Memoirs of Mental Health: Fat Joe

I’ve had Fat Joe’s new memoir, The Book of Jose, on my Audible wishlist for a while and I finally got around to giving it a listen. As a hip hop fan growing up in the 90s and early 00s, I’ve kept up with Fat Joe’s career. Prior to reading his story, I didn’t know much about his personal life but once I did, I knew I had to share about it on this series.

Trigger warning: This post will address Fat Joe’s experiences with domestic violence, trauma, bullying, crime, suicidal ideation, substance use, police brutality, and grief.

Mental Health Themes

Trauma

Trauma is unfortunately something Fat Joe encountered straight from the womb. Joe had a different father than his older siblings, as his mother’s husband had been incarcerated and she moved on to a new relationship (Joe’s father.) Shortly after Joe was born, the husband got out of jail and tried to kill the baby and his mother.

Other traumas include almost having his hand placed in a meat grinder by a drug kingpin who suspected that he stole a car. He also dealt with bullying in junior high; more specifically, he got jumped on a daily basis. This resulted in a lot of anger and Joe eventually became the bully.

His record label today is known as the Terror Squad; however, the name originated in his adolescence when he and his crew would pick fights, graffiti, rob people, and sell drugs. Fortunately for Fat Joe, he found rapping as a way out of a cycle that was certainly leading to jail or death… Though he eventually did some jail time and was shot at (and/or wounded) on numerous occasions.

Loss

Recurrent grief is an experience many can resonate with. In the memoir, Fat Joe shares stories of loss and how they impacted his mental health and sense of self. Most noteworthy was the loss of his best friend and fellow rapper, Big Pun.

He also shares about how his sister lost her life due to medical neglect during childbirth. I especially appreciate his transparency, as it’s truly a crisis how Black and Brown people (especially women) are disproportionately the victims of medical neglect and malpractice in the US!

Suicide and Depression

Rappers seldom speak on mental health and suicidal thinking, so I was impressed with Joe’s vulnerability with how he dealt with waves of depression throughout his life. Particularly heartbreaking, was the story of how he planned to end his life at 17 following a family dispute that shattered his sense of self (you’ll have to read the book for more on that story!)

Addiction

Fat Joe grew up in a family of addicts, so he decided at a young age to avoid the cycles he saw his loved ones tied up in. He became repulsed by cigarettes because his mom was heavily dependent on them, even after surviving throat cancer.

The family business revolved around gambling (in the time before state-run lotteries legitimized playing the numbers). His family worked for what were known as “numbers spots” but often gambled away their profits; thus, perpetuating the poverty cycle.

“My brother sold millions of dollars of drugs. It’s no coincidence he fell to addiction.”

The story of his brother’s addiction was particularly tragic, as he experienced cycles of rehab, lying, and stealing while in active addiction. His brother eventually went blind as a result of his drug use but eventually found lasting sobriety.

Other things I didn’t cover

  • Police harassment including being targeted, assaulted by, and taunted by the cops.
  • His traumatic reaction the one time he tried marijuana (a common experience I’m hearing about in my work as a therapist.)
  • Having a son with autism and down syndrome and dealing with the son’s mother, who abandoned the child because of these diagnoses.
  • The use of the term “nigga” within the Latinx communities in New York. I’ll withhold commentary, but I learned a lot about the related cultural dynamics.

Noteworthy Quotes

“Sometimes feelings hurt worse than bullets.”

“Chris had it all: money, respect, success, [and] beautiful children whom he loved dearly. So when he died and the police said that it was a suicide, it didn’t seem real. Mental health wasn’t a big topic in the hip hop community. Or [in the] Black and immigrant communities generally back then. And no one could fathom that Chris would take his own life. Guys like Chris just didn’t die like that. What hurt the most was that Chris had always been there for everybody and many of us felt like we failed him. We should’ve been there for him but few people were aware of how deep his depression had become.”

Conclusion

Though Fat Joe’s memoir covers some heavy (no pun intended) topics, I enjoyed listening to The Book of Jose on Audible and will definitely be giving it another listen soon (paid links.) Apart from getting his backstory, I appreciate his unique perspectives on the development of hip hop culture over the past few decades.

So if you like hip hop and stories of overcoming, I’d highly recommend!

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