On Monday, Houston's affable, not-really-overweight rap superfriend Fat Tony gave his Smart Ass Black Boy album (out next Tuesday, June 11) to National Public Radio and thus the rest of the world's open consumption and pre-purchase perusal. (Stream it here.)
The last part of that statement is what makes Smart Ass Black Boy immediately different in tone from 2010 debut RABDARGAB or last year's excellent joint effort with main hombre/producer Tom Cruz, Double Dragon. This is a retail album, meaning when you go to Best Buy or any big-box store, you will see Fat Tony ice-glaring you dead in the face, literally commanding you to "buy his shit," as he proudly boasts at his shows.
Want to know what else separates SABB from any other Tony release? The New York Times cares about it. Texas Monthly gushed about him, and Complex easily inserted him into their Top 10 Houston Rappers To Watch For prospectus.
In short, outside of The Niceguys and the bubbling-under The Outfit, TX, no rapper in Houston has such a glowing command of making national rap mags and mainstream publications squeal with delight than Anthony Obi.
But the tropes and topics Tony express here differ a bit from what we're used to getting from him. His flow remains in a neutral state, leveled off and not attempting to overexert himself. He brings up his Nigerian heritage and traditionalist father on "Father's Day," where the old man finally relents to Tony's choosing a rap career over his communications degree at the University of Houston, and doing something more than hanging out in NYC and shooting videos with topless chicks. He's obviously cribbed a few things from Double Dragon's robust 18 tracks and skimmed everything down to a concise 40 minutes, with production dominated by elevated synths and surface-slap drums.
His humor, at times situated between observational reaction and dry response, expresses itself all over the LP. He poaches Jay-Z's "Song Cry" chorus for "Creepin'" with Pack member Stunnaman and Cruz stating with a smirk, "I can't see myself coming out of her thighs, so I gotta make her man cry." He's never lifted himself into an atmosphere where he had to sledgehammer away at every single thing like Kendrick Lamar, or immediately had to prove his rap skills to everyone in the world like his hero, circa-'94 Bun B.
Smart Ass Black Boy keeps that legacy true to heart. There's a bit of fat around the woozy clips and drums of "BKNY" (feat. Old Money), and vulnerability and acceptance on "I Shine," a pro-choice track that also openly pushes for same-sex marriage.
In earnest, that's what makes SABB feel like it operates in its own solar system. There's not a drip of current Houston rap metonymy involved here, more a barrage of sonic ideas that work in island-like riffs ("Frenzy," "Sleepover"), or bounce while name-dropping both rough-and-tumble Cuney Homes and pristine River Oaks on key track "Hood Party" with Despot and former Das Racist member Kool A.D.
Tony wanted to make his own album, escape from being compared to every other rapper in Houston and completely be himself -- not the most "lyrical miracle" rapper but certainly the most relatable.
Or a smart-ass. That works too.
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Fat Tony's Smart Ass Black Boy arrives Next Tuesday, June 11, on Year One Records.