Houston Rising: Fat Tony - "Houstonians Always Stick Together"
When tragedy strikes, it’s tempting to fixate on the pain and lose sight of a greater purpose. But Houston refuses to turn a blind eye to its people, and the positivity is all but eclipsing the darkness that struck. For the next few weeks, we’ll be spotlighting artists who are born and bred Houstonians, the charities they support, and their version of the Texan silver lining. This morning, we’re chatting with rapper Fat Tony, whose heart for his fellow Houstonians has led him to support The Way Home. Houston is rising, and we’re here for it.
Fat Tony’s latest album, MacGregor Park, is the product of many long walks through the rapper’s childhood stomping grounds—namely, Third Ward Houston and, of course, the album’s namesake, MacGregor Park. He explains that there’s always been a deep sense of obligation to honor his city, and with each passing year, the urge only gets stronger: how can Tony best honor his favorite town, the one he calls one of the most important musical cities in the world? The answer, of course, is always with more music—wittier lyrics, snappier beats, harder hitting verses that get straight to the point. MacGregor Park is a testament to Tony’s commitment, and to his increasing dexterity as an artist—and with each verse that’s skillfully spit, Tony is able to rep his city with that much more finesse. We sat down with the rapper to revisit his childhood memories, dive deeper on the timeliness of an album that honors a city so in need of celebration, and rehash the resiliency of Texans—in Houston and elsewhere.
Thanks for hopping on the phone. Were you in Houston when the hurricane hit?
No, fortunately I was not. I was here at home in Los Angeles.
Have you been back since?
I was in Austin last weekend, but I’ve not been to Houston yet. I’m going in about a week, I’m gonna be playing Houston while I’m on tour and I also have a day off, which I’ll spend in Houston so I’ll get to see family and friends and see what the relief efforts are looking like firsthand.
How is your family dealing with everything?
My family got really lucky this time. We had no damages to our home, there were no injuries, and not just my immediate family but my extended family, they’re all fine. No one even lost power. I remember during past hurricanes, it was a little bit harder for us. During Hurricane Ike, in 2008, we were without power for a week, and without hot water for a week, too. So I’m just really counting my blessings that my family didn’t get too much damage. But I did have friends who lost a bit. I have a friend in the Missouri City area who lost the first floor of her home, lost her car, I also saw another buddy of mine, her and her newly-wed husband, their entire house sunk. They lost everything.
So I’m lucky to have not have anyone really close to me lose anything, but I’ve definitely seen the devastation on social media. It’s a real disaster. It’s kind of hard for people to fathom what a hurricane is like if you’ve never experienced one—like a lot of people might just think it’s bad rain, but I knew going into it that there would be death, and there would be destruction, and it would take a big toll on the city. I knew it was nothing to joke about.
How long ago did you move to LA?
I moved to LA in December of last year. I originally moved here in 2012, and I recorded my album Smart Ass Black Boy here, and after that, I ended up moving to Brooklyn, and then after that back to my hometown Houston. Last year I spent a lot of my time in Mexico City, I was producing a monthly hip hop series that I created called Funktion, which is basically just a showcase for non-Mexican performers who come down to Mexico City to play. When I finished with that, I went back to Houston around the holidays last year, and I found an opportunity to move to LA again,and I took it.
Cool, so do you feel like you’re still in touch with the scene in Houston?
Absolutely, because I grew up in Houston, and I’ve been such a big part of the music scene there that I’m always getting updated and I’m always keeping in touch. You know, the Houston music scene really really sticks together, there’s a ton of Houston folk living here in LA too. I really feel like, everywhere I go in the entire world, whether I’m in Mexico or I’m in Canada or I’m in Germany, I run into somebody from Houston, without fail every time. I don’t know what it is, but Houstonians always stick together. And I think that’s been really evident through this hurricane. All the relief efforts have been really amazing, and it’s really shown how Texans can come together and make things happen, especially in a big time of need.
Yeah, I feel like a lot of the news I’ve been reading is about how Houstonians are out-serving everyone and just so ready and willing to help their neighbors.
Yeah. It’s what we’re all about. Houston, and especially the music scene, has always looked to itself for help. We’ve been the underdog time and time again, even when we come out on top, there’s always a sense that there’s more for us to reach, and more for us to succeed in. And I think we show that tenacity in our sports, our music, and just in the common man helping his neighbor when his house is getting flooded.
I know you’ve been making music in Houston for a while—what’s it been like just being a part of the growth of that community?
It’s amazing. It’s amazing. Because I think Houston is one of the most important musical cities in the entire world. Especially when it comes to hip hop. We contribute so much to the culture and to rap music, from, you know, DJ Screw’s style, to our style of playing, to the way that we love our cars, AKA slabs, you know we’re a big part of the fabric of rap music and rap culture, and I think that’s never going to change. I think people will always look to Houston for a bit of influence when it comes to rap music, and not just rap—artists like Drake, who’s a big fan of Houston culture and music, one of the biggest artists in the world. Same for artists like Beyonce or Solange. You know, we have contributed to the culture that I don’t think anybody could forget it.
Yeah, totally. Could you talk to me about MacGregor Park a little bit since it just came out a month ago?
Absolutely. So MacGregor Park is my latest album. It’s an 8-track album, about 30 minutes long, and I wanted to keep it short because I wanted people to digest the full album in one sitting, rather than skimming through it. And it’s really an album that’s a testament to my early 20s. You know, I’m like talking about my early 20s and my teen years, growing up in Third Ward, Houston, going to MacGregor Park to hang out with friends, to play basketball, to joke around, to smoke weed, to try to meet a nice girl. So when I was in Houston last year I took a lot of walks around MacGregor Park, I was spending a lot of time with my parents in the old neighborhood, and it just really dawned on me that all these songs that I’ve been making in the past few years need to come together in a collection that really honors my city. So I had been working on a lot of new music since my last album release, and I went through and picked out my favorites and made a few new songs too, and I put this album together.
It’s awesome because it’s just honestly really good timing to have an album that honors Houston so well with everything going on.
Totally. You know that was just a blessing in disguise. I couldn’t have seen that coming. But it’s just really important for me to honor Houston because I feel like I haven’t done it enough in my music. I’m always referencing Houston, but I wanted to make it known what I represent and how proud I am of it.
And I know you wanted to promote The Way Home, can you talk about why that one?
I remember when I was in fourth grade, my elementary school teacher talked to us about homeless people. And I remember her referring to them as bums. And I raised my hand and I told her that I thought that was a bit offensive, and she was kind of taken aback by it. I’ve always kind of felt a special thing in my heart for homeless people. I’ve always felt a special concern for the homeless, because I see so many homeless people who are mentally ill, and I have a younger brother who has autism, and he is severely autistic, he needs care. If it wasn’t for my parents or a facility taking care of him, he would be one of those people on the streets that people might think is a bum or a crazy guy. All of these people out here have a story, they’re all human, and they all need a little bit of compassion. I didn’t know about The Way Home until Harvey, I was doing some research on some of the relief efforts that I could donate to, and I found The Way Home, and it just got me thinking, you know, it’s really awful for all of the homeowners who lost everything, but imagine the people that were on the street with nowhere to go, nowhere to escape the storm. So I’m glad for this organization and I hope they’re helping a great deal of people. But yeah, homeless people have always been a big concern of mine, my entire life. The older I get, the more solutions I find.
Are you worried or nervous to go home to see the city, or just excited to see people moving forward?
I’m excited to see folks moving forward. I’m excited to go back there, perform, give them love, show them love, and just remind them how strong Houston is. And if there’s anyway that I can help, I wanna get my hands dirty and start helping out while I’m in town.
Featured image via Noisey
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