Fat Tony Wants To Leave A Legacy — Even If It Takes More Than '10,000 Hours' [Interview]
Don’t call Fat Tony just a rapper. Prior to 2018, it was easy to get away with such a misnomer, but that time has passed. If his work as host of Thrift Haul or his ecstatically diverse live sets hasn’t yet convinced you otherwise, his 10,000 Hours album will. Fans of the rapper, born Anthony Obiawunaotu, may initially be turned off by the sprawling, eclectic songs on his Don Giovanni Records debut.
But beneath the whip-smart one-liners and scathing social critiques on albums like 2017’s Macgregor Park, it was easy to sense an artist itching for more. And on 10,000 Hours, which is out this Friday (September 28) that’s precisely what Fat Tony is. Not a rapper — just a musician throwing styles against the wall and finding that each of them sticks with ease and an exacting nature.
A lot of this should be credited to Tony’s go-to producer, HevIn, who worked with Tony to create the album’s countrified landscape. The title track bursts forth with the gleaming synths of Southern rap before taking a juke-inspired drum groove that moves the song toward some sort of lost Teklife b-side. The groove supports Tony’s near-yelps of declaration, celebrating his position as one of rap music’s most exciting stylists. “I did it with a few pals/But I do it on my own now/10,000 hours,” he sings. “Got it Out the Mud,” the most recent single from 10,000 Hours, features a slide guitar as big as the Texas night sky and a half-sung lilt from Tony that wouldn’t sound out of place on the country charts.
Despite the constant left-turning Tony does on 10,000 Hours, not a moment goes by when he loses control or the album sounds like it could have been made by anybody but him. That’s what makes Tony such a fascinating rapper; that’s what led the city of Houston to name a day after him. “This is my best album yet. I try to make my next album my best album every time and I think I’ve done it with 10,000 Hours like never before,” he explains over the phone from his home in LA. “There can never be anybody else that’s like Fat Tony.”
Tony spoke with Okayplayer about 10,000 hours, being black and a fan of punk music and having his own day in Houston.
Okayplayer: I don’t think this record could have been made if there were a ton of different producers working on it. Was the intention to keep the creative collaborators tight?
Fat Tony: That’s usually how I do it. This one was a little bit different because HevIn produced most of it. There were a few other people that worked on it, like my longtime producer Tom Cruz, aka Golden Eye. He produced the first song on there. There were a few others, but what really kept the whole project together was that HevIn mixed the entire thing as well. I got that idea from Ghostface Killah‘s Supreme Clientele. On that album, RZA is kind of the executive producer because he made some beats, but there are other producers on board as well.
Were you showing these other producers the stuff you and HevIn were working on so they could get an idea of the direction you were headed in?
HevIn and I used to live together when I moved back to LA at the end of 2016. During our time there we just made tons of music with no intentions. We just made songs because it’s just what we naturally do. At the same time, I was making music with other producers, but after about a year I looked back at the music HevIn and I were making and I thought we had really interesting stuff. I tried to form that stuff into an album. I took some of the best material from those sessions and paired those songs with some of my favorites from sessions with other producers and I tried to configure an entire album out of that. Once I had the idea that we were gonna make an album, we really went into hyperdrive and started making new songs and came up with the whole concept for this album.
After that first meeting looking at all those songs, we started working on tracks like “Texas,” “10,000 Hours,” and “Got it Out the Mud.” A lot of the songs that really make up the core of what the album’s about came on the backend after we decided to really make an album. But the beauty of the project is that it came from no intentions. It was just two friends making music purely for the sake of making music. That’s where a lot of the best collaborations spring from. It’s so easy to get caught up in the business of it or what’s gonna be a good look. When it’s just two or more people that really love each other and really vibe with each other get in a room and start making music, nothing beats that.
Did that lack of pressure or expectations allow you to make an album that’s not only different from the rest of your discography but different from what a rap album traditionally is?
Absolutely. I went into it feeling free to experiment because HevIn isn’t a traditional rap producer. He’s from Houston and I met him through my little sister, who was my good friend growing up. We were really into punk music and would talk about bands. HevIn would come around to smoke us out, introduce us to music, and just be an older brother figure. I really looked up to him because he was one of the first people I knew as a teenager that played shows and put out records. I aspired to be like him — a professional musician. As time went on, we became closer. We just started playing music and I felt really free because he wasn’t a hip-hop producer. His background is in rock, country, gospel, and blues. With him, I could experiment and explore all these sounds I wouldn’t be able to with other producers because he can play so many instruments and has the musicality to do it right. Like, there’s a lap steel on the record! We made a country song that’s a real song.
Even if a label was ready for you to put out a new record, your first thought wouldn’t presumably be, “Let’s put a slide guitar on this thing.”
Those were my first ideas, though! I wanted that stuff but before I started working with HevIn, there was no one I could call to make that happen. He’s the first producer I’ve worked with that’s really sick at various instruments.
Some of the instrumentation recalls music that comes from Texas. Are you trying to pay homage to your home state with the acoustic guitars and country influences running throughout?
Yes, it was because I grew up hearing country music all around me. My dad is a Nigerian man and he loves classic country music. My grandmother on my mom’s side, a black American woman, loves country music. I grew up right in Houston, and I wanted to represent it in a way I felt like other artists weren’t. When a lot of artists approach country music today, they try to do a crossover thing where they’re mixing it with trap or pop music. I wanted to do something closer to traditional country music. I was really inspired by Gram Parsons and The Rolling Stones‘ “Wild Horses.” I heard an acoustic version of “Wild Horses” that I really fell in love with; that and “No Expectations” from Beggars Banquet. I wanted to make music that was more like those songs — not a Florida Georgia Line song or something by Tim McGraw and Nelly. Not to knock them, though.
At the same time, you must have known that your fans would still view this “rapper” Fat Tony doing country music, right?
I wanna challenge people the same way I challenge myself. I want people to come into my world and be open to anything, whether it’s me doing a different genre, working with different producers, or hosting a game show. I want people to be able to be a little bit surprised when I produce something.
What was it like growing up as a black kid in a very popular Southern rap city being into punk music?
Growing up I never thought twice about it because I didn’t have tons of friends that listened to punk music. I had a few friends at school that liked punk but for the most part, it was my thing. I didn’t have a scene that I was deep into. When I’d go to shows I’d go by myself and I really didn’t think twice about it. I just really loved all music the same. I wasn’t wearing punk as an identity. I didn’t dress punk, I didn’t have a mohawk.
I was also really into skateboarding. When it came to skateboarding, all my homies in that community were black dudes from my side of town. They didn’t like punk or rock music as much as I did, but they liked it a little bit because it was of the culture too. There was still an understanding that some skaters liked rock music and that was okay. I never felt any opposition or saw myself as an outcast. I still identify with that. Most people just respected me for being super into music and didn’t question it. I always thought being into anything underground and thinking you’re smarter than everybody else is bullshit. Music’s for everybody if they want it.
Well, that clearly comes through on this new record, where you’re playing with all the different stuff you grew up on.
More than ever it’s important for me to highlight my influences in what I do because I want to reach people that feel the same way. I want to talk to kids that grew up loving Houston rap music and Prince, punk bands like Bikini Kill, or hardcore bands like Black Flag and Bad Brains. I can’t be the only one that likes all that shit at the same time. Now, I wanna be very vocal about it.
Let’s talk about getting a day named after you in Houston.
Isn’t that crazy? Houston’s cool because Houston recognizes a lot of artists. They’ve given days to Bun B, Z-Ro, Trae, and Lil’ Keke. But the city is special because all of those artists are way more famous than I am. I’m truly an underground artist. So for someone like me to get recognized is in some ways a bigger deal than a Bun B day or a Z-Ro day. I represent a generation of artists that are below the radar.
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Now that you’re in LA what’s your connection to Texas?
Same as always. I’ve always been a person that’s traveled and lived in different places. My first time living outside of Houston was in 2012 in LA. I came here to make Smart Ass Black Boy. I spent a lot of time in Brooklyn and Mexico City, too. Wherever I go I represent Houston music, though, because Houston rap music is so special and so important to me. I can’t let go of it. It’s bigger than physically being there for me. Representing what we’ve made and contributed to art and culture globally is of the utmost importance to me and I want to remind people of who we are as Houstonians, from DJ Screw to Johnny “Guitar” Watson to Selena to Devin the Dude to our slang and food. We’ve contributed so much and I think if you don’t remind people where it comes from, it’ll get lost in translation and that history will be forgotten.
With the title 10,000 Hours, you seem to be proving who you are as a rapper, what you’ve accomplished, and how much work you’ve given to the game. Why is now the time to make that statement?
Now’s the first time that I’ve recognized it. Now’s the first time that I’m able to reflect on who I am, what I’ve done, and really see that I’ve accomplished a whole lot. I did all this — touring, traveling, making music, collaborating, putting my all into being an artist — because it felt like the right thing to do. I saw the opportunities and I stacked them up. I love the freedom to express myself and I’ve gotten a lot of support from a lot of people — my collaborators, my management, friends and family. This is the first year in my life that I’ve really been able to sit back and look at all of that, like, “Wow, I’ve really made something for myself.” I’ve been able to make it as a working artist for so long, for pretty much all of my adult life. That’s a dream. This is the stuff I dreamt about as a kid. I feel really lucky and really blessed and I wanted to celebrate that. When your head is to the ground and you’re so in it, you don’t think about the blessings you’ve received and the things you’ve accomplished. I wanted to announce that to myself with this album.
So the record is more of a celebration than asking why you’re still an underground rapper? Or why you’re not more popular?
It’s absolutely a celebration. I’m not the kind of person to bitch about who I am or where I am in life. I feel really lucky for all the things I’ve been able to do. I feel really optimistic about what’s next. Every year has gotten better, and better, and better.
Are you striving to reach the same status as the Houston legends who also have days named after them?
Absolutely. I wanna leave a legacy. I want respect, but I want to do it in my own way. I can’t look to them and be like, “I wanna be like this person,” because that’s impossible.
Where did the Thrift Haul idea come from?
Thrift Haul was created by Stephanie Ward. She pitched it to me when she worked at Super Deluxe. I loved the idea and we came up with six episodes. We shot them and they were received really warmly. We’ve been really lucky to keep doing it and I think it keeps getting better and better. It’s fun to put vintage clothes on display and just have fun with my homies.
Have you seen Buzzfeed’s version? They pretty clearly ripped y’all off.
Oh yeah. I have seen it and I think it’s extremely wack. I’ve heard that Buzzfeed has a reputation for copying people’s shows. They’ve got a habit of looking at other channels and making their own versions of these shows. But you can’t fully copy the original thing because what we do is way tighter. It features more people of color and more queer people. You can’t take our show, dilute it, and expect it to go right. All in all, fuck ’em.
What do you hope people learn about Fat Tony after hearing this record?
I hope they learn that I’m a diverse and super original artist. I’m coming to you with more than just the regular shit you hear from artists these days. I’m coming with something that’s truly me and truly honest.