Fat Tony isn’t the type of person who lets you forget where he’s from. The love he has for Houston, his hometown, is clear from the moment we meet. Five minutes into our conversation, Fat Tony gives me, a native New Yorker, a history lesson on the Third Ward neighborhood he credits for the Southern influences embedded in his latest album, 10,000 Hours. “I grew up seeing art galleries and seeing people play music in my own neighborhood, which gave me the comfort to know the arts was a normal part of life and not this thing you got to go across town to get into,” he says. Now, Fat Tony is one of four hosts for Vice Live, a new show on VICELAND where literally anything could happen. The rapper-turned-television host shares his love for country music, how Waylon Jennings influenced 10,000 Hours, and his infinite love for Prince.
Noisey: What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about Houston?
Fat Tony: Music. Houston has one of the most important rap music cultures of all time. We’ve contributed so much to music from DJ Screw to Beyoncé to Rap-a-Lot records to Scarface to Devin the Dude. Even some of our allies in neighboring cities like UGK, Pimp C, and Bun B. I’m a huge advocate for Houston rap music and Texas rap music, in general.
Growing up, I didn’t feel like I should be into things that were only culturally black. I liked everything. I liked rap music, I liked rock music, I liked pop music. Growing up, I was heavily into punk rock music—still am. That’s a space that’s predominantly white, but not only white. The same way in hip-hop it’s predominantly black, but it’s not only black. I view myself a fan of inclusion. I want there to be spaces where all kinds of people can link up together. I’m more comfortable if I can come to a space and there are black people, white people, gay people, straight people, trans people. There’s men, women. A little bit of everything. That better represents the real world, or at least the world I want to live in.
A Fader profile about you characterized you as “nomadic.” How is your love for Houston able to coexist with a wandering spirit?
I can do more for Houston outside of Houston than I can do if I live in Houston for the rest of my life. Houston is a place that’s underrated, especially our music and our culture. With me being a nomadic person I’m able to spread [the culture]. For a lot of people who aren’t from Houston, Texas, or the South, you don’t know what Houston’s like because it’s not in the media the same way Atlanta or New York is. I’ll always champion it and spread it out everywhere I go. I’ll always introduce myself as being from Houston, first and foremost. It’s important to me and it means more for me to do it here than to preach to the choir back in Houston.
If 10,000 hours of work in a given area suggests you’re an expert. Are you able to pinpoint the moment when you hit your 10,000th hour?
Two years ago when I was living in Los Angeles, I got on YouTube I found a concert I played back in high school when I was like 17 or something. At first, I was like, “Ah man. I don’t want to watch it. This is going to suck.” I watched a little bit of it and yes, parts of it were a little amateur. But parts of it were like, “Wow. I’m actually tight and I’m killing it.”
I’ve been playing music for so long. At this point in my life, I think I’ve done some type of performance, whether it was a rap performance or a DJ set, every month for the last 12 years. That’s gained me a lot of experience. At first, I wanted to create music to get out of the house. I never left Houston until I made music. I never flew on a plane until I made music. I was never able to move out of my parent's house until I made music and found success from being a musician. I owe so much of my life to my talents and perseverance as an artist.
Now, I’m looking at ways I can meet my next goals which are starting a family and owning a home. I’m out of the goals I had as a young man, which was just to see the world and gain some more experiences. I’m trying to get some ownership and some stability into my life.
There are a couple great moments on 10,000 Hours. You address stereotypes on “Texas” and “Got it Out the Mud” has a very Southern vibe. Why was it important to you to create this explicitly Texan imagery when regionalism is pretty much dead in hip-hop?
I want to honor where I’m from in a way that’s a bit different from the way others do. My family loves country music. My father is a Nigerian but country music is his bread and butter, it’s his favorite genre. My grandmother on my mom’s side, who was a black American, she loved country music too. I’ve heard country music day in and day out all of my life. In the last year or so I’ve really gotten into Waylon Jennings. He’s also a Texan. He’s an outlaw country singer and I identify with his music. His lyrics are poetry and his voice is beautiful. He’s my number one.
I remember once I asked my dad why he likes country music so much more than other genres. He told me, “I like country music because it tells real stories about real people.” I didn’t really get it until I started getting more into Waylon Jennings. There were all these songs about the underdog and the people struggling to make it, survive, and show people who they really are.
He has a great song called “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way,” about when he went to Nashville and people in the record business wanted him to sound like Hank Williams. It was him singing his frustrations of how he’s left home trying to get it, which is the story of my life. I left Houston, and other homes, so many times to come to find opportunities. I’m literally doing that now here in Brooklyn. I left my home in Los Angeles to come to work this Vice Live show. I’ve uprooted myself and my girlfriend to make this happen. I really identify with people like that—people who put their whole heart and their whole passion into everything they’re doing.
You’re also a Prince fan. What made you gravitated toward Prince?
I loved that he was such a fan of the drum machine. I’ve always been attracted to drum machines, that’s why I love rap, electronic, and bands like Nine Inch Nails. Even though it is a piece of machinery there’s a soulfulness you can bring out of it. Prince was a black man who played any kind of genre he fancied from rock music to funk, to gospel, to soul. He wasn’t afraid to touch anything. I grew up heavily into punk music. I grew up listening to rap. I’ve always been a rapper. But there were friends of mine growing up that only knew me from being into punk and putting on punk shows. In Prince, I was able to see somebody who is a black man but is also rock n’ roll too.
I also liked how he represented a little bit of everybody in his band lineups. His band was black people, white people, men, women, gay people, straight people. That’s always been the friend groups I’ve had and how I want to live my life. He went against gender identity and he broke the binary early on before people were really talking about that in a way that is powerful. It wasn’t about his sexuality all the time. A lot of it was about style and how you want to present yourself. That really spoke to me.
"Pretty Boy Swag" - Soulja Boy
I feel like me and my co-hosts are sexy and I feel like this right here is our swag. I think this is the ultimate self-love anthem. I’m a Soulja Boy fan. I think he’s culturally and musically important. But when he went on his first rant I know it felt a little out there and aggressive but I agree with him. He was saying things about younger artists ruining music by using music to troll and as a musician, I totally feel that way.
"Swervin’" - Fat Tony
That’s a song about perseverance and keeping it moving, which is something I’ve been about my entire life and a message I’m always trying to get out to others. I know day in and day out people want to give up on whatever they’re pursuing. I wrote it for people to stay motivated and to keep at it. Whether that’s a career in the arts, a new business or a skill they’re trying to acquire or a new car they’re trying to buy. Whatever goal you have keep your eyes on it and make that shit happen.
"Hello Brooklyn" - Beastie Boys
I love this song because it’s just them screaming “Hello, Brooklyn” and we’re in Brooklyn and it’s a beautiful place. This has been my second home for a long time. This is the first place I came to when I first left Houston. I met a lot of my first music friends here and really got my feet wet here. I gotta represent.
"Square Up" - Zack Fox
I had to put my nigga’s music on here because this song jams and it’s hella funny. I played this when I was on tour in Canada last year at an after party and niggas started slap-boxing and I haven’t seen that in a long time. Just a room full of people and multiple slap-boxing sessions happening all around the room.
"So Cal" - Chief Keef
Me and Zack Fox just moved to New York from Los Angeles so this is my homage to our former/current home because we’re bicoastal.
"Barre Baby" - Big Moe
Big Moe is from my neighborhood, Third Ward, on the South Side of Houston, Texas. This song is a great lullaby dedicated to sipping lean. Sipping lean is mad corny in this day and age but this day is culturally important and it really jams. I’ll always love it.
"can’t leave without it" - 21 Savage
We play this song often before the taping of Vice Live. Me and [Zack] love this song. I think it’s the best song on 21’s new album. 21 is really gassing on it.
"Who I Am" - Toro y Moi
I love this song because it’s just about figuring out who you are. We live in a world where everything is about your persona and your personality and how you present yourself to the world via social media or your art. This song feels like him grappling with who he is as his life changes. Always finding a way to ground yourself and figure out who you really are despite all the constant changes in life.
"Jawbreaker" - Injury Reserve, Rico Nasty, Pro Teens
Injury Reserve are my buddies and favorite new rap group that’s out over the last few years. Rico Nasty is super dope and I think this song has her best verse ever.
"stet" - Milo
I love Milo’s music. I love his other project Scallop’s Hotel and I really dig Milo and feel like he’s a kindred spirit as a rapper. Somebody who is independent, DIY, whose always gone against the grain and expose his inner truth—which is what I try to do with my own music.
Kristin Corry is a staff writer for Noisey. Follow him on Twitter.