The key to a successful career as a hip-hop MC? For rising Houston native Fat Tony, one important lesson has been learning from stage greats who used a microphone in an entirely different way.

"I love and learned so much from watching guys like Richard Pryor, Chris Rock and Eddie Murphy and how they get from one joke to the next and work with the crowd while they’re up there," said the artist born Anthony Obi.

"For me, I learned a lot of that stuff by accident, like when we’d bump the laptop and the music would cut out so I’d start talking with the crowd and making that a part of the show more and more. Now we do that all the time, and I’ve got lots of different segues and jokes I tell in between songs."

Those lessons are part of the reason Obi says his live show is far more polished and consistently satisfying for crowds – "I’m definitely more prepared and in control now and it’s a well-oiled machine pretty much every time out" – than in his early days in parties and clubs.

That development will suit Obi well in 2013 as he looks to build on the momentum created by last summer’s release of his acclaimed "Double Dragon" mixtape, recorded with partner and DJ Tom Cruz. In a departure from classic hip-hop orthodoxy, Obi followed Cruz’s direction to not write his verses down beforehand and record the songs essentially free-form.

Stepping up to the microphone with only a rough sketch of subject matter or thesis forced Obi to be economical with his words instead of embellishing phrases with canny wordplay that wound up sounding too cute or coy as time went on. The result is a lean, direct collection of good-time summer party songs that showcase Obi’s alternately methodical then suddenly high-speed flow.

After three tours as a mid-card support act for acts like Das Racist member Kool A.D. and Cadence Weapon, Obi is back spitting time between his native Houston and new home in Los Angeles and looking forward to this summer’s release of his next full-length album, which will be released on the new Young Ones Records imprint.

Before that album drops in mid-June, Cruz will release a mixtape of his own to build awareness of the MC’s forthcoming material, which is also one of the reasons Obi is will making his seventh SXSW appearance this year.

"I always like South By crowds because they’re usually drunk and ready for anything, so in a way they’re the easiest crowds to play for," Obi said. "Those parties are all about the open bars so it’s rare that you get in front of a South By crowd that’s bored or not ready to go."

Booked for two official showcases and nine shows altogether, Obi sounded like he’s most looking forward to playing Hotel Vegas on East Sixth Street because of the intimate setting and chance to get a whole room moving with him.

"That’s going to be the biggest thrill because I played there in January and it was a ridiculous show," he said. "You get people crammed into a room like that and you can connect with everyone, whether they’re right in front of the stage or going all the way out to the back patio."