Meet Fat Tony, Houston Hip-Hop’s Punkest OG
If you look up Fat Tony online you’ll probably come across the The Simpsons character first. A level deeper and you’ll find our Fat Tony, an icon of Houston hip-hop who’s piled up Houston Press awards for his music and increasingly finds himself on “Artists to Watch Out For” lists, from NPR to Green Label. Another level deeper and you’ll find songs like “No More,” “Final Destination” and “Sleepover,” songs that don’t sound anything like what we’d expect from a Houston rapper.
Before the internet, before YouTube made discovering new artists as simple as clicking from your couch. If the radio and MTV weren’t playing something, if you didn’t have a connect, a musical connect who slide you a cassette tape and said, “This is what you need to be listening to,” finding new music from outside your zip code was an odyssey.
So when the spotlight finally swung Houston’s way and the world caught its first real glimpse of the city’s culture, what we saw looked like a foreign country, an exotic land dipped in candy paint and built on wood grain. Of course, while that music absolutely was Houston, it wasn’t all of Houston. Fat Tony simultaneously fits your preconceived notions of Houston and doesn’t at all, which is to say he’s a real, actual human being from the city and not a reflection of what people from outside the city expect to see. He’s lived his entire life in Houston, growing up on the Southside, appropriately soaked in the music of DJ Screw and Lil Flip and Big Mo that dominated his formative years, but his life and music is made up of many more influences than the ones he could find outside his screen door.
When we speak he had just gotten off the phone with an old friend and was in a reminiscent mood, bringing up that while he and this old high school friend had remained close, their lives had diverged sharply. She’s increasingly become drawn to the church while he’s pursued a life of hip-hop, becoming, in his words, “A rock and roll sinner.” Rock and roll sinner, yeah, that sounds about right.
“Me and my peers are bringing a different thing to the landscape of Houston rap,” Tony said. “Some of us have a sound that’s linked more to that Swishahouse era, there’s some of us on some whole different stuff.” Clearly Fat Tony is on some different stuff.
So had did Fat Tony go from a Southside kid to the kind of rapper who happily dresses up as a dog in his videos? Like all of us he’s a product of his environment, and Houston can be a much more diverse environment than outsiders assume. He describes his high school as a true melting pot, a place filled with punk kids and heavy metal kids and rap kids, a place that had him listening to everyone from Prince to Three 6 Mafia. He roamed the halls of that high school and the local mall selling CDs he had made with a friend and really came to believe he could make a life out of music by promoting shows before he was playing them. “I loved getting people into a room, especially a lot of different people,” he said. “That was always something I had a talent at.”
Whether he’s playing in punk bands (something he does on the side) or digging into rap, his real bread and butter, his career has really been about inclusiveness, and he’s found one of the best ways to bring people into his music is through humor. Fat Tony is often just flat out funny, a trait you don’t necessarily associate with Houston rap, and it’s no accident. “I’m as influenced by comedy as music, he says. “If I’m writing a song that’s good, there’s going to be a part of it that’s going to make me laugh. Laughter might open someone up, make them vulnerable to receive the message I’m putting out there.”