Photo Credit: Meredith Truax
Prolific Rapper, DJ, Events Curator, and TV Show host Fat Tony was always meant for greatness; So much so that the Mayor of Houston honoured him for his contributions to the city’s rap scene by naming 28 July, 2018 as “Fat Tony Day”. We caught up with the man a few days after his 32nd Birthday to discuss his childhood, influences, discography & plans for the new decade
Hi Anthony, First of all, Happy 32nd Birthday to you. How did you spend the day?
I spent the day at home, of course, and the night on my Instagram Live and Twitch. I figured I’d throw myself a little party by ordering pizza and drinking all the mezcal I had left in the house. My girlfriend made me a cute hat and ordered me an almond croissant (my favorite pastry). I was disappointed I couldn’t do my original birthday plans of private room karaoke but had a great time nonetheless.
Growing up in Houston with Nigerian roots, how did that impact your aural aesthetic? What recurring themes from your childhood have permeated into your music (if any?)
My father is Nigerian and emigrated to the U.S. after fighting on the losing side of the Biafran War. I didn’t grow up in a traditional Nigerian household and didn’t learn about our music until I discovered Fela Kuti. My dad is pretty conservative so Fela was never his thing. But when I did inquire about Nigerian music he showed me Jùjú music and Highlife. I remember he burned me a CD of King Sunny Ade’s music and bragged about how the musicians would sometimes use homemade instruments. The recurring musical themes of my childhood I most identify with is the great legacy of 90s Houston rap music. DJ Screw, Devin the Dude, the Geto Boys, UGK, Scarface, Lil Keke, and Big Moe are the hometown artists I admire the most. The sound of 90s R&B like Brandy, SWV, and Aaliyah that dominated Houston radio and sometimes appeared on Screw tapes. Anytime I hear Screw, 90s Houston rap, or 90s R&B I instantly think of my home.
You’ve had an extremely prolific career in Music. The 2010s gave us several album releases, contributions to Houston’s music scene and even a day named after you. What would you say are your biggest takeaways from that decade?
The 2010s were my 20s and the beginning of my music career outside of Houston. I never left Texas until I went to Atlanta in 2008 to work with my longtime producer GLDN_EYE (fka Tom Cruz) in his hometown. I started performing in New York City shortly after that trip and he conveniently moved there too. By 2010, I had a community of NYC artists that I considered it a second home. I was in Brooklyn when I released my first album RABDARGAB that year.
The 2010s showed me that I wasn’t the only rap nerd out there who loved all styles and eras of the genre, not just what was happening where I lived. I saw the last days of the mindset that backpack rap, street rap, experimental rap, and other styles had to be separate. It got on my last damn nerve in the 2000s that some people were too close-minded to appreciate MF Doom, Jay-Z, and Soulja Boy all at once. I loved it all since day one.
Can you tell us a little bit about your collaborative album “Wake Up(2020)” with Taydex (Carpark Records)? How would you say your sound has changed since your last full length, “10,000 Hours”?
I wanted on more aggressive sound on Wake Up. I wanted the album to feel urgent, especially the beginning of the album. Taydex’s approach to music is different than 10,000 Hours’ producer Heaven the Dude. They even use a different DAW (Taydex on Ableton and Heaven on Logic) so the sound was bound to change.
I wanted to concentrate on nailing my vocal performances on this album. I wanted to sound as passionate as I do in my live shows. 10,000 Hours was all about packing in ideas and trying new things; from a country song (“Got it Out the Mud”) to Devo/Le Tigre-style new wave beats (“Texas”). I did a bunch of singing on 10,000 Hours and there’s very little of that from me on Wake Up.
10,000 Hours was about speaking from an autobiographical standpoint. Wake Up features less of that. The next album I’ll release this year, Exotica, even less autobiographical songwriting.
2020 wipes the slate clean all over again. Where do you see yourself in the Entertainment ecosystem this decade?
I see myself settling into a few modes of Fat Tony music and sticking to it. Each album I do has been a bit different on purpose. I’ve loved experimenting and trying new things with a variety of collaborators. Now I’m interested in honing in on the core things I do in my music and keeping it consistent, primarily with production and more narrative-focused songwriting.
I want to continue flexing my creativity in other areas too: podcasts, film, and television/web series. I’d love to do some voice acting too! Just imagine me voicing a cartoon character or narrating an audiobook. At the top of each year, I make a list of creative and professional goals. I refer to them throughout the year and try to nail as many as possible.
Who are some of the artists you find yourself going back to during these crazy times?
I go back to all of my core musical heroes. Prince, DJ Screw, De La Soul, Aaliyah, Nas, Selena, The Neptunes, Devin the Dude, Bad Brains, Bikini Kill. The artists and bands who’ve inspired me since I first knew music was the thing for me. They center me no matter what’s going in my world and the world around me.
You have a show called “Thrift Haul”. Can you tell us a little bit about that and how it came together?
I was introduced to Thrift Haul co-creator Stephanie Ward through a mutual friend that worked with her at Super Deluxe. She pitched the concept and we started developing it immediately. I loved that show and we’ve been doing everything we can to bring it back to life since Super Deluxe shutdown. That show led to Vice Live and a whole slew of new friends and opportunities. I’m forever grateful for Stephanie and Thrift Haul.
The CoVid-19 pandemic has caused major dents and inconveniences to a very fragile Artist ecosystem. We’re seeing Live Streams (including yours at Purgatory, Brooklyn for Houston Food Bank) in lieu of Live Shows. Being a rapper, DJ and Event curator, can you give us a bit of insight on how this is affecting the Industry? What do you propose we do better to circumvent the current scenario?
It’s ruined our business for the foreseeable future. My entire April/May tour to promote my latest album Wake Up has been canceled. Some dates will be rescheduled but some opportunities seem to be gone for good. It’s unfortunate because I was picking up some real steam in my concert business recently from booking inquires to ticket sales to higher-paying guarantees. Live stream performances and DJ sets are fun for now but nothing can replace the in-person experience. I’m already getting a bit bored seeing guys at home in sweatpants perform with poor audio quality. I propose we stay on top of the news, protect others, and protect ourselves by following guidelines from social distancing to hand washing, masks, gloves, etc.
This pandemic is bigger than business, money, or celebrity but I can’t ignore how I’m taking a hit financially from it all. I’m optimistic that people will be overjoyed to see shows when this dies down and we can all safely congregate again. For now, I’m laying low, plotting my next moves, and learning how to properly live stream DJ sets at home.
I’m very happy I was able to act quickly with my live stream concert / Houston Food Bank fundraiser in Brooklyn on March 20th. My friend Ryan Muir helped produce and shoot it and the venue’s sound engineer and stage production were on point. The quality was right. I’ve raised a good amount of money for the Houston Food Bank and continue to promote my donation link. It doesn’t feel right to promote anything right now so I’m glad I could help my Houston community through it. http://bit.ly/FatDonate
What positive practices do you engage in to cope with these trying & challenging times of Social Isolation and Quarantine?
I’ve been stocking up on old and new music. Taking time to watch more TV than usual. Revisiting albums I didn’t have time to listen to over the past two years. Compiling reading lists and audiobooks. I want to start taking some long walks but I’m giving myself 3 more weeks of quarantine before I feel comfortable doing that. I thought I’d be abusing Twitter and Instagram more than usual but it just doesn’t feel like a fun place right now.
You’ve put together many shows in LA that feature Rappers, Comedians, Graphic Artists, etc. all under the same banner. Has this cross-pollination been able to influence the type of art you make?
The shows I played and organized in L.A. when I lived there created friendships. Most of those friendships led to fellowship but some led to collaboration. Just like they’ve done everywhere I’ve lived or frequented from Houston to Mexico City to Tucson to Brooklyn. Through playing Low End Theory, I met Brady Watt and made music with him. I met John Early at a comedy show at Zebulon and asked him to be a guest on the first episode of Thrift Haul. When it comes to art, a community is everything for me.
Any advice you want to leave people with?
It might sound cliche, but be yourself if you’re an artist or a fan. Don’t let “what’s poppin” be the only thing that dictates what you enjoy or create. Many of the best art out there goes under the radar because the right publicists aren’t hired and some journalists don’t have the time to dig for it. Sometimes you got to fall into a YouTube or Bandcamp hole to find your next favorite song.
Words by Akhil Hemdev & Adithya Mathews