"Joe Crack the Don — Irv Gotti."
In case you didn't know, that tag line at the beginning of Fat Joe's monster hit, "What's Luv?" references the Bronx rapper and Murder Inc. exec Irv Gotti. He was the Dominican-American producer from Queens who seemed to have the Midas touch in the early '00s, making bona fide pop stars out of acts such as Ja Rule and Ashanti, and to a lesser extent Christina Milian.
However, barely halfway through the decade, Gotti's career went down the drain after he and his brother Christopher were charged with money laundering. Even though they were eventually acquitted, the damage was done to the brand. Plus, the rise of rappers such as Kanye West and the release of Jay-Z's The Black Album signified the public was ready to move on from pop-influenced productions to something with more substance.
But Murder Inc.'s flash-in-the-pan rise to the top of the charts is worth another look. Gotti's musical climax is still the unforgettable "What's Luv?" which saw Terror Squad leader Fat Joe pair up with Murder's R&B princess, Ashanti.
Released at the end of 2001, the song borrows heavily from Tina Turner's "What's Love Got to Do With It" (songwriters Terry Britten and Graham Lyle also received credit on "What's Luv?"). The track takes the sentiment of Turner's original — "What's love got to do, got to do with it/Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken" — and does away with love. Fat Joe makes it loud and clear he's not looking for anything long-term.
"Slow down, baby/Let you know from the gate I don't go down, lady... Girl, you get me around how you look in my eye/But you talk too much, man, you're ruinin' my high."
Selfish? Sure. But you can't blame him for being direct.
The whole time Ashanti is asking him, "What's love?" as he retorts, "Got to do, got to do with it, babe." Ashanti puts it simply: "It should be about us, it should be about trust, babe."
If there's a weak part, it's Ashanti's bridge. The listener might expect her to lay down her own ground rules of love beyond what she states in the chorus. Instead, she sings, "When I look in your eyes, there's no stoppin' me/I want the Don Joey Crack on top of me," and telling Fat Joe to "put it all on me." It's infuriating, considering Fat Joe has basically spent the entirety of the song telling her he's looking for a girl who enjoys a three-way. Ashanti was never the most powerful vocalist, but her charisma often made up for her whispery delivery. Just imagine what could have been had she been allowed to give it right back to Fat Joe.
Though the single downplayed Ja Rule's contributions, he lent his vocals to the chorus. In 2013, he told Complex that Fat Joe wanted him to contribute an entire verse to the song, but he declined, saying he told Fat Joe: "This is going to be big for you, and if I get on the record, people may deem it a Ja Rule record." Ja's gruff delivery can clearly be heard on the album version, but in the radio edit, it was evidently mixed down.
However, what ultimately makes that track an early-'00s classic is the production. It has Gotti's stamp all over it, sharing a common thread with other Gotti-produced songs such as the Murder remix of Jennifer Lopez's "I'm Real" and Ashanti's "Foolish." The beat barely fills the space, allowing for plenty of breathing room and flourishes, including the jittery beat, that hang around for the whole song.
Ultimately, the track sounds of its time. Even a post-9/11 America couldn't put a damper on the hip-hop-meets-R&B cuts that were dominating the charts at the time, leading to hits such as R. Kelly's "Ignition (Remix)," Nelly and Kelly Rowland's "Dilemma," and P. Diddy's "I Need a Girl (Part Two)."
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"What's Luv?" reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and was a Top 10 hit in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Germany.
The song also was featured on the soundtrack for the 2002 romantic comedy Juwanna Mann, starring Miguel A. Nuñez Jr. and Vivica A. Fox, which sees Nuñez's character dress up as a woman in order to play women's basketball after being kicked out of the men's league. Halfway through the movie, Fox's character tells Juwanna that her ideal man is a guy who will send her flowers just because it's Wednesday. At the end of the movie, when Juwanna has been exposed as a man, Nuñez wins his leading lady back by sending her flowers with a note that says, "Just because it's Wednesday."
Ja Rule and Ashanti. With Fat Joe, Trina, and Plies. 8 p.m. Thursday, February 22, at James L. Knight Center, 400 SE Second Ave., Miami; 305-416-5970; jlkc.com. Tickets cost $48 to $107 via ticketmaster.com.