Arrest the President 4: A Conversation with Fat Tony on Hood Party

I got a chance to interview the sure-footed Fat Tony about Hood Party, one of the singles off of his new album Smart Ass Black Boy. I am dropping this interview under our Arrest the President column because the song Hood Party is a comment on gentrification, a sociopolitical issue which occurs when poorer residents are displaced and supplanted by an influx of Louis Tully lookin’ Vans Original Classic Authentic wearin’ Newgrass fans. As you know, Arrest the President is a column here at T.R.O.Y., started by Thun, which looks at Hip Hop, past and present, from a sociopolitical perspective. In the song Hood Party, Fat Tony, and featured artists Kool A.D. and Despot, cleverly poke fun at some of the effects gentrification has individually on locals and “gentrifiers” and collectively on affected communities.

In this interview, Fat Tony and I briefly discuss his new album, conduct a line by line analysis of his verse on Hood Party, chat about the positive and negative effects of gentrification on established communities, I share my experience of hearing Hood Party for the first time in the courtyard of a highly ranked undergraduate university, and we even tackle the question of whether or not Hip Hop is being gentrified. Towards the end of this great conversation, Fat Tony, with his command and knowledge of Hip Hop, along with his clear and deductive thought process, really helped me understand and come to terms with some of my insecurities with Hip Hop right now.

I suggest you listen to the interview here, where you’ll be able hear Fat Tony read the lines of Hood Party with his soft yet sandy voice, over a piano which was quietly played in the background throughout the entire interview. It’s quite pleasant, especially if you enjoy the song.

Droopy: So you recently dropped a new album. What is it called?

Fat Tony: Smart Ass Black Boy, out now on Young One Records.

Droopy: Why is it called that?

Fat Tony: I got the title from the book I have called Def Jam, Inc. There was a picture of the Beastie Boys with their DJ, DJ Hurricane and he had on a hat that said, “Smart Ass Black Boy” and I had never seen that image before and I had never seen that hat before. I tried to look it up and couldn’t find nothing about it. I always liked that title and when I started making songs for this album that title kind of fit because I am talking about stuff that is a little more personal. I am talking about my dad, I am mentioning things like gentrification, I am talking about race on several songs, so I thought it was the perfect title. And I am basically making music that has a smart approach but an accessible approach. I kind of liked how I used the term “boy” because “boy” is typically a derogatory term for a Black man and I feel it is kind of important to put these negative images in the forefront rather than hide from them, know what I mean? Just make people think about it, but not coming from a militant Black sense, but definitely coming from a proud Black sense.

Droopy: Can I buy one of those hats?

Fat Tony: Absolutely, but those hats are sold out right now. We will get some more soon. The hats are for all people.

Droopy: What is the single off of your new album called?

Fat Tony: We actually put out several singles. The first one, BKNY came out last fall, last winter actually, then this past March we put out Hood Party, and we put out I Shine and we put out Creepin’ featuring Stunnaman. But Hood Party has been like the main main song. It’s the most recent video we put out.

Droopy: I want to talk to you about Hood Party. What motivated you to write this song?

Fat Tony: It was one of the first songs I wrote for this album. It was a different beat at first but the same tempo. The beat felt like some Hyphy type shit, so I was coming with a flow that I felt really rocked with that and I was honestly freestyling and the first lines of it came out and I thought it was pretty fun and I decided to develop a song from it. It’s kind of like a song from the perspective of a person that comes from a Black neighborhood but has seen his own neighborhood change and have more young affluent people move into it. I am kind of talking about the flipside of it and how it is negative to see some of the historic places go and to see some of those families be pushed out and how that’s absolutely BS on lots of levels. But it also talks about how it also turns young people onto different people from different communities, having to live together in a space that’s designated for young people. I kind of wanted to make it a fun song while still pointing out that it’s kind of fucked up of course for people getting pushed out of their neighborhoods, without making it totally gloomy and an anti-corporation type song.

Droopy: Yea, that’s the vibe I got from it. You know your verse, compared to Kool A.D.’s verse and Despot’s verse, your verse is straight observational, the other two verses are a little more negative. You are just like, this is what happens.

Fat Tony: I am like talking about it from the girl’s perspective. I am talking about this girl that moved from a rich area in Houston to an all-Black, more under class area in Houston and just poking fun at the things that she does.

Droopy: Do you have any other songs about gentrification?

Fat Tony: No, just that one. Gentrification is not a “thing” for me, it’s just that song.

Droopy: What area are you from?

Fat Tony: I am from Third Ward. It’s the Southside of Houston, near the University of Houston and Texas Southern University, kind of near downtown.

Droopy: Is your area being gentrified right now?

Fat Tony: Man, it’s had attempts of being gentrified in the past five years but it’s not that crazy gentrified. There are some condos and stuff but I would say that it is still pretty much the same neighborhood that it’s been since I grew up in it.

Droopy: What does gentrification mean to you, exactly?

Fat Tony: When I think of gentrification I think of places like Williamsburg or Bushwick, places that are mostly an ethnic area and they are being crowded with newer and more expensive buildings and it is kind of like the reverse effect of white flight.

My neighborhood is like a white flight neighborhood. My neighborhood was a Jewish neighborhood and then in the ‘40s and ‘50s whites moved out and Blacks moved in and many of their old homes are still there and many of their old schools are still there. Pretty much my area of Third Ward is an area where middle class Jewish people lived and when they all moved out, all their homes where really cheap, so lots of like Black doctors and Black teachers and stuff moved in there.

Droopy: What are some of the negative consequences gentrification has had in your neighborhood?

Fat Tony: I have not seen as much in Houston as I have seen here (Williamsburg), but off the top, the main thing is they push lots of families out, they buy out families for what may seem like a lot of money but it’s really a rip off because they are playing off of people’s ignorance and destroy lots of the buildings there and they put up stuff, typical looking and is kind of ugly in my opinion. It is very standardized, like buildings that came out of a factory, that look like thousands of other buildings. Those are probably the top two things, pushing families out; pushing neighborhood business out and putting in more corporate business and what I would call more corporate living, more yuppie living spaces.

Droopy: What about some of the positive consequences of gentrification?

Fat Tony: I think bringing in new business is good, especially when it is in harmony with the new neighborhood and doesn’t try to overtake the neighborhood, that’s ok. In Third Ward, even though there is some gentrification, most of the classic businesses are still there, most of the heavy Black areas are still totally Black, or Black and Mexican, or Black, Mexican, and a small percentage of white, but it’s more of a class thing than a race thing. Gentrification is just equated with race because that’s what people look to first.

Droopy: I was in Third Ward not too long ago and I really like how locals in that neighborhood are developing places like Green Seed Vegan, Doshi House, and there is like a health movement going on.

Fat Tony: The neighborhood has always been like that, there have always been people like artists or, you know it’s always had a certain consciousness to it. The Black Panthers had a headquarters there, there’s the SHAPE Community Center. It also has several schools there. We are like the only Black neighborhood that has colleges, we have TSU, we have U of H, and tons of teachers live there. There are supermarkets, there’s the HEB and before that there were local supermarkets. We have Yates, Blackshear, and Ryan, those were always the Black high schools. So it seems like there has always been a level of consciousness.

Droopy: That is fascinating. What do you think that is from?

Fat Tony: It’s just from the people that moved there. I think that people were moving there when it was hard for Blacks, so you know that people that were moving there were teachers because the schools were there, there were doctors because the Negro hospital was there, it was the only Black hospital in Houston.

Droopy: Let’s talk about specific lines in your song. I know some people touched on this on Rap Genius, but I thought it would be cool if we dissected each line in your verse and you gave me specific details per line. I feel like there is a lot to be said there that has not been said.

Fat Tony: Word.

Droopy: you are welcome to read your lines, but if you want me to read them I will.

Fat Tony: I’m at the hood party/ even white people know that it’s a good party/ look around your hood they’ll probably rent a couple properties/ around my block I heard they’re building buildings with a lobby…

I am talking about being at a party in a neighborhood that I know to be a mostly ethnic neighborhood. Yet, the whites that move in there are not like their parents were, I feel like a lot of whites that are moving into gentrified neighborhoods are interested in the ethnic culture there. They are not trying to separate themselves from it. I feel like in every hood there is almost always some gentrified condo with something around the block. I think typically when a lower class neighborhood thinks of a lobby, they think of a project building or something. Most apartments that I’ve lived in or been to have not had the same feel like where there is a doorman or concierge and stuff.

Fat Tony: It ain’t a hobby it’s a way of life/ for Ricky, Bobby, Ronnie, and Mike/ who been living in this area like all of their life/ and never learned how to use a hookah/ ‘til Sue moved in with Stewart…

Sometimes some of these young whites, who move into a neighborhood, can have an appreciation for the ethnic parts of the neighborhood’s culture, but it kind of borders on parody. A lot of white kids who listen to rap like Cam’ron and Lil’ Wayne and even though they are genius artists who I totally think deserve the utmost respect, they kind of respect them as “look at these goofy Black people,” as if they are a novelty.

Ricky, Bobby, Ronnie, and Mike are New Edition, a group for the ‘80s and I just thought they were some swell fellas that represent Black men.

And I am not sure if that last line is true, but I never heard of a hookah until I came around a bunch of white folks.

Fat Tony: She went from River Oaks to the Cuney Homes/ you know she don’t live alone/ and she got a bike/ she don’t need no ride/ she went to Ricky momma’s house and learned the Cha Cha Slide…

I said she has a bike she don’t need a ride because some of these people are very liberal and they are earth conscious and they don’t want to pollute the area so they use bicycles.

River Oaks is a well to do upper middle class to upper class white area in Houston and the Cuney Homes is a project in Third Ward. And you know she don’t live alone because it’s a supposedly scary crime ridden area and I doubt that these young whites are going to dive into it feet first. And she went to Ricky momma’s house to learn the Cha Cha Slide because where else is she going to learn the Cha Cha Slide? The same way Ricky, Bobby, Ronnie, and Mike never learned about a hookah until they met this white chick, she never heard of the Cha Cha Slide until she met Ricky’s Black ass momma.

Fat Tony: She don’t get carded/ she get awarded/ she went to my performance/ and she loved the artist/ she disobeyed her parents/ because it’s apparent I’ma go the farthest.

Well, she’s a big fan of mine and respects my work and thinks I’m going places, and she doesn’t get carded, because I am trying to say she is somewhat of an attractive female and clubs are trying to rush her in, especially when she might be the only white girl in an all-Black club. And she went to my performance and enjoyed the artist because I put on a great show.

Droopy: What I took from that last line “…its apparent I’ma go the farthest.” did you smash?

Fat Tony: I don’t want to say if I smashed or not, but we developed a friendship and it was frowned upon by her parents.

Droopy: I feel like that line is specific to the song but it can be applied to any like white person that moves to the hood for novelty reasons and gets caught up in something they don’t know about and get way too deep and freak out and their parents are bailing them out; the white kid dealing drugs that got shot; the white kid that OD’ed on Xanax; the white kid…

Fat Tony: (Laughing) Especially in Houston.

Droopy: Have you ever been to a hood party where some “gentrifier” kid showed up and freaked out, any funny stories about that?

Fat Tony: Never. I have seen some white kids in Houston, move into what I would call the bottoms of Third Ward, like the deep deep areas and throw parties and I am just sitting there in bewilderment, like I can’t believe these white kids are so bold to throw a backyard party in this neighborhood. They are literally probably like the only young white people for miles. The other white people in that neighborhood are probably like mad old and have been there for a minute; they are like part of the neighborhood and not just like some young hipster kids.

Droopy: In my opinion, maybe you can speak on this, there are like two types of annoying “gentrifiers.” First, the kind you find a lot of in Williamsburg. They come here and they know they are not part of the neighborhood and they embrace it and they are proud they are taking it over and it is what it is. But then there is that other kind of “gentrifier,” for example, this one girl I know, had an internship in Los Angeles, and she lived in Compton.

Fat Tony: Why the fuck would she live in Compton?

Droopy: She tried to tell me that the farmer’s markets were really cool and it was really community focused. I was like people are trying to get out of Compton.

Fat Tony: She just thinks she being bad ass.

Droopy: I remember one time, I left something at this person’s house in the Bronx, and the next day I went to pick it up. I called her and told her I was lost. She told me “oh just ask anyone for directions, everyone is so friendly in my neighborhood.” I thought to myself, “Don’t volunteer other people’s compassion.”

Fat Tony: (Laughing) “Don’t volunteer people’s compassion!”

Droopy: I went to Houston several months ago and I saw you perform at Rice. I think you performed Hood Party.

Fat Tony: Definitely did.

Droopy: Before you performed it, this was surreal to me, I remember you got everyone’s attention, everyone got quiet, and then you yelled, “What do you know about gentrification?” And the crowd was a bunch of white freshman chicks at Rice and a few guys with their shirts off and like body paint on, all totally having the time of their lives, and everyone responded, “YAHHH!” and you replied, “It sucks” or something, and then you got them to start chanting something about how gentrification was bad and everyone was playing along with it, and while this was happening I saw a whole bunch of Rice Security, and several H.P.D., there were drinking barriers, and regulated kegs by parents. I was like dude my brain is about to explode. While all this was happening, during the whole anti-gentrification chant by all these privileged white kids, I see these two girls, kind of mousy looking, probably math majors, and they had some pastries they made, and I saw them debating whether or not to offer some to someone in your camp of people, and they were going back and forth, “Should we? Oh my gosh should we? This is so crazy!” Then they walked over and asked, “Do you want a pastry?” and the guy responded, “I guess.” And the two girls were so excited, and it was apparent that this was the craziest thing they’ve ever done. Then you went into the Hood Party song. I said to myself, WOW, was this a sick sick joke? Or were you just trying to spread some truth to these kids gently? You know?

Fat Tony: White guilt will work wonders especially in a concert setting. I wanted those kids to have fun. I wanted those kids to understand what’s going on. I kind of wanted them to see the absurdity of it. And no better way to get that across than being a little bit lighthearted.

Droopy: It was genius. That was awesome. I wish someone recorded that.

Fat Tony: (Laughing)

Droopy: It was some end of the world type shit. (See end of Hood Party music video)

Fat Tony: (Laughing)

Droopy: There is a video for Hood Party?

Fat Tony: Yes.

Droopy: There are two other artists on the song?

Fat Tony: Kool A.D. and Despot.

Droopy: Would you like to point out your favorite line from each of their verses?

Fat Tony: My favorite line from Kool A.D.’s verse is where he is lampooning Drake, talking about, “all I care about is money and the city where I’m from/ that’s dumb, isn’t that exactly like the Tea Party platform?” That’s just ill. He has a lot of lines that are really funny. He said, “I heard Tom Hanks went to skyline.”

And Despot’s verse, my favorite line is his opening line, “Stop asking ‘where Brooklyn at?’” I am sure so many dumb ass tourists come here and think Brooklyn is like a corner or like a neighborhood.

Droopy: I took something different from that, at any hood party whenever a rap song comes on, there is always some dumb ass white guy that yells, “Where Brooklyn at?”

Fat Tony: Yea.

Droopy: Do you want to talk a little bit about the video that goes along with this song? But specifically, I wanted to point out, the video was more of a party and less of a comment on the things you were rapping about. You could have gone a lot deeper into some of the criticisms you had.

Fat Tony: I feel like the song speaks for itself, so with the video I wanted to do something else that I thought was really cool and that was using the Google Hangout thing. That was an idea that me and Tom Cruz had and I can’t believe we were able to make it work. It was easily the most ambitious thing that I’ve done, because we shot it in Houston, Oakland, and in New York.

Droopy: Why don’t you tell the T.R.O.Y readers exactly what the video is.

Fat Tony: The video takes place on December 31, 2012, I am in Houston, where I am from, Kool A.D. is in Oakland, because he is from the Bay Area, and Despot, who is from Queens, is in a recording studio in Brooklyn, with Tom Cruz because Tom Cruz lives in Brooklyn too. And it is New Year’s Eve. We are all having parties. We are all setting our watches because we want to have a big New Year’s count down. So we are going to go with the East Coast people’s first because theirs comes first. So it is really just us on the Google Hangout showing off our parties, like crazy antics happen during our parties and stuff and we are just hanging out. The video ends with, it’s a little bit scary, we are looking at Despot and Tom Cruz’s video screen and shit starts going haywire. Suddenly, there is blood and there is a Mayan person and then their screen disconnects and then I close my Google Hangout window and I start to look at news sites and they are talking about the Mayan apocalypse and it is now January 1.

Droopy: Do you want to talk about any of the special guests in the video?

Fat Tony: Yes. There were lots of cameos, but I did not want to be corny and just zero in on the cameos, I wanted people to find them if they can find them. But in my scene I had a lot of people come out: Bun B, Chingo Bling, Rob Quest from Devin the Dude’s group, the Odd Squad, a bunch of Swishahouse artists, like my boy Felony, Doughbeezy, Cav tha Don, Ray P, Le$, Killa Kyleon, and in the Brooklyn scene there’s The Cutest, Bebe Panthere, Weekend Money, Rilgood, I think that’s it. And then in Victor’s scene, we had his producer Amaze 88 in there.

Droopy: Where were you in Houston?

Fat Tony: I was in Third Ward, right off of Live Oak and Rosewood.

Droopy: By the way do you listen to the Rosewood Thievz?

Fat Tony: Yea, it was at their house.

Droopy: Awesome, I just wrote something up on them.

In the last few years, there has been an invasion of rap journalists, photographers, blogs, online radio shows, people who are friends with “insert rapper’s name here”, twitter avatars of 18 years olds hugging rappers, do you think Houston rap is being gentrified at all?

Fat Tony: Not at all.

Droopy: Why?

Fat Tony: There is no rapper in Houston that is popular or even seemingly popular who does not come from what I think is an authentic rap background.

Droopy: What do you mean by authentic rap background?

Fat Tony: Somebody that grew up with rap music, somebody that is not an outsider trying to rap for fun.

Droopy: I am not talking about Hip Hop artists; I am talking about the scene being diluted.

Fat Tony: I think we have the same kind of rap fans that we’ve always had. There has always been mostly white kids that weren’t from a rap background, that have been people that have grown up with rap, love rap, bought rap music and really supported it. I think that it is less dangerous and less fresh and less new now. So the kind of fans that you have now, don’t deal with the kind of stuff that fans had to deal with back in the day. They don’t really go to shows where shit gets shot up or where there is hella hood fools in there, they don’t deal with what a rap fan did back in the day. I think that is because the rap scene now is really moved by the internet, like blogs, whereas back in the day it was moved by affiliations, record labels that were purely rap driven, moved by club promoters. Back in the day a rap show would typically be booked by the person that ran the hottest Black club in a city. Now it is booked by indie rock people, people that deal a lot with those types of venues, even though there is still a heavy element of rap shows booked in the traditional manner, there is just more of a spot light on rap music that is really driven for college kids, more than ever before.

Droopy: I think you are right. How do you feel about that?

Fat Tony: I am always happy as a genuine music fan, but I am disappointed a little bit with today’s music fan, but I don’t know if that’s really that valid; it’s my opinion and I am also biased because I grew up in that transitional period where the old way of rap was what it was for most of my life until really recently, like the last five years. I think rap pretty much held up the same until like ’06 or ’07 and that’s when I felt blogs became more important and the focus on college kids became more important. There was always a focus on college kids back in the day but I think it was more focused on Black college kids and HBCUs and stuff, whereas now I don’t think there is that strong of a focus on that for certain types of artists, where like a Mac Miller, Juicy J, or Asap Rocky, artists like that like Kendrick Lamar, they focus on college kids, the majority of which aren’t Black college kids.

Great questions by the way.

Droopy: Thanks. These are things I think about.

Fat Tony: Me too.

Droopy: Did you have anything else to say, while I think about what I was going to ask?

Fat Tony: Nah.

Droopy: There was a Swishahouse event at Rice University.

Fat Tony: I was there.

Droopy: I was too. Maybe you’ll remember this. During the question and answer period, a girl, I wish I got a chance to talk to her because she asked a fascinating question. I think it was the second to last question. She said, “Back in the day, Houston rap had a specific fan base, and all the Houston rap songs were geared towards that fan base, and now the Houston rap fan base is changing, and so is Houston rap music because it’s trying to adapt to its new target audience.”

I think this is a scary thing. I totally am not in support of drug use, but when you listen to ESG’s Swangin’ and Bangin’ and you hear, “Fried out jamming my Screw tape…” that’s some shit man, that’s heavy!

Fat Tony: Yes. The crime rate was crazy; it was more for like a gangster audience. Houston rap music in the ‘90s was predominantly street rap music.

Droopy: Even the punk rock scene in Houston during the ‘90s was grimy. I am not trying to put anyone on blast or anything but there has been a shift towards light, less heavy and an anemic sound, where it’s “oh God not another indie band that sounds like this or another light hearted boring rap song talking about the same shit,” sounding like really really weak Big K.R.I.T. songs.

It’s weird because I don’t like crime and a lot of the things that spawned older Houston rap music but it was awesome music and that’s what I still listen to. Maybe I am just an old person that doesn’t want to listen to new things. But what do you think about that girl’s question? Nobody really had an answer for her.

Fat Tony: The crime rate is way less than it was in the ‘90s. I just think things got a lot safer and some of the times danger has a good effect on art.

Droopy: Do you think the way it’s moving, Houston rap will sound like French rap in like 2025?

Fat Tony: To be honest I think Houston has such an independent spirit and authentic spirit that is original and I think there is a chance for some crazy original rap music to come from Houston. We have some of the most original style’s that come from Houston, from Devin the Dude, to DJ Screw, to Big Moe, to UGK, the Swishahouse sound, the different lingo, the kinds of beats, the style of dress even. I think that there is always a chance for things to change but I think that as far as artists sounding like a water-ed down version of Big K.R.I.T. or second rate punk band, I think with a lot of rap music and not just Houston rap music, rap music around the world, there is a tendency to try to chase the trends and that style is something that is trendy with Houston people, so I am not surprised to hear that some artists are making songs like that, you know what I mean? It would be the same if like during the early to mid ‘90s, when like Nirvana was big, there was tons of bands ripping them off. Or in the late ‘90s or early 2000s when Blink 182 was popular there were tons of bands ripping them off.

Droopy: Definitely, but it was easier to weed out, there was Blink, they rock, but then there was Sum 41 who were fakers.

Fat Tony: Kids are different nowadays. Music does not have the same kind of gatekeepers that it did back in the day.

Droopy: Awesome way to put it.

Fat Tony: To me the glory years of the rap music was the late ‘90s to the mid-2000s and even if you look at that there was so many like artists that came out that were new artists that made classic records that went on the be huge and it was a regular thing. In that era you had Rap-A-Lot, Cash Money, No Limit, Outkast, Suave House, Wreckshop, Dope House, Mac Dre, E-40, Too Short, on the East Coast you had Dipset, you had all these new artists coming out going on to do big things, and even before that era from the mid ‘80s to the mid ‘90s Wu Tang came out, and from the era I mentioned before Eminem came out. I think there was a stronger regard for what makes it and what doesn’t make it, where there is less of that now, so it is easy for something that seems amateur or mediocre to be popular because all it takes to be popular is to be liked by a certain sect of people that’s more visible. Let’s say that somebody like Mac Miller, not dissing him at all because I think he is a good artist, but an artist like him has a certain type of audience that isn’t totally a predominantly Hip-Hop-rap-growing-up-loving-audience but they have more power to the internet and they have more power to have a voice so it seems like an artist like him is more popular than a street artist like Future or something. Well, bad example but somebody like that, like Gucci Mane or someone, who is huge but his audience isn’t exactly the audience that is predominantly on the internet and tweeting all the time, blogging and running blogs. So I think that is probably the biggest change between then and now. Different gatekeepers, back in the day there were just a few of them, The Source magazine, XXL, whereas now there are hundreds of sites and so many of them claim to be big or seem to be big, whereas actually the biggest site is World Star, which is one of the only sites that show every aspect of Hip Hop. They’ll post a Mac Miller video, a Tech N9ne video, an underground regional local dude’s video, a Future video, Chief Keef video, a Macklemore video, it’s one of the only outlets for what I think is for a real deal true to life Hip Hop fan, someone that looks for mixtapes…

Droopy: Do you like Ballerstatus? I really like Ballerstatus.

Fat Tony: I don’t check them a lot but I’ve heard of it, good things about it.

Droopy: That’s all the questions I have. Feel free to say anything.

Fat Tony: First of all Droopy, thanks a lot for coming over. I am really impressed by the questions you had. I am glad I got to talk a little bit more in depth about my lyrics and about my opinions on rap music. I think it is the best music ever created.

You can get my album Smart Ass Black Boy anywhere albums are sold, iTunes, Amazon, it’s available for CD and for MP3. You can go to Fattonyrap.com to find out more about me, @fattonyrap on twitter, Fat Tony Face Book, I am not too hard to find. – Droopy, @droopydood

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