Third Ward native son Fat Tony likes to take people places. And not just using the innovative sonic soundscape that’s made him a household name in Houston’s music circles.
In addition to guiding fans on a personal tour of H-Town throughout his various releases, he’s taken viewers apartment hunting in New York City as a co-host of Viceland’s Vice Live and even brought Houstonia along with him on a grocery shopping run via Zoom while catching us up on his latest album, Exotica, which dropped last month.
In what is said to be a counterpart to Wake Up, his album from earlier this year, the genre-bending rapper’s eight new tracks delve into a fictional world, introducing listeners to an array of distinctive characters, through a unique kind of storytelling inspired by the tradition of African griots.
From his current home in Tucson, Arizona, Fat Tony chatted with us about staying creative during the pandemic, writing from a different perspective, and repping the Third Ward wherever he goes.
You’ve been known to take an experimental approach in your music. What do you think about that?
I don't think I would describe myself as this experimental artist. I think it's a title that is given to me, but I will say that my approach is always to do something a little bit different. And not just for the sake of being different, but just to stand out.
How have you kept creating throughout the pandemic?
I feel really lucky because we recorded the whole album before the pandemic hit, so we pretty much spent all of this year, up until the album came out, mixing the record, planning videos, shooting videos, getting the art direction down. Really homing in on those details. I feel extremely lucky that I had that because it kept me busy, and it also gave me something to look forward to all year.
Exotica is described as an "iteration of rap short fiction"; essentially, each song is about a different character. What led to this storytelling approach?
Producer Gldneye and I—we have been working together for all of my music career. We had been talking for years about making an album that had more of a storytelling focus, which is something that we had explored in our music before, but we really wanted to be more heavy-handed with that direction on this one. My last couple albums I was speaking more from my own perspective, whereas, on this album, I’m pretty much speaking from the perspective of characters the whole time. Only on the intro song, “What Wake You Up” [featuring Houston’s own Bun B]—that’s the only time I refer to me, Fat Tony. The rest of the album, I’m either playing the role or the narrator.
What do you want your listeners to take away from listening to the album?
I want listeners to dig deep. I think this is an album that really rewards the listener by having so much detail and so much stuff for them to get into—not just in the meanings of songs and the lyrics, but also in the music and all the production. There’s so many different instruments that we added to the album. Even the album art itself is really, really detailed. I think that this is the kind of album that will only become more impressive over time.
You’re a Third Ward native who came up in H-Town’s rap scene. How do you keep H-Town with you now that you’ve left the city?
Man, 'cause it’s in me. Everywhere I go, I champion Houston music, from legendary artists to current artists. I cite Houston artists and places constantly in my work and in the press. I think it’s something that can never really leave me. I also feel like not living there now and moving around so much just helps me spread more of the goodwill and ingenuity that Houston offers.