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It's a little after midnight, and Fat Tony's mind is racing.
The MC is readying to perform in Capitale, a downtown venue that feels like it's been pulled from Ancient Rome. Massive columns hold up a chiseled, high ceiling. Floor lights surround the venue, which holds about 1,500 people, casting shadows on the room from its surrounding pillars. A whiskey and Coke costs $18.
Tony stands near the back of the crowd, sporting a slim tank top, his eyes wide. He's got a tall order before him—opening for headliners Black Hippy, aka Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, Schoolboy Q, and Kendrick Lamar. As he makes his way around to the stage, he smiles, popping up and immediately jumping into a rendition of "BKNY," the Houston-based rapper's smooth New York anthem.
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"I consider New York my second home," says Fat Tony—birth name Anthony Obi—a week later, in the backyard of a Brooklyn bar. Tony's debut album, Smart Ass Black Boy, out this month, is a smooth collection of introspective lyrics and syrupy Houston beats from producer Tom Cruz. The LP has been finished for about a year, but Tony feels it represents him the most in this moment. "I'm sitting back," he says. "I've done my job. I've been the best artist I can be. And now I'm ready to see what the world is about."
Thematically, Smart Ass touches on love, sex, and "daddy issues." Unlike other young contemporary rappers, Fat Tony isn't relying on gimmicks. You'll find no mention of molly in his rhymes. This ain't fashion rap.
"I'm not trendy," he says. "I'm not a guy that goes around trying to be extra punk, talking about drugs, making club-friendly type songs. I'm just a guy that makes songs straight from his heart. And when you do that, it takes a little bit more time for people to start seeing you're actually good."
Fat Tony's background isn't exactly conducive to making rap music. Raised in Houston, he attended a high school of about 300 kids deemed "gifted and talented." His father pushed him to pursue a "real" career. But Tony pushed into rap music instead, more interested in Dr. Dre than becoming a doctor himself.
"The fact that I don't make a lot of money worries him," he says of his father and their strained relationship. (See: daddy issues.)
Regardless, it's evident that Tony's taken the drive and determination he felt from his parents and instilled it into music.
"I want to make powerful music that speaks to people," he says. "I want to be very, very respected. I want to be very famous. And I want to make a lot of money. I want to be looked at as an OutKast."
Maybe, someday, dad will be happy after all.
Fat Tony plays 4Knots Music Festival on Saturday, June 29.