Anthony Obi has always been a humble and gracious Houstonian. Better known to the public as rapper Fat Tony, this week he drops Smart Ass Black Boy, his first retail album. It's been a long journey from his first LP RABDARGAB, which was inspired by an H.I.S.D. campaign to get children to read.
The acronym stood for "Read a book, do a report and get a buck," except Tony wanted fans to listen to his album and write a review about it. As his profile has increased, of course Tony often gets that he isn't a "typical" Houston rapper. but those stereotypes mean little to the Third Ward native.
Recently Rocks Off got the chance to have a chat with Tony from New York before Smart Ass Black Boy, which was highlighted on NPR's "First Listen" last week, drops tomorrow:
Rocks Off: So, Tony, this is your first album to be sold in stores worldwide. How does that feel?
Fat Tony: It feels great I finally have a chance to reach people who I never been able to touch before with my music. When you have a machine behind you -- a record label, publicists and stuff like that -- the game changes. Pretty much everything that I wanted to do before, I now have a chance to get in that door.
It's kind of sad to say, but that's really the state of things: you can be a great artist and performer, but unless you have the key to that door you're pretty much locked out of reaching the right audience. Now there are some artists who can overcome that and get it cracking for themselves but for most artists you must have a team behind you.
RO: With RABDARGAB, the "write-a-review" campaign was a great idea to grab the city of Houston's attention. Did you get a lot of reviews with that?
FT: Man, I did get a bunch of reviews but most of the kids who sent stuff to me told me that they didn't even want the money, they just wanted to tell me how much they like the album -- which was even better. All I wanted them to do was listen. That was my first full-length album, and I'm still very proud of it because I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for that RABDARGAB.
RO: OK. A few things have been said and written about you not being the "typical" Houston rapper. What do you think about that?
FT: I mean, it really doesn't mean much to me, to be honest, because I've always felt like a Houstonian. I grew up in Houston all my life and I feel like a lot of the things I do and say are reflected on my upbringing in Texas.
It is obvious that I may not talk about the stereotypical Houston rapper and what they're known for talking about, like cars, sipping lean and all that other stuff. But you know --personally when people say that, it doesn't mean much to me because I'll always have my Houston roots.
RO: True, and you still are an avid listener and look up to the OG Houston rappers, including DJ Screw and the S.U.C., right?
FT: Exactly, man. That's what I grew up on, and that ain't going nowhere.
RO: So let's get into Smart Ass Black Boy. I know the song "BKNY" is an ode to Brooklyn. Was that one of the first cities to show you love outside of Houston?
FT: Absolutely. I first started coming here in '09 and every trip back I kept getting more and more shows, meeting more people and starting gaining fans out here. Really, being in NY gave me most of my momentum to even put out this new album.
RO: Are there any other cities besides Brooklyn that you'd want to make a song about?
FT: L.A., because I lived there last year and I love L.A. That was the city where Tom Cruz (producer) and I decided to create the Smart Ass Black Boy album, and I think living there put me in a different zone. Everyone is so free out there, beautiful women and beautiful weather. Everyone is so positive and eager to work on things.
RO: So the new album was not recorded at all in Houston?
FT: No, I wrote the entire album in two days and we recorded everything in four days in April of last year in Los Angeles.
RO: All right, so tell me about the song "I Shine." What was the inspiration behind that?
FT: That was kind of like a manifesto type song. I'm basically coming in and talking about my opinions and beliefs on the things that are happening in our country right now. The gay marriage issue, the pro-choice issue and also the issue of being a Black man in a white dominant world are some of the things I talk about.
RO: I really like the "Final Destination" song, too. There's a lot of great storytelling in that song.
FT: Thank you, and that's exactly what I'm doing. I'm telling a story about a guy who no matter what happens, he is always messing up. The first verse is all about the fuck-ups, he's missing flight, missing out on money and just constantly fucking up.
However, the second verse just shows how his mistakes actually worked to his benefit. At the end, he actually avoided some pretty terrible things by basically being a screw-up. With that song I wanted to say, "Don't judge a book by its cover," because you never really know where anyone will end up.
RO: Right. The last song I want to talk about is "Father's Day."
FT: Yeah, that's a very very special song to me. It's very personal. It was actually the very first song that I made for the album, too. I wanted to write this song for years, but I never got a chance to.
In the summer of 2011, when I first started attempt to make the SABB album, Tom Cruz and I flew out to Brooklyn. Unfortunately my grandmother passed away so I had to rush back home and I didn't get to finish the work. That song was the very first beat that was ever made for this album.
RO: Has your father heard the song yet?
FT: I don't know, to be honest. I think my mom played it for him but my dad isn't really into rap music. I guess with Father's Day coming up it would be a good time for him to sit down and listen to the song for what it is.
RO: So your father has never listened to any of your work before?
FT: I tried to play a little bit for him but he's not really into that. He's from a completely different world. He's a 61-year-old man from Nigeria. Rap is so beyond him. He doesn't even think it is music to begin with. It's just not his sort of thing at all.
RO: But your mom listens to your music, right?
FT: Yeah, now my mom isn't a rap fan either and she's the same age as my dad, but she's American and little bit more in tune with what's going on in America.
RO: So she's pretty supportive?
FT: Definitely, I just got off the phone with her before you called. Both my parents support me, actually -- even though my dad isn't a fan of rap, he is a fan of me making money and doing what I love to get it.
RO: Wonderful. So I read that your parents want you back in college. Is that in your plans for the future?
FT: I would love to go back to school. I just need to see how my schedule goes with the album and touring. As soon as I get time to myself, I want to go back for my degree.
Smart Ass Black Boy is still streaming at NPR.org and will be available in stores and online tomorrow.