While the rest of the country is talking about Rihanna's new, ultra-violent video, we here at Houstonia are all about making love, not war. We're also all about our own native talent; sorry, RiRi. To that end, we've been obsessively listening to Houston rapper Fat Tony's new single, "Sushi," which may have ousted his 2011 single "You Ain't Fat" as our favorite in his ever-growing repertoire.
In the video, which features collaborator Asher Roth and a few prop bottles of sake, shot after shot of sushi parades in front of the camera, each more suggestive than the last. (Cue heavy breathing from sushi nerds the world over.) The video echoes the repetitive, close-up shots in Jiro Dreams of Sushi with a few major exceptions, the most obvious being that Fat Tony—born Anthony Obi—is not strictly talking about going out for some hand rolls when he raps about "eating sushi all day." At least, not necessarily.
"You can take it however you like it," laughed Tony when we caught up with him today by phone. "We were just hungry." The young artist clued us into a few other things too, starting with the somewhat surprising fact that "Sushi" was more or less unplanned. Tony was in LA last August recording with producers Blended Babies (a.k.a. Rich Gains and JP Keller) when Roth, whose last album was produced by Gains and Keller, dropped by the studio. "I'd never met him before," says Tony, who perked up when he heard Roth and the Blended gang fooling around with a beat that would eventually become the backbone of "Sushi."
"My homeboy Illfaded was there too," recalls Tony, who says the Houston-based producer/audio engineer began "humming the melody that became the chorus." Fat Tony himself began rapping over the beat, with help from Roth. "Asher threw in the word sushi," replacing another word (ahem) that had been used in its place, "and we just made it up right there." Before anyone knew what had happened, "Sushi" had been written and recorded on the spot.
The video came together just as naturally. Back in LA this past February, Tony met up with Roth again, who "had the bright idea to make a video. We planned for it to be shot over a few days, but it only took a day and a half to knock it out. The song was made in such a natural way that I think it really carried into the video and making it fun."
For the shoot, Tony and Roth ordered their favorite dishes from Sugarfish, from furiously red slices of tuna sashimi to fat, glistening lengths of salmon over gentle balls of vinegared rice. "They're probably the top sushi restaurant in LA," says Tony, who makes it a point to eat at Sugarfish every time he visits. "We didn't want to put too much effort into what kind of sushi we picked; we thought it was best to just get what we like," Tony says, before adding in a low growl: "It's that good, natural raw sushi, just the way Mother Nature made it."
Purchasing the sake for the video was similarly low-key. "We went down the street to the liquor store and bought some sake." Just like that, picking up the first bottles they found. "The sake we got is actually some of the best sake you can get for that price," he laughs.
None of the sushi used in the video was actually consumed by Tony or Roth, even though the shoot was over quickly. "We just went and got our own sushi after," laughs Tony, whose local favorites include "Uchi, straight up" and Richmond Ave. classic Oishii, which he calls "really, really good for affordable sushi, like a casual sushi place." When he's not eating sushi, Tony's "a big fan of anything that's Vietnamese, so I love getting banh mi at Les Givral." His all-time favorite Midtown hotspot shut down earlier this year—"I'm heartbroken Van Loc is closed, so now I eat a lot of Simply Pho; it's right across the street"—but other standbys like Frenchy's and Pappadeaux have kept him well-fed.
"Pappadeaux is such a regular thing for me," says Tony, who frequents the chain at least once a month, though this is nowhere close to the frequency with which people parrot his line "I'm at Pappadeaux's with a lot of hoes," a fan favorite eclipsed only by "You ain't fat!" Tony doesn't get tired of it. "It happens every day. Especially in Houston. People love coming up, telling me that."
Though Tony hasn't played a set in his hometown in a while, the rapper—who jets between LA and New York frequently—will be DJing tomorrow at Top Vintage from noon to 7 p.m. In addition, he has at least two full Houston shows coming up when he returns from his latest tour, which includes concerts with Talib Kweli at the Forecastle Festival in Louisville, KY ("It's the first US festival is totally green and environmentally conscious," he enthuses) and People Under the Stairs in Atlanta. First up is the Bayou City Bonanza at the Eastdown Warehouse, an all-day festival which Fat Tony himself is headlining; he expects to go on stage around 11 p.m. After that, you can catch him in October when he plays the Untapped Festival with fellow local act New York City Queens and headliners Cold War Kids and Twin Shadow.
And as for those vaguely pornographic shots of shimmering sushi slices, Tony says the homage to Jiro Dreams of Sushi was intentional. Though he didn't see the documentary until after recording his single, he found himself moved after watching Jiro Ono devote his life to this one, singular obsession, plating piece after piece of sushi like a cross between an assembly line robot and a Zen master.
"I love learning about people that are dedicated to their craft," says Tony, "whether it's music or acting or being a welder or being a painter or being a plumber. They inspire me to go harder."