If you’re a real hip hop fan, you already know the name. Fat Beats is legendary, an internationally renowned hub of true hip hop culture. Until the closing of its last two storefronts in L.A. and New York in 2010, Fat Beats was the place to go to rifle through records, dig up underground shit, check out music by local artists, and catch live performances and parties.
Fat Beats began in a basement, selling records and shoes, and grew into a major independent company, operating as a record label, distributor, and retail sales agent with a worldwide client base. For the indie artist, getting your music into Fat Beats was the big shit on the block.
I used to drop in to the L.A. store from time to time. I bought any number of records and CD’s, mostly independent and underground stuff. This is where I picked up the CD of Necro instrumentals that would eventually distill into Necromancy. I left jewels with the counter for giveaways and left fliers on the flier rack.
They had a DVD rack with hella hip hop shit: documentaries, tabloid beef specials, instructional videos, sideshow videos, all that. If you’ve never seen a tabloid beef special, imagine those books by the checkout stand at the supermarket, the ones telling you the latest drama in the soap operas. It’s like that, but with a bunch of rappers. Sideshows are Bay Area style street parties that involve swinging and wrangling cars, dancing, and music; aspiring imitators please note, these parties are probably illegal no matter where you are. Proceed accordingly.
The dudes who ran the store used to come to the Grand Star on the regular. They were cool guys and they knew their shit. They also tipped for drinks, which is a prerequisite for a ninja bartender to consider you as cool peeps. They once put me on to a store party they were throwing on a saturday afternoon, with free beer and guest DJ’s. Sounded sweet to me, so I assembled a team and sallied forth.
A few attendees of this party were clearly not accustomed to the sight of me, the green and black, swilling beer through the fabric of my mask, looking fresh out of their videogame dreams. They feel embarrassment in my presence, but the vague threat of me being the crazy one in the room seems to keep them from turning hostile on me. Lips smack and whisper, but they leave me alone, and I successfully resist the urge indulge in my own merriment by fucking with them.
Fat Beats was on Melrose, along a stretch of city blocks packed with indy stores, boutiques, hipster joints, and various other trendy shit. I’ve never been one to drop bills on the latest stylish gear, but I like to contemplate such citygod artifacts, so I would wander through the different shops.
One of these shops had a counter display filled with hella mixtapes, including a lot by local artists. I picked up a few hot joints there and left a few jewels. There was a dude working there who was an MC, he gave a decent live show at the shop one weekend afternoon, performing cuts from a mixtape of Michael Jackson beats that he and his partner put together.
There was also a woman who worked there, she used to come into the Grand Star from time to time. She had a smile that I loved to see. She’s the one who told me when this stylish little shop closed down.
There were already plenty of empty storefronts there by the time my feet glided over Melrose. I picked up a couple of sweatshirts at one of many fashion spots that were on their way out of business, clearing their overpriced merchandise at desperate prices.
I knew in my heart that the clock was ticking for Fat Beats, and I think everybody else did, too. A gloom of decline hung over the place, unacknowledged but heavy in the air. This was a long way from the packed lines and warehouse clatter of Amoeba Records, also known as “the germ.”
I was there when Aron’s Records went down, and Stacks too. Vinyl spots are a dying breed. Fat Beats retreated to the online world, where it continues selling records around the world.
The reality is, most dedicated hip hop folks, like most people generally, are broke. They ain’t buying records like they used to, just ask the any of the (former) operators of the hundreds of music shops that have gone out of business in the last decade or so. The consumer age wears thin.
The golden age of record shops is over, forever.
DJ’s have gone digital, for reasons of price, convenience, and ease of use. Crate haulers carry a brave torch, but their numbers are dwindling. Will their skills remain in the world? Or will their signal die out, like the forgotten drums of an extinct culture?
The hip hop seed has flown and grown wide over the earth. Perhaps when the last watts are run through the last cable by the last humans to run it, there will still be party gods around to steal the current and use it to power the last two turntables.