Fat Tony isn’t fat, but when I interview him, he is sweaty. He just finished performing on a stage outside a historical pirate boat in 90-degree weather for the annual 4 Knots Festival hosted by the Village Voice, and the sudden cool of the AC in the artist area has him mopping his brow.
Still, the changing elements don't seem to phase the Houston native who first emerged in 2010 with RABDARGAB, a title that made a play on a Houston '90s literacy program called "Read a Book–Do A Report–Get a Buck." Around this same time Tony, born Anthony Obi, began working with members of Das Racist and even Hudson Mohawke on collaborations for a mixtape preview to RABDARGAB called RABDARGAB: THE EPREVIEW.
Springboarding these connections to build a buzz for himself, Tony and production partner Tom Cruz released the 2012 mixtape Double Dragon, and yes, the majority of the beats used on it were built from samples taken from the video game of the same name. This tape earned the Houston rapper features from the legendary Bun B and rising bay area cloud-rap duo Main Attrakionz.
His latest full-length album Smart Ass Black Boy came out in June and builds on all this previous work. Though it sometimes falls into amateurish pitfalls, the record feels like an important stepping stone for the 25-year-old MC. Lead single "BKNY" and the loosely-packed "Hood Party," featuring Kool A.D. and Despot, reveal an artist with a knack for morphing into whatever mold is needed at the moment. Opening for the likes of Kendrick Lamar at the Downtown Festival in Manhattan this past March, Obi has displayed his chops as a tireless live performer.
Tony, who's been living in Brooklyn for the past few months to help promote the album, put aside his post-show exhaustion to speak to P&P about his slow grind to relevancy, the important issues behind his album's title and how regionalization is breaking down in rap music.
Starting off with the basics: When did you first start rapping and how did you get started?
The first time I was like seriously trying to rap I was 13 I think. I was walking to class and I heard Cam’ron’s song “Oh Boy” and I decided right then and there that I’m about to do this shit. I walked to class, I said, [mimes pointing at multiple people] 'Yo, you're going to rap, you're going to rap, you're going to manage us, and I’m going to produce.' And then I couldn’t make beats so I was like, 'Fuck it, I’m just going to rap.' And here I am. Then I got connected with Tom Cruz because he used to be in a group called Supreeme in Atlanta. He has family in Houston and he came to Houston one time for some business shit and we linked up.
Would you say Cam'ron is your favorite rapper? What do you think about Jay Z's latest album?
Cam’ron is one of my top favorite rappers, but he’s not my most favorite. Jay Z, Nas, Tribe Called Quest, those are the legends. To be honest, I don’t really think much of it because I haven’t really been a fan like I used to be since The Black Album. That was like the last time I was going crazy for Jay Z. Every album I’ve heard since then—Kingdom Come, American Gangster, The Blueprint 3—have all been lackluster in my opinion. But I still love him. He’s a great artist.