Talking About Rap And Rapping With Fat Tony
Bun B once called Fat Tony “Houston’s best-kept secret.” While that’s a pretty cool accolade to receive from a legend like Bun, it kind of downplays how awesome Fat Tony is even when divorced from his native Houston (he starred in our Houston edition of The Backdrop). The rapper manages to mash together charm, wit, political consciousness and pure dopeness in ways that few other rappers can. He’s spending the better part of December in New York, so he dropped by our office to talk about his history as a rapper, his upcoming record Smart Ass Black Boy (we’ve heard it; it’s great), and a quick story about how he, his producer Tom Cruz and Kool A.D. once got scabies on tour.
[Wanna win tickets to Fat Tony's show with Bryant Dope and People Under The Stairs at the Gramercy Theatre tomorrow night? Email email@example.com with your favorite Fat Tony song for a chance to win!]
NOISEY: Tell me when you started rapping.
FAT TONY: I started rapping when I was in middle school, maybe in like 8th grade. I was 12 or 13, but it wasn’t anything really, really serious--it was just me and my friends wanting to rap and shit. I heard this Cam’ron song “Oh Boy” as I was walking to my history class and I had a revelation. I like sat all my friends down and said, “Yo, you gonna rap, you gonna rap, you gonna manage us, and I’m going to be the producer.” But I didn’t know really how to make beats. So I went home and I got on SoundClick and I tried to get a bunch of beats from it. And I was like, “Yo well, here are some beats that I found,” till I learned how to make beats. And I never really came around to making beats, and I just started rapping after that. But I guess I got a little bit more serious with it when I was in like 9th or 10th grade. I used to have rap group back in high school, and then I put out the first Fat Tony shit in like ’06 or ’07, like right as I graduated.
Do you work a day job these days?
I haven’t had a day job since last September. I like went on tour and then… I had like gone on tours several times when I had this job--I was working for this place for like three years. The last tour that I did, it was a whole month and by the time I came back they were like, “Yo man, the management has changed and they’re not really digging you leaving all of the time.” So then I lost that job. And then after that I was like, “Man, fuck this. I’m just gonna keep on playing shows and stuff and make all my money from there.” And then shortly after that, I got my first record deal. Then I moved out to LA for like half the year to make a couple of albums. And here I am back, after like five months of touring again. I don’t ever really want to go back into like a straight job, that’d be weird.
Not even if you’re like 50?
I mean, if there’s like a time and place for it--if I’m an older guy and my rap career is finished. But at this point and time, I couldn’t see myself doing that. Even when I came up here I was like, “You know, when I’m here in like New York for a little bit, maybe I’ll get a part-time job just to have a little extra money.” But that wouldn’t even work for me. I couldn’t do stuff like this; I couldn’t go and record anytime I want. I couldn’t play shows anytime I want. I would have to ask permission from like people that probably don’t even respect what I do, you know?
Tell me about Tom Cruz, your producer. Where is he right now?
He’s in Crown Heights right now; he’s out here with me. But he’s a great producer. I met him back in ’07. Actually, linked up with him via the Internet but I actually met him face-to-face when he came to Houston to mix a record for his old group Supreme. He was staying at his grandma’s house, who happened to live the next street over from mine, and then around that period--that was like the winter break time of ’07--and we just started hanging out. I was working on my first record then and he came and made a beat for it and rapped on another song of it. After that, he was like, “Yo, I’m about to leave to go back to Atlanta, but I got all of these beats. Maybe you want to do a little 10-song project?” And that ended up becoming RABDARGAB that came out back in 2010. Then we did the Double Dragon record and now we got the Smart Ass Black Boy record coming out next year.
Tell me how you feel you fit in within the Houston scene.
I mean, shit, I’m like my own thing, you know? I’m my own entity; I’m my own style. I’m my own brand; I’m my own style of music, you know? Like, to be honest, I don’t think that there’s any Houston rappers that I’d really compare to me. It’s such an organic thing that I can’t even pinpoint what the style is. But if I could describe it in anyway, I’d say that my style is very youthful, very straightforward. It is honest. You know, all of these songs--even if I’m telling the story that’s kind of a made up story--I’m like telling it from my honest prospective. It came from me from something I’ve scene or something that my friends have gone through or something that I’ve gone through in some part of my life. It’s just music for like people that like just want something that’s real, that’s straight up, you know? I’m not rapping about popping molly or like drinking Ace of Spades champagne or like all of these designer brands and shit, because that’s not my life. You know? That’s not even the life of the people around me. So, I just trying to like keep it relevant to people my age and people younger than me and even people a little bit older than me that they can just hear instantly and say, “I feel that.” Kind of coming from an underdog prospective too. Because I always make it a point to have like the “Fat” in my name because typically, being like fat or chubby or husky or whatever, is a demeaning thing. But I’m just trying to like take shit that is commonly seen as, you know, a negative and turn it into something positive, you know?
Cool. You just said “popping molly,” which obviously is like the most--
Everybody raps about that shit now; it’s like hella boring. Like literally, every fucking rapper talks about molly. I don’t think all of these rappers even do molly like that. I think it’s just a façade.
It’s like impossible to do it like that.
Yeah! Like fucking Juicy J or someone else is always rapping about popping Xannies and Mollies and shit. If he was really doing that at his age, every day, he would be dead by now.
Tell me about the new record.
Yeah! Smart Ass Black Boy is gonna be crazy. It’s fucking like… It is definitely the most proud album that I’ve made today. It’s my second proper full-length album, totally produced by Tom Cruz. He also produced my first one RABDARGAB. Earlier this year we put out a mixtape called Double Dragon with Young One Records. It was kind of like a duo-type album kind of like a Watch the Throne type thing or a Jaylib type thing where both of us are rapping. Cruz made the beats on all that too. You know, people get it really confused. They think that we sample video games on the whole album, which is weird. I think one person put out a press release and everybody just copied that. But we only sampled a video game on one song, the title track. The rest is totally original stuff. But, yeah, Smart Ass Black Boy is easily my most favorite thing that I’ve made. It covers so much ground. I’ve got songs about love, I’ve got songs about race, I’ve got songs about the Watts Riots, songs about slavery, songs about being on vacation. I got a Reggaeton song on there. It’s all over the place. The thing is probably the best representation of the Fat Tony style that I’ve done yet. I can’t wait for people to hear it.
Want to talk some more about the Watts Riots?
It’s part of the Civil Rights movement. Watts is a part of L.A. and they had riots in the mid-‘60s. In the song, every verse I’m like taking on a role of a person experiencing these things. So in the first verse of the song, I’m speaking as a child that’s grown up as a salve. Second verse I’m speaking as a teenager growing up during the Watts Riots. And in the third verse I’m speaking as myself growing up in my age. And it’s how it all relates. How all the different conflicts and intentions have always been there the whole time and are still her. And it’s like panting a picture of what they were for that time and and then all linking together
What is your process when you’re writing a song like that?
Well when I make a song, I think about what I want to say first and foremost. Before I even come up with lyrics, I think of what I want the song to be about, what is the message I want to put out there, and how I’m going to structure it. Once I get that down, I normally like make up a verse at home. I never write it down, I just come up with in my mind. I come to the studio with the first verse done and I finish the remaining verses while I’m there. I used to write everything down on my phone or a notebook, but I kind of got out of that. Cruz told me years ago that that wasn’t really the method to go, and theres’ a reason why artist’s like Biggie and Jay-Z and Lil Wayne don’t write down lyrics. Years ago, when he told me that, I was like fuck that. I just want to keep writing it down because that’s what I’m used to. But now that I’ve gotten used to never writing it down, I can’t write anymore. I can only make up songs in my head. It comes out more natural. You get a better feel of it. When I’m writing a song in my mind, I’m kind of feeling it as if I’m hearing it for the first time. So it kinda goes along better. I feel like a lot of time you try to write a song down, you kind of get into that essay mode where you’re kind of like bullshitting. You get into that auto-pilot zone and you’re just saying stuff to finish the sentence or finish the bar. But if you’re coming up with it in your mind, you’re only going to say things that are actually memorable to you. Songs always come out better that way.
[Photo by Peter Nussbaum]
What’s some like really weird shit that’s gone down on tour?
Shit, where do I begin? On this fucking… this summer we went on tour with Kool A.D. The second show was in DC, and the show as great, and we needed a room for the night so our tour manager just booked like the cheapest hotel. We all stayed in there, it was like a Days Inn in like a real ratchet-ass part of town, but we don’t pay no mind to it. Then after that, we’re like riding around touring for the next week and I’m like itching really, really bad, right? I’m having all of this what looks like I’m really ashy. So I’m just thinking, “Damn man, I need lotion really, really bad. What is going on with me?” We’re just traveling; we probably played like maybe eight more shows or something. Finally, we get to fucking Detroit and then we all realize we caught scabies. I Googled the hotel that we stayed at and the first reviews that I see are all warnings about scabies and bed bugs. So we had to cancel that show. I had to go to a fucking free clinic, because I’m the only guy with health insurance, and me and the tour manager basically begged the guy to give us a bunch of medicine. The next day we played in Chicago, but luckily it was an early show. So to get rid of scabies you got to put this cream on you, right? It’s like cream over your entire body, from your face down to your toes. You got lay in this cream totally naked for like six to eight hours. So that night, all of us--there’s like six of us on tour--we’re all laying in like towels and our fucking rooms covered in cream, just hating ourselves.
Oh my God.
It totally got rid of the scabies. But it sucks because we had been playing at so many shows and like traveling--staying at friend’s houses--and we had to call them all back up and say, “Hey man, you may want to go to the doctor because we’re all hella sick right now.” That was crazy as fuck. That was probably the most crazy thing that happened on tour besides little things with cops and stuff.
It’s like hella funny now, but I always keep an extra scabies cream in my bag at all times just in case I ever get it again. I’m totally prepared for it.
That’s intense. Wow. Wait, so when you’re laying in the scabies cream are you allowed to sleep? What did you do?
Well you like got to make sure that nothing else touches you so the scabies cream doesn’t rub off. So we all had to kind of like sleep like this [performs sleeping motion]. You got to put the cream on once and then you got to shower everyday after it. Then every time you shower, all of the dead bugs will like scrape off you. So every time we showered after that, the fucking tub would be like black. It was really nasty. Really, really nasty. I’m like shocked that we didn’t give any of our friends scabies because we stayed at different houses on that tour. It was a total mess. It was really, really expensive to get the cream too. It was wack. It’s prescription only.
How did you get prescription only shit for the rest of the dates on tour?
The doctor gave me a bunch of refills for it so I could give it out, but then the tour manager’s family had a doctor friend that wrote us a prescription. Then he got tons of medicine.
Yeah, man. But it’s not as bad as like a bed bug where you got to burn shit. You just got like wash your clothes in crazy hot water, which also sucked because we were handling merch the whole time and we had hundreds of shirts. So all of our merch, all of our fucking clothes and shit was like covered with it. We had been like selling merch the whole time so we were like, “Damn, how could we even call back to all these towns? And be like, ‘Hey, man, if you bought our merch you might want to go to the doctors, you probably have scabies.’” So if anybody out there caught scabies from the Kool A.D., Fat Tony, Tom Cruz tour, I’m sorry.