Back in 2017, Fat Joe and Remy Ma’s album Plato O Plomo was one of the year’s biggest missed opportunities. Instead of building off their joint banger “All The Way Up,” the project languished and meandered. On Family Ties, his alleged final album, the Bronx legend teams up with his long-time collaborator Dre, of Cool & Dre fame.
The Terror Squad founder unites a hodgepodge of A-Team artists and occasionally experiments with form, hinting at a creative renaissance just as he’s shutting the door. Despite having a handful of mediocre tracks and lacking a career-closing statement, Family Ties manages to invoke nostalgia while also sounding fresh.
The first batch of songs are simple, refined bangers that center Joe and Dre’s talents. As a grand finale to a multi-decade career, the project kicks off with a song celebrating how far Joe has come. Over a menacing beat, the “Lean Back” rapper brags about his accomplishments: “Forgive me, I’m a milli from the projects/ Drip team, triple beam and the Pyrex.” Dre echoes his gusto with a verse boasting his street bonafides.
This energy carries over on “Been Thru” and “Heaven & Hell.” “Been Thru” is a slick and somber track where the two artists lament about their dynamic pasts. Dre plays around with Auto-Tune, giving his old school folklore a contemporary spin. And “Heaven & Hell” repurposes Wendy Rene’s hit “After Laughter” as a soulful backdrop to Joe and Dre trading bars oozing with nostalgia. Dre collapses the last few decades of Hip Hop history in the verse: “He talking yay all through the wire, this ain’t Kanye, you bitch/ This is strictly for my n*ggas, like 2Pac in this shit.”
An eclectic group of artists have RSVP’D yes to Joe’s retirement bash but unfortunately, some of their parting gifts aren’t of the highest quality. Ty Dolla $ign and Jeremih sleepwalk through the lethargic R&B song “Drive.” While Mary J. Blige does her best to muster out a hook on “Lord Above,” Eminem succumbs to his typical, late-career corniness. In a verse that could have benefited from serious editing, Slim Shady throws jabs at Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon and once again proves that he’s trying way too hard to be relevant.
Even if there is disappointing filler, Joe has a knack for bringing out the best from his guests. Remy Ma gives a charismatic performance on “Big Splash.” “YES,” featuring Cardi B and Puerto Rican rapper Anuel AA, is a fiery banger. And “Pullin,” featuring Lil Wayne, is refreshingly bizarre. Dre interpolates an iconic Weezy bar with a Marvin Gaye sample and Wayne sounds newly energized, flexing his skill for being both humorous and sinister.
Though Family Ties shows that Joe still has bravado, it relies way too heavily on the star power of its guests to carry it to the finish line. With so much talent in the mix, the project has more than a few gems —it’s just missing a grand finale banger that can do Joe’s career justice.