Fabo is a rapper, singer, and dancer from Bankhead, Atlanta. He’s best known as a member of the legendary Atlanta rap group D4L (with Shawty Lo, Mook-B, and Stuntman), who are in turn best known for “Laffy Taffy." His next solo project, Return of the Jedi, is out later this month.
Dance has been a big part of your identity your whole career - did you grow up with any background in it?
I really didn’t have a background in dancing, or in anything. It was basically a hustle for me from the beginning. And just like any hustle, someone was already doing it, so I figured I had to be the best at it. So the dances just got better as the competition got better. We was in the club a lot, in the Pool Palace and other places around Bankhead and Atlanta. And this was the early Atlanta, where you had bass music with old cats like Kilo Ali and Raheem the Dream, so it was a lot of dancing goin’ on. When Jeezy and a lot of these cats came in, it killed that era in the club. But I’d already started dancing to this music, so when I started doing music I tried to cater to my dance.
Your first label deal was with Raheem too, right?
Yeah, it was me and [Young] Dro, and Tommy Gunn and Drama. We did The Tight IV Life Training Camp.
How long had you been making music at that point?
I got outta prison in ‘99 and had been rappin’ since then. It didn’t take that long or whatever, I was incarcerated for like two years and I wrote the whole time that I was incarcerated. So I got out, I was on the block, I met Dro and he knew T.I., who had already blew up a little bit. Dro hung out on the porch a lot, and he brought me into the situation a little bit later on. It actually didn’t happen for me right then because of an unforeseen situation for me at the time, and then unbeknownst to me I was “let go" [laughs]. Back up on the block for like four more years, man, and then it didn’t happen until I met Shawty Lo, R.I.P.
Had you been thinking about music before going in, or was that something that you picked up in prison?
Nah. I was singing for my moms, on the front porch… I sung in the chorus and stuff like that, but never really took it serious. But you couldn’t tell the neighborhood that, from me singin’ late at night [laughs]. When I got out of prison, my brother had all this radio equipment in the room, tape decks. He’d take one tape and put it into this tape deck, then we’d press play and record onto the other deck. Then we’d take that tape and record on that - he didn’t know at the time, he was doin’ what we call “stacking" right now.
So that was ‘99, I had got out of prison, and they came and got him three days later for a triple homicide. He actually used to wear the white shades - that’s why I wear the white shades, because my brother’s been in prison for twenty years. So after that, he’d left me with all this stuff in the room and we just kept recording. This is my younger brother too. He left the equipment, and then my brother up under him taught me how to count bars.
When you were starting to write, were you modelling yourself after anybody?
Not really, man. I was singin’ at first, so my rap style was just totally original. If you listen to every rap song, I’m not rappin’; I’m singin’. I’m never rappin’ on any song, I’m a singer. That’s the difference between getting caught up in a rap group or something like that, where everybody else is rapping and I was singing. But I’ve always been an original because I’ve never had any influences. This wasn’t what I was gonna do at first, it was all strictly street. I caught a couple of felonies early on, and back then if tattoos was what they were right now I probably would’ve tatted my whole face up. You know, I was one of those types of people, you feel what I’m sayin’? The regular world really didn’t make a difference to me.
But if I was influenced by anybody, though, I always was fascinated by Michael Jackson, James Brown, I used to watch a lot of Jackie Wilson tapes because my stepdaddy had a lot of VCR tapes and stuff like that. So the dancing and stuff, I know I got from there. Just wantin’ to dance, trying to mimic those moves. But the singing and rapping stuff, I never really listened to music like that. Not to the point where I was fascinated by anybody. We just didn’t have a radio in the house in the hood like that, so whatever I heard, I heard on the street. I never got attached to anybody like that. All my music just come from me bein’ hungry and tryin’ to eat.
You said that D4L didn’t come together until you met Shawty Lo - what happened at that point?
I used to be just reppin’ the group in the club! They were already a group, Shawty Lo had the whole hood on lock, he had the whole block crazy ever since I was in high school. So I knew of him, but I came from a whole totally different neighborhood. And we was warrin’ with each other, we probably could have never met. But I was comin’ to Pool Palace and I was winnin’ the talent show every week. And when I fell off a little bit from the talent show, when it got boring, and ended up bein’ back in the streets, I ended up going up to the shop with Shawty Lo and tellin’ him “yo, I can rap." He said to come back, and when I did I never left.
We put a record out before the record that y’all heard, we had like two CDs in the street. Before anybody heard of us, we was already like Atlanta’s hottest group. We’d been on the street for like a whole year because Shawty was locked up, and we wouldn’t sign a deal or anything. I remember goin’ to Daytona, all these places where the song was blowin’ up, on the road with Franchize because they had “White Tee." So when “Betcha Can’t Do It Like Me" jumped off, it was right after Franchize kinda went on to they stardom, and then that kind of prepared everything. So we was out for maybe two years before we jumped off.
So even while things started to happen for you while Shawty Lo was in prison, the plan was just to maintain until he could get out?
Yeah, basically. Everybody was street, we just led our normal lives every day. Big money wasn’t around like it is now, shows wasn’t paying what we eventually started getting. So it was a struggle, just tryin’ to keep the lights on in the studio. So everybody’s pitchin’ in, Shawty was handling things from jail, and when he got out everything started.
Was there an element of strategy to coming out as a group, or was it just how things happened?
Well, we were never actually a group. That’s what everybody don’t know: we were never a group. I was in jail, Lo was in jail, Lil Mark was in jail, that’s why he wasn’t in the group. I was released first, and I immediately went back to the studio and starting stayin’ in there. That’s when I came up with the “Laffy Taffy." Mind you, everybody’s still in jail at this point. So Mook-B was in a group with Lil Mark, and then Stuntman was Lo’s brother-in-law. You see what I’m sayin’? So “Laffy Taffy" jumped off, and then I ended up getting locked back up! I’m in jail for sixty-something days, and when I got out, we were a group [laughs]. The song was too big already, “Betcha Can’t Do It Like Me" was poppin’, “Laffy Taffy" was poppin’, so we just went with “D4L," which everybody was calling us anyway. We made it work.
I’ve seen a couple different explanations for how ecstasy and that kind of rave-y influence crept into Atlanta around then.
I think we brought that whole era in. Everybody around me was snortin’ powder and stuff like that, but I was never really into that type of stuff. We was takin’ Valiums and Oxycontins, stuff like that, and it just kind of came on the scene around then. It was always around, but not as plentiful. It just came on the scene at the same time and just blended in with what we was doin’. I started wearing whatever color pills I had in my pocket, that’s how you get all the different colors from us. Whatever video you see, we probably had those pills in our pocket, goin’ to the stores “ok, get red, blue," you know. It was funny to us, but people looked at it like we was clowns or something. I think when Lo came out with his solo CD, that killed all of that. After that, people knew we was just playin’.
The pill era kind of came from me making “Scotty" - while we was on the road, “Scotty" was in the club, playin’. I’m startin’ to see spaceships on Bankhead! That song literally details takin’ a pill. I actually had that song before I came to D4L. I hooked up with D4L maybe 2002, and then when I got in the studio I made a faster version of it. It was like a slower version that everybody knew. When I got in the studio full-time, we started workin’ on songs or whatever and one morning one of my homies got killed. I came right in the studio, dropped that track, and did the whole song in a freestyle. I think the second verse I might’ve did the next day, but the first verse and hook came in a freestyle. Later on, I hooked up with Mike Caren from APG and we added the “geeked up, geeked up." Turned out great.
Where were you pulling the science-fiction elements from?
I’m Anakin, straight up [laughs]. I was a church boy, all of that type of stuff, so I compare my character to Anakin without ever going to the dark side. Always kind of lingerin’ on the edge. That’s why you get me goin’ “help me, help me, help me," you know what I’m sayin’? But yes, sci-fi is everything, man. I’m a sci-fi freak. I just finished The Originals, never thought I could sit down and watch a Netflix series. I remember watching Willow, Gremlins, stuff like that. Just watching that over and over on VCR tapes.
How interconnected were all the different groups in that snap era?
First, it was just the club. The club was on Hollywood Road, and it was like enemy territory so we went in, but we didn’t mix. We was regulars on Hollywood Road around the end, but when it moved to the Pool Palace it opened it up to Shawty Lo and Bowen Homes, all these different areas. That put like six or seven projects in the same place - K-Rab and his squad actually came from Campbellton Road, which is Sandtown, where Cee-Lo and all of them from. I remember the first song to jump off was the M.O.N.E.Y. song with me and Pimpin’ from Franchize, and I think Parlae was on the song. That was the first song, a song called “M.O.N.E.Y.." And then they made “White Tee," we made “Betcha Can’t Do It Like Me," K-Rab made “Do It Do It," we came back with the “Laffy Taffy," all this other stuff. Everybody was there the entire time, it was just who jumped out first.
How would you describe Bankhead?
Well, there’s Atlanta Atlanta, downtown, what the industry look at as Atlanta. Peachtree Street, Buckhead, all that. The music capital. It’s been like that for a while, really, since Jermaine Dupri jumped off. But if you just take the street on the side of the Georgia Dome and pull out on that, or you come from The Varsity and take that street all the way down, or if you leave Atlantic Station and take a right, then go a quarter-mile down the street, then you really in our Atlanta. Where you don’t see nobody but people you know. Back then it was Bowen Homes, Bankhead, 4 Seasons… if you ain’t from these places, you better be somebody cousin or something. That’s the only time you’ll see that real part. But I’m happy to see people come to the Blue Flame nowadays. The Blue Flame been in our hood forever, right up the street. I always stood in front of it, walked up the street from Bankhead in front of it. You’d make plays in the parking lot [laughs]. But you couldn’t get anybody from anywhere to come there. But the culture is so thick right now, and the music’s the way it is, that they’re having the DJs like Swamp Izzo come in. You know Swamp Izzo was my first solo DJ? I took him to Iraq with me, Germany, everywhere. And DJ Scream was D4L’s first DJ. And then he did the Shawty Lo mixtape with Hoodrich and all the rest of ‘em. That’s a dope dude too.
Was there any element of competition to it, friendly or otherwise, between y’all and the other groups in the area?
Well, us and Franchize were together at the same studio, all the same people working with us. Then I went to jail when “White Tee" jumped off and they got signed, so I lost contact. By the time I got out, they was hot as a firecracker, and you know it’s hard to get in touch with anybody once they on that road. But me and K-Rab, we hung out every day. I actually gave K-Rab my keys to the studio, he went up one night and dropped “I’m Da Man" and “Laffy Taffy." I came by about six in the morning, dropped the “Laffy Taffy," Shawty Lo came by about a day or so later and did “I’m Da Man." Then we had to go on the road and the whole time Shawty Lo was saying “man, I wanna put this song out" [laughs].
Were you guys usually all together in the studio for recording Down 4 Life, or was it like that?
That’s what I’m tellin’ you dude, we weren’t a group. Lil Mark and Mook B might be in there for three or four days recording on they project, they had this song called “Front Street" that we put on the album. And then Stuntman wasn’t really a rapper, so he was just in and out and would drop a verse every now and then. And like I said, K-Rab wasn’t even really a part of our situation but he would come in and make these nice songs. Even country songs, he had some stuff that was like “man, I gotta get with K-Rab." I went over to his house a couple times, we probably got ten, eleven songs that K-Rab probably got on his computer, nobody ever heard. So somebody was always tryin’ to record at the D4L studio.
What happened to all those records from back then? That stuff on hard drives, that song you did with George Clinton…
I think once all of the hoopla jumped off or whatever, everybody took their computers and ran. You know what I mean? So I could never tell you exactly whose computer it was, but it was never mine. I was one of them cats coming into the studio trying to record with everybody, anything I can get on, and a lot of the songs you never knew exactly whose computer they ended up recorded to. If you didn’t record it with that person, then more than likely they were lost. Because once you jump off, you gotta know that more than likely everybody gonna put ‘em up. And once the group couldn’t get its stuff together, everybody was kinda doing what they could do to survive.
Were you surprised at all the first time someone came to you saying you could sell a song as a ringtone?
I tell people all the time, imagine bein’ locked up for two years and nobody who you know have a phone. Somebody gotta run down the street and get somebody else to use the phone, you know? “Go get my mama for me, tell her I’m on the phone!" She might not be there, she ain’t got off work yet. I always tell people now that we’ve got it made. So when those ringtones came out, the Boost Mobiles and the Nextel chirps was just takin’ off. We only had the old Metro with the blue face, everybody on the block had those before the new phones came out. So Boost came out with the ringtone thing, and I think I knew it was big when BET got in on it. And then Jamster came up.
I always been the type of cat that want to be in front of the camera - when the camera come on, I got the biggest smile, I’m doing a different pose for every snap. I was always that type, you can go to Youtube and go back to 2006, 2007 and watch my videos. Before people started doing this stuff, you can go and see me in my studio doing whole videos to my songs. And when the Youtube streaming came out or whatever, we were trying to figure out how that worked. We’d always be streaming, and nobody was watching [laughs]. We always been into tryin’ to get out there socially.
That’s definitely the blueprint for people coming up now - did you feel like you still had some privacy in the D4L days?
I think everybody had to change to the times. I literally went two years without writin’ a rap, dancing, or anything. On a farm with chickens and cows, then I went to Japan for a while. I had to step back and re-adjust to the new age, because I was more of a private person. But I adapted quick. I think we were basically at the beginning of not having a private life, because Myspace was comin’ in. I was one of the first people that kind of felt the brunt of what the internet was, catching that scrutiny that the internet gives out. Where everybody’s lookin’ at you and talking about one subject. I started seein’ people like Ghostface Killah, people that I listen to all the time come up and imitate me, talk about me. Nas. I never responded, because I respected these guys too much to ever open my mouth sideways about them. But I seen everything, and I knew people were listening to them. So we were aware that the internet was becoming a tool.
Do you think that environment hurt the longevity of the group at all? Or forced you to take a step back?
No no no, the group was just street. The industry never had anything with the group not continuing. The money wasn’t like what it is nowadays. So I think with the group disbanding and going their different ways, it was more about the money situation. We was out there workin’ dogs, and some of us were making more money on the street, you know what I mean? Which you could see when Lo came back, he came back with the mentality that we live, rather than trying to come back with the “Laffy Taffy" style or some dancin’ stuff. Showing you our hood, where we was every day. So with the group, we never really broke up or anything. N---as was hungry, they were eatin’ better on the block. Then after a while, stay gone too long, they start lookin’ at somebody else.
Going back to the time on the farm that you mentioned, was that during your hiatus?
Yeah man, I was enjoying that time! Been on the streets for twenty-seven years, always being in jail around Christmas time, Thanksgiving, never ever seeing that much time on the streets since sixteen, getting out there in the country was good for me. I bought a house with a lake and an indoor swimming pool, and I just didn’t leave it [laughs]. I built a studio inside of it. I actually got two videos online inside the house: I think it’s “Higher than High" and “Gik Life."
And what took you to Japan?
I hooked up with this guy in Germany, and we ended up in Iraq and Kuwait, then Japan after that. I met a guy in Kuwait that was a promoter in Japan too, and I ended up staying there and going back a lot of times. Lot of friends in Japan.
What’d you like about it?
That I was American [laughs]. I’ll leave it at that.
I was wondering about the Two Dollar alter-ego -
No no no, Two Dollar is not an alter-ego. Two Dollar is what everybody has always called me. Fabo was more of the nickname, you know? So everybody from the club knew me as Fabo, and when the music jumped off - like I said, I was in jail - and Fabo went down as, you know, that’s who on this song, people were putting out CDs and you’d heard guys before I was even out saying “Fabo showed me this move!" I didn’t even have a song on the radio, but I was known enough in the club. So when the Ying Ying Twins, I think it was, did the dance on the “Whisper" video, everybody saw that and started screaming “Fabo!" But everybody in my family and everybody else know me as Two Dollar, so after a while I want to be myself. That was never no dual personalities, just me. Wasn’t a split personality type of thing, even if I may have some kind of split personality disorder [laughs]. Got about seventy people in there. I’m that dude in Split.
When did you first get that rush of being on camera, having the spotlight on you?
The “Betcha Can’t Do It Like Me" video was probably the first time I realized what was goin’ on. I had been doing the dance for a while, but it was just club at that point. But when I was released and had a chance to get out in public - you know, you had guards in jail comin’ to me like “Yo, Fabo, y’all blowin’ up! Let me get your autograph!" Like man, let me out. So when I was finally released, I had no idea who the fuck all these people at the video shoot was. You know, you have that attitude like “they’re out here now that I’m on, ok." But somebody sat me down like look, dude, this is it. This what you doin’ all of this for. So you can see me in the video, so happy because I made that realization that it was happening. That’s when I realized the cameras was on.