There’s a great story about Houston Hip-hop heavy Fat Tony (AKA Anthony Lawson Obi) visiting Oahu’s North Shore during peak surf season. Tony, fresh into his ambassadorship with the famously youth-against-establishment-promoting surf/skate/snow brand Volcom, was on the island with Daniel Terry–Volcom’s man-on-the-ground on the East Coast before Dane Jefferys took on a similar role a few years ago. Terry was Tony’s liaison to the Wild West that is Hawaii’s surf season.
As Terry tells it, staring out at Pipeline, Tony asked him, “How much does one of those waves cost?”
The anecdote speaks to the juxtaposition of a surf-heavy brand like Volcom partnering with a Texas-bred rapper like Fat Tony. But there’s a reason the big-wigs at Volcom wanted Tony on their roster: the guy is prolific. And besides being on surfing’s proving grounds, he’s really never out of his element.
Hailing from Houston’s artistically rich Third Ward, Tony’s output pays respects to and builds upon the musical legacy of his home city, an environment that’s cultivated such a vast array of talent, it likely deserves its own wing in the Rock N’ Roll Hall-of-Fame. Beginning with his debut album, RABDARGAB (2010), Tony’s distinguished himself among his contemporaries with his effortless word play and musical malleability. His latest, 10,000 Hours (2018), is Tony’s most introspective, and has again proven him among the finest MC’s working today.
A multifarious artist, who cites everything from punk rock to James Baldwin novels to mid-90s fashion as muses and potential creative sparks, Tony also cohosts the show Vice Live on Vice Land.

Tony plays Surfer the Bar in Jax Beach on Friday, Nov. 22 right after the Red Bull Night Riders. Ahead of the show, we caught up with Tony to ask him about the superb 10,000 Hours, his Houston roots, and his partnership with Volcom.

I want to start with your latest full-length release–which is quite good! There are some personal songs on 10,000 Hours, that, taken as a whole, I feel like speak to you trying to be a better person, artist, etc. Is the title a reference to Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour-rule about mastery of a skill?
Yes, the title is a reference to Malcolm Gladwell! I felt like I reached a new level as an artist while making 10,000 Hours, my fourth full-length album. I finally felt seasoned after spending a solid decade figuring out what Fat Tony music is, and could be in the future. I wanted to honor who I am by speaking from a more autobiographical perspective with songs like “Charles.” Songs like “Texas” showcase my opinions, attitude, and penchant for punk/new wave-inspired programmed drums. Life (and artistry) is about growth. I want to show the world who I am through my music, whether that’s through fantasy or speaking autobiographically.

And what have you been working on as of late? I read there’s a follow up to 10,000 Hours in the works?
I have a new album entitled Wake Up coming out on February 7, 2020, on Carpark Records. It’s entirely produced by taydex, who produced “Swervin” from my album MacGregor Park. Wake Up is nine songs in 23 minutes. No filler! This is my first full-length collaboration with taydex and my first release on Carpark. The album began as an EP written and recorded in late 2018. We expanded it to an album around May-June 2019. The space between those sessions allowed us to step back and figure out what the record was missing. We trimmed our work down to the nine best of the bunch. This record features heavy-hitting production with a touch of experimentation. It’s meant to be played loud. This time I’m rapping my ass off on every single song. I included a lyric sheet in the record so folks can keep up!

You’re from Houston, a city that’s reared a laundry list of influential hip-hop acts (one of which, Devin the Dude, I was just turned on to after reading an interview you did), but you also grew up listening to a lot of different styles of music. I wanted to ask how you feel your home city influenced your tastes and output? What’s unique about the cultural scene there that you think you’ve carried with you through your career?
Houston is one of the most important cultural landmarks in Hip-Hop history. Houston has birthed many great musicians from Beyoncé to Big Moe and has been a pioneer in the independent record business thanks to labels like Rap-A-Lot, Swishahouse, and more. I grew up in the late 90s and 2000s in Houston and was lucky to be surrounded by local artists who were as iconic as the artists I discovered through MTV and the radio. Scarface, DJ Screw, and UGK (just to name a few) were pioneers in songwriting, production, and presentation. Those artists were as important as Jay-Z and Master P in our world. Along with Atlanta and Miami, we were one of the first southern cities to create a national presence in Hip-Hop and our influence carries on today. I’m proud to call Houston my birthplace and I’m thankful I have a legacy to honor every time I open my mouth over a beat.

What other things besides music do you draw from as a creative person? Are there folks in fashion, visual art, etc. that have influenced you as an artist?
I’m inspired by film/television, contemporary art, literature, and ’90s fashion. Inspiration is everywhere if you let it flow into you. Lately, I’ve been particularly inspired by great storytellers. I look to classic country music for influence and great TV shows like The Sopranos when I plot on how I want to structure the songs on my next album. Novels like Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin and historical accounts like The Strange Career of William Ellis have influenced me just as much as my favorite music. Fashion-wise I’m a huge fan of ’90s vintage, especially aspirational brands and outdoor-wear from Ralph Lauren (Polo, Polo Sport), L.L. Bean, Patagonia, and GAP. I have a couple of friends who collect this stuff so I’m often rummaging through their Instagrams for inspiration. I buy clothes directly from them too!

We have a big skate and surf culture here in Jacksonville. And I think a lot of readers of this magazine may have first encountered your music via Volcom. How’d you get hooked up with that company? And what kinds of opportunities has that partnership afforded you?
I first encountered Volcom as a kid infatuated with skateboarding. Their logo was and still is everywhere you look. I bought Volcom stickers, belts, and hoodies. We hooked up in 2014 when I was introduced to Kurt Midness. He runs the music side of Volcom. They released a 7” vinyl that year and that’s led to performing at their events all over the U.S. and Mexico, acting in their commercials, modeling their clothes, and more! The partnership has afforded me a dozen new friends and opened me up to their audience. It’s great to reach music fans in non-traditional ways and they’ve consistently brought me opportunities to do that. Volcom are artists at heart and understand the passion it takes to pursue the path some believe is irrational. I think we’ll be losing our minds and following our hearts together for a while to come.