By Andy O’Connor
Editor’s note: This article was originally published November 1, 2013
There’s nothing quite like Houston rap, but many of its biggest names still living – Bun B, Z-Ro, the Geto Boys, Slim Thug – are getting up there in years. Some have passed on, most notably Pimp C and DJ Screw. There needs to be an infusion of energy, and that new force is 25-year-old Fat Tony. Raised on the South Side, he’s true to Houston but also has a broader musical ear. He’s worked with some of hip-hop’s hottest up-and-comers, including A$AP Rocky, Kool A.D. and Juiceboxxx. His latest album is "Smart Ass Black Boy," and it’s a record that sounds good in the back of a ‘71 Impala and a punk house show. Speaking of punks, Fat Tony has been known to play shows with metal and punk bands, fighting the segregation that often comes in concert billing. Three 6 Mafia had a song called "Mosh Pit"; Fat Tony’s probably been in one. Fat Tony plays at 11:45 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8, at Holy Mountain as part of FFF Nites.
‘Smart Ass Black Boy’ is such a great, brash title. What sort of statement are you making with the record?
Fat Tony: It’s a title that represents the American black experience. Look at the word "boy." That was a term used to address black men in a derogatory manner for many years. We still get disrespected these days but with different words. … "Smart Ass" refers to being about your wits which often calls upon one to be a smart aleck in certain situations. If someone is trying to hustle me in any way I can’t be Mr. Nice Guy about it. I’ve got to stay on my toes and cleverly maneuver my way out of the situation. Survival in the short term and long term is a daily concern for me and my peers. It also refers to being educated and intelligent which is a must for any young person, especially an African-American. The album isn’t preachy or specifically militant in any sense but undertones of these ideas can be found throughout the record.
A lot of the beats on the record don’t sound like stuff that usually comes out of H-Town. Was this intentional?
This whole record was produced by Tom Cruz, he’s a Jamaican-American born in Texas, raised in Atlanta, and currently living in New York. If you dig deep into the album you can hear influences from all those places and more. I’m open to styles and sounds from all over. Being prejudiced as a music listener and especially as an artist is a crime against great art in general. An open mind leads to innovation, a closed mind leads to imitation.
You’re willing to mix it up with rock groups live — I remember your show back in December with Ditch Witch and Space Camp Death Squad, which was a lot of fun. What about these mixed bills make them fun for performers? Are the barriers between rap and rock fans coming down?
I ain’t afraid to mix it up. It’s more fun for the audience and me! It’s important that folks know music of all genres often speaks the same language just a different dialect. Whenever I have any control over the lineup you can guarantee I’ll keep it interesting. Who wants to go to a show and see the same acts every weekend? I think recently there’s been a heavy crossover influence of rap music and punk/hardcore. In the ‘90s and early 2000s I think there were a lot of hardcore kids into hip-hop, but I’m definitely seeing more rap artist shirts at punk shows than ever before.
Screw originated in Houston, but it’s become widespread in the past few years. What do you make of the fact that the Internet has almost eliminated the idea of a "regional sound"?
I love it. Cuts down silly, imaginary barriers and lets great music spread far and wide. I can’t wait to see where music goes, especially rap, after all the developments that have happened in the past 10 years. It’s gonna be a little weird, in a good way, for sure.
If you only had to pick one: Fat Pat’s ‘Tops Drop’ or Lil Troy’s ‘Wanna Be A Baller’?
"Tops Drop"! Gots to go with Fat Pat, c’mon now! I wouldn’t be true to my southside Houston roots if I didn’t rep for one of the best rappers to ever come from my city.
You ever get your fade done over the $3.99 haircuts on 1960?
Hell nah, I don’t think I’ve ever done anything off FM 1960, lol. That road is far from my home.
Update: Fat Tony’s age has been corrected.