppings (bundled with YouTube channels and stand-alone files) blur an artist’s catalog into oblivion. Board releases are staggered, free, and blessed by Wale guest spots, and even with a spotty artistic track record, this has gone a long way toward making the Board one of the DMV’s most powerful rap hubs.
Antoine Williams, aka Fatz Da Big Fella, is the Board’s in-house big man—-and because of his mammoth grinder voice, you believe most of his iPhone-penned tall tales. He writes sensual fiction in his spare time and approaches his raps with the same unhinged swagger it takes to pen a novelette about high-powered D.C. attorneys and the women they balance.
The problem with his debut mixtape, Heart of a King, is that for now Fatz is balling on a budget. King is a Dat Piff freebie, but Fatz approaches his studio performances and songwriting like it’s the late ’90s and majors are sinking millions into Ma$e pet projects.
Also like the turf wars were settled long ago. This model has been standard debut fare since Jay-Z dressed up like a Dick Tracy villain on the first day of work and told everyone he was in charge, but I dig the sense of entitlement. In fact, Fatz should lose the unnecessary monikers and stick to the best persona he employs throughout, Fatz Sinatra, because it suits his charming mobster narratives most.
Like many rap releases, Heart of King overstays: Its 17 tracks could have been pruned to a more delectable bundle of 12. Local producers E-Major and BuBu contribute five block-ready, post-Lex Luger beats that provide a nice homefield advantage, and King does right by the Biggie/Rick Ross/Fat Joe/Scarface/side-scroller Super Nintendo boss lineage. “Money Talk” details $1,000 shoes, invokes the Oklahoma City Thunder and the time Michael Jordan took down the Utah Jazz while battling the flu, and its mission statement is best summed up by the line, “We done copped it all, sold it all, flipped it all.”
“Hotel 202” is all gambling and after-party vibes. The Wale feature, “Spill,” does what it needs to do. When he takes off the Gucci shades, Fatz shows he can delve into legitimately stirring street-poet stuff. “Situations” samples news bits about U Street drive-bys and Fatz recalls being a “young boy, bundles of dope” and being pressured by his family to sell cocaine.
On “Goal line,” a rap-as-athletics firestorm, and “Dumpin’,” a forced assault on nameless foes complete with stock-gun shots, the I-run-this-town handle works less well. But on the borderline-epic “Shells” (about bullet casings) and “Shirt Off” (an anthem-ready nod to bottles and bitches produced by Beat Billionaire, on loan from the Maybach Music Group) it’s all good. Even on the lesser tracks, Fatz dangles you from a tall balcony until the bass wins, and then he’s all like, “I finger fuck the trigger like it’s my woman” and you’re all like, “Word.”