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King Him: Fabolous Wants His Piece Of The Crown

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Fabolous on top of his BMW 850i

Now running with Roc Nation, Fab plans to extend his brand beyond music. Will consumers buy in?

Today, John “Fabolous” Jackson is in the middle of NYC’s East Village sitting pretty. He’s engulfed in a cocaine-white 1992 BMW 850i with blue and cream BBS rims that would make Rae and Ghost proud. Even prettier is the figurative King of New York crown atop his head.

Although the 35-year-old says he’s more than earned his spot, having survived the music industry’s crowded summers and harsh winters for 14 consecutive years, he no longer sees value in being regional royalty. Like his Bed Stuy big brother, he’s ready to be a business, man. So of course he signed with Roc Nation management.

Now with his latest and impressively ‘90’s-inspired album, Young OG, ready for a Christmas release, the man who went from killing Clue Tapes to Top 40 records is ready to turn his steady ship into a space ship.

How did your business relationship with Roc Nation manifest?

Lenny [santiago] was always my A&R on my Def Jam projects and I know Jay Brown from Elektra days. Even Jay-Z and Ty Ty, they’re all like family to me. But I got rid of my old management end of 2013 because I just felt like it was time to make a different move. It’s so long that you can just ride straight. You have to swerve a little bit. So [after we parted] I was trying to figure it out because I really wanted to build the brand, take it to another level. Roc came to me like we know what you do. We just want to build on what you do. I don’t just need management. I need someone who’s gonna come in and put some moves in place that will look bigger than last year.

Has the Roc affiliation affected the music?

Not really. They weren’t involved in the project. What I needed from them was to come in and make my music connect in areas where we haven’t connected before. Just make moves. My whole 2015 resolution is make moves. I’ve been in this game so long I have to make myself a stable brand Whether it’s my style or my lyrics, I need to brand it. You don’t last in this game this long by just trying to come up with a hit.

You’ve always had the backwards problem. Most artists get notoriety then try to find their hit.

Yeah somebody like Jay-Z can call up the three or four biggest music guys he knows and lock himself in for a few weeks to make an album, but he still has those business moves like the Samsung deal. That’s part of it now. Especially with how global hip-hop is now.

It’s clear that record labels don’t doesn’t have as much value today. It’s easier for artist to make a living independently. But you’ve always moved outside your label, never putting a ton of weight on your albums. Did you foresee the music business trend?

One thing I saw a while back was that labels are supportive but they always seemed driven by the release of the album and then you were left to carry your own legs of the album. Back in the days you’d be three singles in and your fourth single would be the Grammy single, the “We Are The World” kind of joint. [The label] would work your project. Then when the money shrunk it was all about getting this big first week. It was on you after that anyway. That’s why I got Roc Nation because I wanted to build my team outside of what the record label does. At these label meetings, we’re siting in there with my team, Roc Nation and Def Jam. So we’re attacking it like a three-headed dragon. I learned a lot of this from Clue and Duro.

"I remember reading a friend of mine, Jermaine Dupri, who said 'I like Fab’s raps but I can’t see him past two albums.' I was like Damn JD, you my boy. But I guess it was his honest opinion."

I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that you consistently make big records

Yeah but that’s another thing: Your album used to mainly be about your singles. When you have that so heavy on your mind it can [influence] your creative process. But I knew I had to make those records to be successful because I felt like every time I put out an album it was somebody waiting for it to not work anymore. I remember reading a friend of mine, Jermaine Dupri, who said “I like Fab’s raps but I can’t see him past two albums.” I was like Damn JD, you my boy. But I guess it was his honest opinion.


Fabolous sitting on a stoop in NY.You used the movie King of New York for your first visual. Was that a solely a salute to a classic flick, a statement on your rap status or both?

That’s one of my favorite movies, especially from that era. There’s a lot of classic gangster flicks in the 90’s. As far as where it comes into play is New York and him returning back to Frank White [after] coming home from jail back to the streets. So when we shot the trailer that was one of the scenes we shot to say we’re coming back with this project. With the whole King of NY play, there’s some symbolism with that because there’s always been a thing in the air about who’s the King of New York, whether it was Jay or Nas or Biggie. Even 50 Cent made claims. Now the moniker is so self-proclaimed and so used that there is no King. Jay is iconic, Diddy is one of the biggest moguls of our culture, but that title doesn’t mean as much anymore. I don’t know if that’s the influence of other regions or what because New York used to dictate what was hot.

"I’m not
King, but I am a King of New York because I’ve been here and pioneered and outlasted. Kings have their time and fall too...

Well that’s it. You guys are at the top but as a region we’ve slipped. So wearing the crown is like averaging 30 points on the Sixers.

Right. You did your numbers on a bum team. Now there are still Kings of New York. You can look at certain people and say, “that’s a King of New York.” So I wanted to make that known. I’m not the King, but I am a King of New York because I’ve been here and pioneered and outlasted. Kings have their time and fall too, but its great to still make music and be appreciated without ever having to compromise who I am.

Some artists make 12 millions dollars in a few years then fall off, when the key is to make a consistent couple million for 12 years. What’s your recipe for longevity and success?

It’s a little uncanny. There’s a lot of guys who couldn’t keep themselves from becoming stale. It’ hard to say what the recipe is because I could write a recipe and it may not work for you. Maybe it was a move that I made or some moves that I didn’t make. Like I had an offer from 50 to join G-Unit for my own record label, but I didn’t think that was the right move for me. I could’ve easily jumped on the bandwagon because this is when he was handing out deals to Mobb Deep and M.O.P. I’m just a guy that always looks towards the future.

You’ve often been criticized for not showing enough personality and now social media loves you. Specifically how do you plan to continue raising your brand?

With social media I give a little taste but I always want to keep a little mystique to myself. I don’t want people to look at me like I’m a social media personality. That’s the problem with reality TV. Once you go on reality TV that becomes your personality–you’re a reality star or whatever you’re acting like you are on TV.

What about Street Fam the label? Any plans to build a roster?

I definitely want to work with new artists more. What I’ve done through music, low key, is give a lot of new artists opportunity. Like those guys that help me do the mixtapes, I’m still rooted with them. So when it comes time for the real project like Young OG they get first dibs. I’m not gonna have them be with me for the tape then when it’s time to do an album say Ok let me go over here and get Pharell or Timbaland. I love to open the door for new talent.


Fabolous in the schoolyard with a box radio.From the music to your visual campaign, Young OG is inspired by the 90’s era. Is this album also Soul Tape inspired?

Actually, I was working on this project inside of Loso’s Way 2. The songs kind of helped create the project. They all sonically fit–either they’d have a 90’s vibe or an influence or a flip of an actual 90’s song. There was so much of that vibe that it kind of made me go there. Another thing with these albums is the sampling clearances almost take the fun out of it. There’s this song I did with Nicki Minaj…we did LL’s “Doin It” over but they didn’t clear the sample. Trey Songz was on the hook.

"There’s this song I did with Nicki Minaj…we did LL’s “Doin It” over but they didn’t clear the sample. Trey Songz was on the hook."

But that’s in house! That’s a Def Jam record.

It’s in-house but one person who’s involved with the song would not clear it. I listened to Cole’s album and at the end he went on a rant about people not clearing samples. I was like ‘Yeah Cole! Let’s go to the Supreme Court with this.” [Laughs] But can you imagine if I had to go through that with the Soul Tapes? It would take me seven months to just clear it and then I wouldn’t make a dime off of it.

You mentioned King of New York as one of your favorite movies from the 90’s. If that makes the Top 5, what’s the other four?

Juice, New Jack City, Boyz In The Hood and Menace To Society. If we go past the five, I gotta throw Carlito’s Way in there; Bronx Tale, Good Fellas. I love gangster movies that weren’t just gangster flicks, but had a story. That’s what I loved about Carlito’s Way. You saw that he had a love interest; you saw that he went home and lost a relative; you saw that he went to chop it up with his old boss; you saw he had a friend that fucked him over, then you saw how another friend fucked him and got him killed. Then after that dramatic shootout scene in Grand Central we thought he was on the train to paradise, but he wasn’t. Just crazy.

That’s how I feel about Blow. I hate what that ending does to me. And I know it’s coming, but it still messes me up every time.

Nothing hurt me more than when his moms turned him in at the house. I said “Oh my god!” The 90’s era was just a golden era for so much from music to fashion to movies.

I see you took the ‘90’s theme all the way there with the white BMW 850 purchase. Car is nuts.

Yeah it’s a ’92 model. I copped it in October. I knew I was coming into play with the 90’s thing so I wanted to come with it in full theme but organically. I didn’t even announce the project until after I had the car. That was a dream car because in that era you didn’t see anybody driving that who wasn’t making a lot of money. I remember going to Sunrise Cinema in Queens and seeing LL pull up in that. Now that’s some 90’s shit for you.

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