Fat Tony’s latest album, Exotica, was born amidst turmoil in a confounding year, yet his restless creative energy reminded us to be optimistic and to embrace chaos as a catalyst for change. A self-proclaimed “eternal student of music”, Tony’s quickly expanding body of work represents his sincere and deep passion for art — making it his life’s priority. Throughout his career, he has been distinguished by his storytelling capabilities, fluidity and unconventional range in sound. Together with his long-time collaborator, delivered a remarkable album, where GLDNEYE deliberately tears sounds into intricate patterns, while he screws them back together with meticulously crafted storylines.
He writes music that draws from a range of influences and has never been shy to show where his tastes lie, constantly sharing artists that he loves from Selena to Bad Brains —a clashing blend you can only expect from a Fat Tony show. A master of soliloquy, he is able to captivate audiences with his unique raw energy, like this is the last show he will ever perform — or you will ever see.

Before the pandemic. we could find him hosting parties all over the world, from Fashion Week after-parties in Paris to curating monthly events in Mexico City. During quarantine, he started live-streaming DJ sets on Instagram, curing us of our starvation for live shows. While the pandemic’s long term impact on music remains to be seen, he hopes for a new world, one that approaches music differently by being more appreciative. Already envisioning what comes next, he puts nothing out of reach — or as unattainable, while he continues to push boundaries with a renewed sense of purpose.
You have been working in partnership with producer GLDNEYE for a while. Together, how did you envision and devise Exotica?
For years, GLDNEYE and I would discuss the ideas we developed on Exotica. In 2015, he moved with his wife and daughter to Jamaica from New York City. This distance limited our collaborations for years because we’ve always worked best when in the same room together. I decided to bring him to Brooklyn in October for songwriting sessions, and in turn, I journeyed to Jamaica in December to record the album.
We spent each session meticulously crafting the characters, storylines, and concepts you hear throughout. We’d talk for hours about the details of each character’s life. What would Johnny from Gambling Man wear daily? What truly motivated a young Jeremy Bixby to run for office? We asked this about each person mentioned on the album, even if they were nameless. GLDNEYE composed the melodies and beats from scratch. After a week of collaboration in Brooklyn, I spent the next 2 months adding lyrics and finalising the writing. When I arrived in Jamaica to finish the album, I was fully ready. We took 2 weeks to record every vocal in a studio atop the cloud-ridden hills of Kingston.
When adding lyrics, did you already come up with ideas or was it a more organic translation of music to words?
We wrote each song together in the studio. Only a few ideas came to us while we were apart, such as my opening lyric on What Wake You Up, the intro song featuring Bun B. “I don’t wonder why I just wake up, and I wipe the crust from my eye,” popped in my head one morning around dawn, and it came back to me while we worked on this song.
The melody for Je Ne Sais Quoi came to GLDNEYE as he rode the subway on the way to one of our Brooklyn sessions. I like to start fresh when making a new album instead of pulling songs out of the vault and hoping they work well together.
Being a very visual artist, picturing ideas comes at ease and you are already thinking ahead of how everything is going to look. What was the concept behind doing a 360 angle video for Feeling Groovy?
The concept and storyline for the video came from me and GLDNEYE but the 360º idea comes from the director Ryan Muir. Ryan also directed my videos BKNY, Hood Party, and MacGregor Park. The 360 angle camera matches the anxiety of the main character. The guy is battling his desire for a woman he doesn’t even know and thoughts of leaving his family. Little does he know, the woman he wants is dating the bartender and isn't answering her texts either. No one is getting what they want.
You are always doing so many things at once and exploring different art forms, from DJing late-night parties in Le Carmen with Virgil Abloh to co-hosting a show for Vice. How has this period of stillness been for you?
It’s been a great time to understand myself. Before Exotica came out, I had months to think about how I wanted to present my music moving forward. I had many long talks with GLDNEYE about my identity, what I’ve done in music, and where I want to go next. We had some revelations while dissecting Fat Tony's music, and now we’re more confident than ever about how we want the world to understand our music.
Speaking of your approach to your persona, and going back to your roots, how did you begin to build Fat Tony’s identity?
My mantra is: “nothing comes before the art.” I make heartfelt music for intelligent, curious people. I am an eternal student of music, and I’ve been this way since I was young. As a teenager, I wanted to learn as much as I could about being a genuine artist. I often read about the songwriters, producers, engineers, record labels, and behind-the-scenes stories of my favourite albums, songs, and artists. That studious approach is at the core of Fat Tony music. I’m an everyman who wants to be excellent. I believe aspiring to be great is how you improve your life as an artist.
I’m a patron of the arts and humanities. That’s why organising concerts was as important as making my own music when I began this journey. When I was 15 years old, I organised shows for at least a year until my own group performed. My concerts were always diverse with a mixed genre bill. If I booked the show, you could expect to hear rap, reggae, and punk all in the same night. Even today, I curate the lineup at my shows any time I get the chance. I need to share the music of artists I love, as well as my own work.
Throughout your extensive journey in music, you have built an alliance and long-standing partnership with GLDNEYE, how did your endeavour together start?
In 2006, I was in my final year of high school and obsessed with music. I was regularly booking shows and making music with friends. I read online that my favourite rapper, Murs was, working with a group from Atlanta called Supreeme. Their website listed influences from Neil Young to Three 6 Mafia, David Bowie, Nas, UGK, Mac Dre, My Bloody Valentine, and more. At the time, they were unique because music felt much more segregated by taste than it is now. I was excited to meet people as interested in a wide variety of genres as I was, and I loved their music too. Over the next year, I’d message and talk to them while they were in Los Angeles recording their major-label debut album.
In December 2007, I finally had a chance to meet Shaka, aka Tom Cruz, now known as GLDNEYE, the producer in Supreeme. He was coming to Houston to work with the legendary engineer/producer Mike Dean, well-known for working with Scarface, Z-Ro, and Kanye West. Shortly before GLDNEYE arrived in Houston, Pimp C from the group UGK passed away. Mike Dean cancelled all of his appointments that month while mourning his friend, leaving GLDNEYE with tons of free time. We used that free time to hang out more often than we expected. We went to some of my earliest recording sessions together and spent nights talking about music and songwriting. At the end of that December 2007 trip, we decided to work together.
From 2007 to 2010, we continued working together across Houston, Atlanta, and New York City. That era birthed my debut album, RABDARGAB, released in October 2010. And we’ve been writing songs ever since.
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Houston has always been essential to your music and for the past couple of years you’ve moved to different cities from Mexico City to Los Angeles and New York. Does the change in scenery influence your creative output?
Definitely! I am blessed to spread Houston music worldwide through my travels. I feel lucky. Mexico City is a sacred place for me. It’s a uniquely extraordinary city that opened my eyes to the rest of the world when I lived there in 2016. The culture, the history, the people, and their love of the arts fill me with wonder. As Paris was a place to write for the American genius James Baldwin, Mexico City is my second home as an artist.
Without being able to travel as much, what do you dedicate your time and energy to these days?
I dedicate my time these days to planning. I’m still dreaming and plotting on what’s next. That mindset keeps me happy and on my toes. I'll be writing a new album this Fall 2021. I'll be recording in Jamaica again and working with my close friend. I know myself more than ever now, and I'm excited to continue this groove.
Recently, you had the opportunity of participating in a socially distanced show after quite some time of being unable to perform with an audience. How was the vibe, and how did you feel? Are people coming at it from a different perspective?
It was incredible, both shows nearly sold out, and the love was immense. People were just overjoyed to hear live music and be outside again. Everyone kept it safe, distanced, and masked up. I don’t know if people are approaching concerts differently, but I am. I’ve now crafted a live show that encompasses more measured dialogue, theatrics, and song explanations when appropriate. We have fun and cover a range of emotions in the setlist, but now the focus is on presenting a show. This concert aims to entertain you, even if you’re sitting down and on a date. You don’t need to mosh at the Fat Tony concert. This mode feels appropriate now that social distancing is second nature for us.
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Do you think the pandemic is altering how we approach music as an industry? Could it be a catalyst for change?
It better be. We need to value music and musicians more. We need to pay everyone involved in this business fairly, especially the artists. We should all hope for a new world of music as the pandemic continues changing everything.
Considering all the transformation we are currently experiencing, what do you miss, and what do you embrace?
I miss travelling often and being face to face with new and old friends. I live for the interactions that come from being an artist. I miss that companionship every day.
Lastly, somewhere in-between DJ Screw, Bad Brains, and De La Soul is Fat Tony, could you describe your sound using lyrics of one of their songs?
“Fuck being hard, Posdnuos is complicated,” “In this house of suffering / I gotta let some joy in,” and “Mourn ya ‘til I join ya / Ball ‘till I fall / We’re gonna miss you, dog.”
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