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AIN’T MY VAULT: What You Gonna Do, Fat Rodney?


Rare Essence f/ Fat Rodney – “Lock It Freestyle

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from Live @ Black Hole 12/02/88 (PA Tape, 1988)

Every city has it’s underground rap legends, those unsung heroes who never broke nationally but are forever embedded deep into their city’s consciousness. Two decades before Wale became the city’s national rap poster boy, “Fat” Rodney Tyrone Martin was one of Washington DC’s eminent emcees locally. In just over a year of hopping on go-go stages throughout the city Fat Rodney’s tongue twisting style and charismatic performances earned him a rep as one of the city’s best freestylers. But that would be as far as Fat Rodney would go. On June 11th, 1989 he was tragically shot and killed outside of the Crystal Skate rink in Prince George’s County, MD. He was only 21 years old.

While his peers – DC Scorpio, Vinnie D, Stinky Dink, etc – would drop actual records to local and even some national acclaim, Rodney’s legacy remains limited to just a handful of freestyles on live PA recordings. (According to the Washington Post obituary, he had released or was about to record a song called “Busting Out”, but I’ve never actually seen or heard of a copy in my 8 years of looking for records and tapes in DC.) Well, that and an incredibly strong word of mouth. To hear old heads tell it, Rappin’ Rodney truly was the king of the go-go. If only for a brief period of time.

It’s been twenty years, to the day, since Rodney’s murder, and it seems like as good a time as any to put up this conversation with go-go legend and frequent Rodney collaborator Andre “Whiteboy” Johnson of Rare Essence. The interview was originally conducted May 30th, 2008 for a Fat Rodney feature that was intended for the DC issue of Stop Smiling magazine. That article had to be scrapped due to time constraints and my inability to track down anyone in Rodney’s family. (I’d still love to do something more in depth. If you were close to Rodney please feel free to drop me an email or leave a comment below.)

Noz: How did you guys first encounter Rodney?
Whiteboy: Rodney used to come and see the group play all the time, he was a regular patron.

How did he transition into performing?
Most go-go groups around here, especially back then, the way the we’d set up, we’d perform three or four nights a week and a lot of times the same people would come all three or four nights, so Rodney used to hang out with us a lot back then. And the more you come the more we get to know you and that’s when he told us “I do some rapping.” And then a couple of other guys from the neighborhood told us as well that he could freestyle rap. He would do a lot right off the top of his head, whatever he’s looking at he could rap about. So we would get him up there every now and then and he was already a big favorite in the neighborhood. He was already popular, but the fact that he was getting up there on stage and doing his rap thing and shouting people out, that just made him hugely popular here. He got a huge crowd response. From day one. He was rapping about stuff that was going on inside of the party and people that were inside of the party. He would incorporate some of their names into what he was doing. Everybody went crazy for him.

Were you surprised that he came out so talented at a young age?
We were pleasantly surprised when we first heard him rap. But all his friends used to tell us “man get Rodney up there, Rodney can rap.” I guess he was rapping in the neighborhood or rapping to them when they hang out together. When we first heard him he didn’t have anything prepared, he just started rapping off the top of his head, that is what was most impressive about him. It didn’t take him long, we would tell him “Rodney come on up and let’s do something.” He’d come right up there immediately and just start.

How frequently would he perform with you?
A lot of times it was two or three times a week. It got to the point that every night that he came out it was expected for him to get up there. People would ask Rodney “what time are you gonna get up there?” And he would say “whenever they call me up.” And of course we had to call him up [laughs]. Because there were people requesting him! “Bring Rodney up here!” We liked him too, we enjoyed his raps and his whole persona, his whole personality.

What do you remember about him personally?
Rodney was real cool. He was a very nice guy, always joking, always laughing. We used to call him our twenty minute rap star because any time we needed to fill twenty or thirty minutes in the set we could always depend on Rodney to come up there and do a couple of different raps over a couple of different beats.

Do you have any specific memories of hanging out with him?
We were playing at the Capital Center, it had to be about 12 or 15,000 people there and, of course, we had to bring up our twenty minute rap star. We had a song called “Lock It” in the early 90s and we had [our] verses, but Rodney would come up and do his own rap to “Lock It”. He came up and he did one particular rap and he did maybe about 16 bars and then he started actually locking it, there was a dance that went along with the song. All 15,000 people went crazy up in there. It was beautiful. People already knew him, but people that didn’t know him, they had to fall in love with him right there. That is the fondest memory that I had of him.

It’s interesting because his name always comes up when people around here talk about him but there’s so little information about him out there.
Yeah it is. I mean he wasn’t actually trying to be a rapper. I know he had talked about doing a record here and there. But Rodney, he just liked to come out and have fun, he liked to come out and be at the party.

I had read that he was going to put out a record, but it never materialized.
Yeah he had talked to us about that several times, but I got the sense that he was gonna get to it whenever he got it to it. It wasn’t a huge priority that he’d go into the studio and record an album. He was asking us “would y’all do the record with me?” and we were like “yeah, of course, what kind of question is that?” We told him whenever he was ready. The thing is, he operated on his time [laughs]. You couldn’t make him do anything. We told him, whenever you ready you just let us know and we’ll be there.

What do you think were the circumstances that lead to his murder?
I really don’t know much about that. I don’t know how it would happen because everybody was hugely popular. Of course, no matter how popular, somebody gonna be jealous of you. I don’t understand how, I don’t understand why, I know it was just a very sad thing. He brought a lot of joy to a lot of people. Now I didn’t hear about anything that he was into that might not have been in his best interest. Of course I wasn’t with him 24 hours a day, but whenever he came out to the party or I ran into him on the street he was always having a good time and people were always glad to see him. It’s very unfortunate.

How did the loss affect the go-go community?
We’ve lost a huge talent and part of being popular is your persona. When he walked into the room he lit the room up. There are a couple of other guys who had done it before, but I don’t think anybody [did] it to the extent that Rodney had done it. As so as he walked through the door, everybody was yelling his chant. “What you gonna do, Fat Rodney?!” So we lost a huge talent. And we lost a good friend because Rodney sat around with us for hours, just joking and talking and everything. DC lost a huge talent. Rodney was a great guy, personally. And he was a real good rapper, very observant. The fact that he’s rapping and he spots some girl in the crowd with a red shirt on, he’ll incorporate her into the rap. Spot the guy with the blue jacket on, he brings him into it. All of that is what made Rodney the legend that he is. It’s the reason you calling me now to even talk about him. All of that there helped to form Fat Rodney.

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17 Responses to “AIN’T MY VAULT: What You Gonna Do, Fat Rodney?”

  1. TMOTTMedia » Blog Archive » Remembering Fat Rodney… Says:

    [...] Click here for the full interview. [...]

  2. AIN’T MY VAULT: What You Gonna Do, Fat Rodney? « RapSide.nl ::..Stijl van de muziek..:: Says:

    [...] Originally posted here: AIN’T MY VAULT: What You Gonna Do, Fat Rodney? [...]

  3. mr. childs Says:

    nice drop…

  4. remo Says:

    actually if you find the feds magazine.with alpo on it. he was interviewed and said why rodney was killed….

  5. noz Says:

    “actually if you find the feds magazine.with alpo on it. he was interviewed and said why rodney was killed….”

    Well not exactly, he was pretty vague:

    “F: They said you killed Fat Rodney. Did you?
    No, although I came close to killing him. He started switching my coke and I started to get complaints. I went to New York, got my connect, and brought him to D.C. to cook it in their face. Later on, my connect told me that it wasn’t his coke.”

  6. T-sizzle Says:

    Rodney did actually release a single called “Bustin Out” which used a sample from Rick James song Bustin Out. I had it, but lost it in the shuffle. I remember the opening lyrics were..Stop drop and listen..it’s not about dissin..Im the new rapper that you know ya’ll be missin..Pump the volume to max because it’s new on wax..Emcees out there are about to get taxed!…

  7. Rodney Martin Says:

    Well I know alot about Fat Rodney or a least all the stories people tell me about my him. Fat Rodney is my father I know alot of people dont know my father got a son but those who live in D.C. know me especially my peers because Im well know in dc and i go by Fat Rodney. I found this article by just messing around on the computer by typing my father name in google like i always do and i seen that it was something new on here posted. If the person who wrote this article have any qestions you can feel free to contact me on my email adress(rodneymartinjr@yahoo.com, myspace(myspace.com/rotnot or facebook page(rodney martin). And i can also tell you a lil bit about myself im 19 years old was raised in a single parent home in paradise n.e washington dc i graudated out of high school with and 3.3 gpa and i also completed my first year of college. Even though i didnt have a strong realtionship with my father all my life he still was my motivation because my father is inside of me and i love it when people tell me all the diffrnt stories anbout my father, and as i type right now im feeling very sad but ima continue my father legacy i promise that because i made a choice i couldve pick the street thing but i took advantage at what i was good at because i know if my father was alive right now he would want me to do everything im doing. Love you dad

  8. Shug Says:

    Baby Mama Responding. I know alot about him and I also was lucky to have his son for him. Also I was there that night in 1989 at the crystal skate when he lost his life. Im going to keep it short and cute my name is Shirley Pugh AKA Shug born and raised in the district and grow up in paradise 30 years plus. Me and Rodney hung out was an idol for a minute and shortly after I became pregnant, then he was murded about a month later. I decided to keep my child despite he was not going to be present on this earth or in my life. I had a beatiful baby boy which i named Rodney Tyrone Martin, JR. I dont have an email adress but you can reach me on my son email adress rotnot217@yahoo.com or rodneymartinjr@yahoo.com

  9. SUNI Says:

    AS A YOUNG DUDE I WOULD SING ALL OF HIS LIL RAPS, I DON’T KNOW WHY HE WAS KILLED BUT IT WAS A BIG LOSS TO THE MUSIC. MANY OF OUR RAPPERS GET THEIR START IN GO-GO AND MAYBE IT HE WOULD HAVE SURVIVED THE GAME, DC WOULD NOT JUST BE GETTING INTO THE THIS RAP SHIT!
    WHAT YOU GOING TO DO FAT RODNEY!!!!!!

  10. Renee Says:

    Allegedly, 17 year old Anthony Stewart killed Fat Rodney. Anthony was then killed by Jeffrey Thomas 2 months after that on August 26 of 89. Anthony was shot 10 times, 6 in the back and 1 pierced his heart. Jeffrey Thomas testified that he witnessed Anthony kill 15 year old Mawall Robinson in Jan. of 89 and then Rodney in June of 89. Anthony was then after Jeffrey because he was a witness to the murders. Jeffrey Thomas testified that he was on the run for a while but decided to face it. Jeffrey saw Anthony driving down the street, Anthony stopped his car and started reaching for a gun so Jeffrey said he just started shooting Anthony and he was killed. I believe Jeffrey was aquitted and then tried again on lesser charges. ALL OF THIS INFORMATION CAN BE FOUND IN THE ARCHIVE SECTION OF THE WASHINGTON POST. SEARCH FROM 1986 UNTIL CURRENT. JUST PUT IN ANY OF THE ABOVE NAMES.

  11. The Historian Says:

    Excellent interview man. Very educational and the sound clip had me rocking the whole time I was reading. Thank you

  12. 7th street Mike Says:

    To all who loved rodney. Here is a clip of Rodney. Starting at 2:44

  13. 7th street Mike Says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTGwq6shhz4&feature=related

  14. Nerro Says:

    Here is another clip of Rodney & RE at the Aggiefest

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dl2y_Q8_r6Q

  15. @ PlayerR/ Heavy 1/ Mr ADC Nice lil Article on Fat Rodney Says:

    [...] [...]

  16. tdawg Says:

    http://s192.photobucket.com/albums/z120/djtdawg/Go-Go%20Vinyl/?action=view&current=CopyofFatRodney.jpg

  17. TMOTTGoGo Magazine » The Rare Essence Tree & Its Degrees of Separation (The Gospel According to Kato) Says:

    [...] RODNEY: “Fat” Rodney Tyrone Martin was one of Washington DC’s eminent emcees. In just over a year of hopping on the Rare Essence [...]

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