Fat Tony Talks Being Racially Profiled on the Road

Houston's Fat Tony rocks the crowd last year at 8th Wonder's third anniversary party, a.k.a. "Celebr8ion of Beer."
Houston's Fat Tony rocks the crowd last year at 8th Wonder's third anniversary party, a.k.a. "Celebr8ion of Beer."
Photo by Marco Torres
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The past 48 hours could be described as an unnecessary hassle for Fat Tony.

Moving from Ohio through Michigan and on toward Canada, the Houston rapper, Houston Press Music Award winner and recent ambassador for hip-hop in Mexico City endured a humiliation many African-Americans, male or female, have experienced: being black and profiled by law enforcement.

“We face opposition being black literally anywhere in the world,” Tony said during a phone conversation Tuesday afternoon. “I’ve always accepted that.”

Tony’s issues with the police are longstanding. Despite not being arrested, he has frequently mentioned being stopped and searched while on tour wherever he goes. Late Monday night, he live-tweeted his latest experience.

He and The Garden, a duo based out of Orange County, California, were leaving Columbus, Ohio, after a gig at Double Happiness. On their way into crossing over into Michigan, police sirens flashed behind Tony and company. Though he wasn’t behind the wheel, Tony says he was the first person officers suspected of wrongdoing.

“I was with three people,” Tony explains. “A Filipino man, a white man and a half-Venezuelan half-white man (who looks white to everyone). They handcuffed me first and had me sit in the back of their car. Then they put the Filipino guy and half-white guy in the back with me and put my full-fledged white homie in a different car. They told him, 'You know which one we're getting, right?'”

Recounting the story, the Smart Ass Black Boy noticed the fear in his friend’s face, the lone white guy of the group. According to Tony, his tour mate had never dealt with police officers before as an adult. Especially not police officers in “middle of nowhere, Ohio.”

Normally, Tony has only one singular fear while out on the road: getting robbed. As he pleaded with officers not to take the money he had earned from performing earlier in the night, one officer responded to him. “He told me he'd only take my money if I had a ‘big Ziploc bag of drugs,’” Tony recalls. “He also said that he had a family to feed and that’s why he pulled us over.”

With the driver being forced to take two sobriety tests despite not being drunk, it was a giant hassle all the way around. Tony and company weren’t recognized as musicians even though he was singled out, according to his account of the incident. “He kept questioning my friends if I was the 'lead singer,'” Tony says. “It was all a big waste of time.”

Eventually the group was let go to carry on with their affairs. Frustrated with the unnecessary treatment by officers, Tony says he started to think: For all the different encounters he had previously with police officers, not once had he ever been handcuffed. Or made to sit in a police car while they conducted a search on a vehicle he was traveling in. “I think they handcuffed us so we couldn’t film them,” he says. “They could have easily taken my cash or planted something and there’d be no witnesses.”

Hours later and still frustrated by the encounter, Tony finally made it to his temporary home for the night, Detroit. All he wanted to do was record. Titled “Wise,” the Caleb Stone-produced record packs on a slice of aggression. A sweeping melody lets Tony hammer away all of the night’s problems into one two-minute song he finished in one take. “Wise like a psychic/ God on my right hip/ Left pocket, cell phone/ Dead, and I like it,” the track begins. From there, Tony mentions late nights on the road and alludes to some of the charismatic greats such as Ric Flair, Diddy and 50 Cent. “Say it to my face, nope/ You know that I stay woke/ Blind to the bullshit / At home watching Face/Off.”

“Making songs and performing makes me feel better than anything else, so when I'm low it's the first thing on the agenda,” he says, discussing “Wise.” “When I perform, I let out all of my frustrations and sadness and joy and all that.”

Before he and The Garden could find themselves properly in Toronto for Tuesday's show, the police at the Canadian border decided to have a little fun with Tony as well. Which would make it twice in 12 hours that Fat Tony, Houston rap savant and Third Ward child of the city, would deal with the police. “They pulled us out the line, searched the car, asking for drugs as usual,” Tony says of the second stop. Unlike on Tuesday morning, he wasn’t listening to E-40’s “It’s All Bad” wondering why he was here in a triflin’ world.

Unlike the Ohio stop, Tony could at least joke about his second round with the officers.

But all Tony could do in the face of everything would be to hop onstage and rage out. It’s the one place he knows he’ll be at peace instead of dealing with fitting a profile or being suspected of an imaginary crime.

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