First Listen

First Listen: Fat Tony, 'Smart Ass Black Boy'

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Fat Tony's new album, Smart Ass Black Boy, comes out June 11. i i

Fat Tony's new album, Smart Ass Black Boy, comes out June 11. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of the artist
Fat Tony's new album, Smart Ass Black Boy, comes out June 11.

Fat Tony's new album, Smart Ass Black Boy, comes out June 11.

Courtesy of the artist

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Fat Tony calls himself a smart ass, but he's not a showoff. The Houston rapper sounds at ease on the mic, delivering droll and conversational bars with a level stare. His tone is more lighthearted than that of Texan forebears such as Scarface, Z-Ro or Bun B. He's been around — this is Fat Tony's third album-length project — but he's just beginning to put down childish things, with some regret, e.g. "the trials and the tribulations of trying to get your first love butt-naked."

In "Father's Day," Fat Tony calls a truce with his tradition-minded father: "And it feels incredible to admit, from my skin tone to my 10 toes, I am him." He doesn't sound fully formed yet, not like his featured guests in the album's best track, "Hood Party": Kool A.D. and Despot. Those guys, one from the now-defunct Das Racist and the other a member of the same circle, are caustic and forthright. Sometimes you can hear Kool A.D. smiling; sometimes you can hear Fat Tony playing it cool.

It's refreshing, though, to hear him now, still with a layer of baby fat on his vocabulary and traces of vulnerability in his writing. The production even echoes his state — the songs are dry and edited, made of hard surfaces and corners sharp enough to catch your sweater, but producer Tom Cruz has spun haunting incidentals around the bones: nostalgic melodies, high-pitched peals of binary code and anonymous vocals. Cruz handles production throughout Smart Ass Black Boy, which gives it cohesion and a trailing flavor that's more sour than sweet. The music here is for introspective cruising — listening solo. The album sounds pointed and relaxed as the musician behind it makes himself familiar. He's welcome and promising.

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First Listen