GET FAMILIAR: Fattie B (Belizbeha / Eye Oh You)
I have often called Fattie B "the elder statesman of Vermont hip hop" here, but perhaps that's unfair -- it makes it sound like he's John McCain or something. Nay. Fattie B is still putting in hard work, still doing his damn job, and he's as sharp as ever. (Possibly sharper.) He's an accomplished businessman who's still so into hip hop he actually geeks out about it. Regularly.
He's also still the same humble, self-depreciating dynamo that's been making friends and connections around the country & beyond. DJ, graphic artist, cultural sponge and perpetual momentum entrepreneur -- that's about half of his resume, too.
That all started with Belizbeha, a world-class trip hop outfit who will be reuniting for a huge celebration on Burlington's beautiful waterfront June 9th. Here we're talking 802 hip hop history, the meat grinder of the music business, and the current scene.
VTHH: It's 1990. You're dressed to impress, still coping with the shock of Compact Disc technology, and looking forward to Die Hard 2. What was your sense of a "hip hop scene" in Vermont then? Were people rapping onstage in Burlington?
Fattie B: The scene then was just starting to take off. I remember in '91 I was in an emcee contest at Club Metronome. I came in second to a guy/girl duo from St. Mike's. That was my first time on a stage (although I used to rhyme over instrumentals when I DJ'd at house parties prior to that in and around Burlington).
VTHH: How long had you been rapping when you made the connection with Belizbeha? Did you get on the mic by necessity or by accident?
Fattie B: I was at a party in '92 and was rapping on the mic when Jeremy Skaller (Belizbeha's keyboard player) heard me and invited me to a tryout for a new band he wanted to assemble. His vision was a combo of The Brand New Heavies, Digable Planets and Stevie Wonder-ish vibes. At that time, I was in a duo with my good friend Geoff Garrow (whose emcee name was G-Wiz) and we were called Da Numbskullz. We had 2 full albums that were mostly our rhymes on others instrumentals and were 75% about weed. Jeremy loved the back and forth Run-DMC style rhymes Geoff and I did, and the band was started.
I always loved hip-hop, even when I was young and lived in rural Bristol VT. My early years were shaped by KRS-One, Rakim, Heavy D, Big Daddy Kane, Run-DMC, Beastie Boys, MC Lyte. I wrote songs and recorded them in my parents basement and always wanted to prove myself. I took it as a challenge to make people see that a white kid could have flow and be seen as legit, not a stereotype or gimmick.
VTHH: What was it like laying down tracks for Charlie's Dream? Had you done recording sessions before that?
Fattie B: My only recording experience prior to Belizbeha was in makeshift studios in my (or some buddies') houses. When we did the sessions for Belizbeha's first album, it was so cool to lay multiple tracks and have an input in the sequencing and creative process. I also loved dropping in samples within the rhyme scheme. Often for that album, we would get drunk and go to bed just to wake up at 3:30-4 am so my voice was deeper and raspy.
I knew when we were recording that album that it was something special that would change my life's path. It was a universal sound that a wide spectrum of people loved. From a six year old kid to a 70 year old Granny, it wasn't like a lot of rap music coming out then - and that's what we wanted. A new, un-catagorizable genre and style.
VTHH: At what point did it all click for the band -- do you recall a point where everyone realized that Belizbeha was about to get very big and fast and weird?
Fattie B: Right after Charlie's Dream (the first album) came out, we started touring and the press was insane. Billboard magazine labelled us "the next big thing" and we had labels knocking. When we recorded the 2nd album (Void Where Inhibited) with Yoko Ono's producer Rob Stevens, it got out of hand. We began working with Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston publicist Susan Blonde, and that sent us into another stratosphere. We were the first unsigned band she ever worked with and we went from playing 300-400 person venues to doing 2500-5000 person gigs. We opened for Kool & the Gang at the House of Blues in LA when their music was seeing a comeback (due to it's use in movies at the time) and I got drunk that night with Ed McMahon and Peewee Herman. We were road warriors - playing over 200 shows a year for 6 straight years (in a time before cell phones, internet and Facebook).
PBS actually shot a documentary about us (one of the first music related reality shows) that never aired because we broke up right before we were going to get signed. I have the edit of it if you'd like watch it... it's hard for me to watch, honestly. Mainly because it's crazy that we begin it so hopeful and at the end we all are angry, beaten down and dejected.
VTHH: What was the spark that made the upcoming reunion show possible? Were you the catalyst for that?
Fattie B: When we got together 4 years ago and played at the Waterfront tent for the 2014 Jazz Festival, we came within a few hundred of setting the record for crowd size at that venue at a Discover Jazz event (2nd only to Jimmy Cliff). The entire band couldn't believe the energy that night from that huge crowd - in fact, it was the only show I ever played that I can honestly say I felt a physical "energy" from the crowd when it surged that "moved me backwards."
We all wanted to experience that energy once more, and when Discover Jazz asked us to come back and play again, we had to say yes. We had reunited and sold out 2 nights at the Rusty Nail in Stowe 2 years ago, but all of us wanted to play that Waterfront Tent again. And with Madaila and Dwight & Nicole on the bill too, we are hopeful to break the attendance record.
VTHH: In the past year, I've heard a number of people hoping that The Beat Biters would make a comeback -- any chance of that?
Fattie B: You know, I'd really love to... Konflik and I have been talking about doing a re-vamp of Eye Oh You (as a tribute to A-Dog) but kind of a live 'Beat Biters' type of off-shoot with just me, Konflik, a drummer and a stand up bass player. We are trying to find a funky, jazzy, hip-hop influenced stand up bass player, so send one our way if you know of any…
VTHH: How do you feel about where the 802 hip hop scene is at now?
Fattie B: I am a huge fan of Jarv. He is a talent that I believe will only keep getting better. I'd love to collab with him someday. And I need to check out 99 Neighbors...been hearing great things about those cats. I am also a giant fan of Learic (always have been) and a have a ton of respect for Mister Burns and his grind. That dude does not stop... reminds me of us Belizbeha when we first darted touring - just go out there and get heard. Also, tons of respect for Learic and my man Konflik, who will be rhyming with us at the show on June 9th. Oh, and Vader The Villin! He is from Vermont but now lives in NYC. He is killing it and I’m a huge fan of his music and graphic art.
VTHH: For awhile, you were the foremost A&R in the state, thanks to all your excellent local compilations. Do you have any advice for the enterprising young bucks trying to get local labels off the ground in 2018?
Fattie B: If you are going to make them, do them for the music, not to make any money off of them or to garner attention for yourself. Do one just to put shine on some of the talent that exists here - that's why I did the HOP series and the L-Burners comp. So much 'bedroom' talent now, there needs to be more venues to cop a package that's all-inclusive. And stop hating on others just because their style if different. If it's talented and well-made, it's still good.
BELIZBEHA REUINITES ON THE WATERFRONT SATURDAY, JUNE 9th - TICKETS AVAILABLE HERE. Cheers.