"I've loved you forever," confesses Oregon rapper Lil 'Fats in the opening track of Fats Is Back— and, as his vocal timbre confirms, "forever" has only been about 14 years. Following the path of countless other "Lil'" rappers before him, young Fats is intent on romancing the ladies and avoiding the inevitable after-school job by making loads of dough in this rap thing. On his 2002 debut, he experiments with a variety of styles, not many of them his own, but you can't knock a fella for trying — besides, dude is still learning breath control. On some tracks, his voice is low, slow and gravelly; once he passes puberty, he'll probably sound a bit like DJ Screw (albeit with a fronted borough brogue). At other times, he drawls his words through Snoop's West Coast style, a counterpoint to his clean, quite promising Dre-influenced party beats. Because he's so young, the sweeter the lyrics the better: "Who knew that we would hook up? Fat rapper and a hot girl/ We left the whole damn world shook up," he rhymes earnestly. His sensitive musings don't stop with love. On "Nothin'," he encapsulates a young teen drop-out's existential crisis (if his career fails, Fats says, "I got no other education, I'll be facin 'the worst/ Made fun of cause my belly sticks outta my shirt"); meanwhile, "Suicide" is a concept track from the point of view of a recent suicide victim, and includes an apology to his mother and father.
But macking tracks like "Girlies Say" seem to foreshadow Fats 'future. While Lil Fats receives his snail-mail in the suburb of Portland called West Linn, which has the lowest crime rate in the Portland metro area, his more recent mixtape work paints nihilistic pictures of sex and violence. Fats Is Back is the sound of a sensitive boy with a bright future, before he cashes it in.