Detroit's Own Fatt Father Talks 'Veteran's Day,' His Brother's Loss + Growth From Pain [Interview]
Photo of Fatt Father, Marv Won, Obie Trice and Sammie provided by Fatt Father to Okayplayer.
The United States continually honors those who have served in the military with a few national holidays. For Shabazz Ford, better known in the hip-hop game as Fatt Father, Veteran's Day holds strong significance to him, but for slightly different reasons.
The word veteran signifies that the old adage is true: "What doesn’t kill you, really does make you stronger." Even the most painful experiences are an integral part of the journey. “Basically, Veteran's Day represents a veteran of life,” the Detroit rapper Fatt Father explained to us of his new album aptly named Veteran's Day. “Like when I listen back to the album, I feel like I was documenting a war.”
Each battle scar served as a reminder of how far he has come. This isn’t a “war” in the traditional sense. Veteran's Day paints a musical snapshot of Fatt Father’s war and struggle within himself to become the artist, man and father he is today. “At the end of the day, whether I’m making a song about hustlin', a song about my lady, a song about my children or whatever, I want people to be able to listen to it and say ‘Damn. he was being honest,'” he shared with Okayplayer. “Because it’s forever. So I make living room music. That’s what I like to say. The shit that knocks on your door. That real life music. “
Veteran's Day, which features appearances from Royce Da 5’9”, D12’s Kuniva and other fellow Detroit rappers, explores difficult subject matter such as growing up in an emotionally and physically abusive household, and the untimely and tragic death of Shabazz’s younger brother, Sam. “If really you listen to the album from beginning to end, it documents my growth and my battle,” he muses. “
Shabazz grew up in Detroit with his mother and two brothers, Sammie and Jerry. The oldest, Shabazz was forced at a young age to become the leading male role model he and his brothers never really had. “My father wasn’t necessarily around as much as he should have been,” he recollects. “I was kinda the guy my brothers looked to, and after a certain point when my mother did get out of the situation she was in [with an abusive husband], she looked to me for things that I didn’t know how to handle.” Shabazz found himself with many different roles in the household. Roles that he wasn’t entirely comfortable playing at first. “I had to feel my way through life,” he reflects. “But as you know, I grew up and I found my niche, which was music.”
Rockin' the lunch room at Denby High School, music became Shabazz’s salvation and escape from his problems at home. It was his way of venting. “It gave me an outlet,” he said. “Because without that, I would have been out on the streets hustlin', and doing what I needed to do in order to survive.”
In 2003, Shabazz’s younger brother Sam was killed. He was 19. “Although I had lost people over the years, that was the person that was close to me,” he shared, reflecting on his brother's memory. “That was my younger brother.” Sam’s tragic death served as a reminder for Shabazz of how short and precious life is.
“The night before my brother was shot, he came to my house and I was chillin upstairs,” Fatt Father recalled. “I was tired. So I just hollered down at him, ‘Bro, I’ll get at you tomorrow.’” But in this case, tomorrow never came. “The next phone call I got was, ‘Your brother just got shot.’”
One of Fatt Father’s last and favorite memories of Sam happened at a Christmas hip-hop show in Detroit. “I remember it was like me, Obie Trice, Big Proof, King Gordy, Miz Korona,” he recollected. “So my brother was like ‘Hey, man. Can you ask Obie Trice to take a picture with us? So me, Obie, Marv (Marv Won) and a few other people, we all took this picture. So when my brother gets a copy of the picture, he goes back to the hood the next day and he’s just making up all kind of stories,” he laughs. “Like supposedly Eminem was with us that night. And we all went to the strip club afterwards.” Fatt Father didn’t want to take his younger brother’s shine away, so he just smiled and nodded in agreement to support Sam’s account of the experience. “People would ask me, ‘Like for real?’ And I would just kinda nod my head like, ‘Yeah, that’s what he said.’”
Losing Sam has had a powerful impact not only on Shabazz’s personal life, but also on his music. “It increased how real and vivid I paint pictures with my rhymes,” he muses. “Like losing my brother. He died on my mother’s birthday. Like I said we take time for granted. And for him to pass on my mother’s birthday, it showed me that any day at any time any of us could be gone.” Fatt Father took the pain of that very tough, but very important lesson and poured it into his art. “That lesson alone helped me to put my purest feelings into my rhymes,” he cogitates. “Because you know, I’m not guaranteed to be here tomorrow.”
The album is produced entirely by Grammy-winning producer D.R.U.G.S Beats whose complex and emotion-filled beats tell a story even without Fatt Father’s lyrics. “If you totally take my lyrics off of the beat, off of the music, the music still tells a story,” Fatt told us. “And that’s what’s dope to me about D.R.U.G.S." In some instances during the recording process, D.R.U.G.S would play a beat for Fatt Father, and the beat would tell such a powerful story that it would help dictate what the song would be about. Like the song “Never Die,” featuring The Fat Killaz. “It’s a great song lyrics and all. But if you take the Fat Killaz off of it and you just play the beat, the beat sounds like somebody’s telling you a story about their successes and their failures,” Fatt Father explains. “And so when I heard the beat, the beat told me, ‘OK, this is what this song is about.’”
While Veteran's Day explores some of the pain in Fatt Father’s life, it also explores a lot of the joy. The song “K.A.M.M.H (Kids At My Mama’s House),” featuring Ro Spit, reflects the joys of fatherhood. Every time me and Ro get together we talk about our kids. Like my daughter signs up for every activity she possibly can. Clarinet, youth choir—you name it—she wants to be a safety [guard]. Everything she can [be]. Ballet, tap-dance, hip-hop,” he told us, laughing. “So you know, Ro kinda has the same situation because he has daughters. So, when I came up with the concept for 'KA.M.M.H,' I’m like, 'Man, Ro has to be on this.'”
Veteran's Day reminds us that Fatt Father is not only a veteran rap artist, but also a veteran of life. “I think I get life a little bit more now,” he mused. “I understand the gift that the Creator has given me. Music is a forever gift. If I can utilize my gift to tell people real things and probably help people through whatever they’re going through then I’m utilizing my gift in its purest form.”
Life hasn’t always been easy for Shabazz Ford. But no matter how difficult things got, his story has shaped the man, artist and father he is today. He wears his battle scars proudly not only as a rapper or as a veteran, but as a survivor. “No matter how ugly this concept or this content may be, the fact that I’m able to tell it to somebody shows them that I survived it.”
Listen to Veteran's Day below and be sure to support the artist by copping it here!
Layne Weiss is a Los Angeles-based author whose work has appeared in a number of publications including LA Weekly, Paper Mag, Wax Poetics and Mass Appeal. You can follow her (and us!) latest and greatest on Twitter @lawflylikepaper.