THE FAT BOYS A LARGE BODY OF WORK
For some time now collectors and DJs have caused vintage vinyl of 80s Hip Hop to skyrocket in price. Except for Fat Boys records. Anyone who haunts quality used records shops has likely noticed a surplus of Fat Boys LPs and their Sutra label 12" singles in the budget bins mingling with superabundant Dan Fogelberg, Neil Diamond and JFK memorial albums. Like many of their Budget Bin Brethren, the reason Fat Boys records are so superfluous isnt simply because theyve fallen from favor, it has as much to do with the massive amounts they sold, and more importantly, how prolific they were. Though they are remembered simply for their large bodies, they also produced a large body of work, bigger than most of their 80s Hip Hop contemporaries. The time has come to take a fresh look at that big body
Mark Morales (Prince Markie Dee), Damon Wimbley (Kool Rock-Ski) and Darren Robinson (known alternately as The Human Beat Box, Buff Love, Buff and Buffy) were big-boned Brooklyn neighbors and schoolmates who spent their early high school years getting into mischievous trouble together, including getting kicked off the football team. Inspired to do something with themselves after witnessing a friends violent death, they focused on their music. While still in high school these three husky teens would fall into a fairytale situation in which their winning combination of creativity and youthful exuberance would collide with the shameless hucksterism of one of the first truly successful Hip Hop outsider-opportunists. The results would be sublimely absurd at times, resulting in some of the most authentic Hip Hop comedy on wax, stage and video. It would also at times be desperately pandering. Ultimately, the latter would sell more, but hopefully history will recall the former when the Book Of Fat Boys is read throughout the ages.
In the early 80s Charles Stettler, a Swiss born show biz hustler with a background in novelty records and Disco (he had owned a roller disco), noticed that the urban kids were listening to a new kind of music. He wanted a piece of the action so he had his "record label" (actually, just a promotions company at that point) put together a huge rap talent contest, co sponsored by Coca-Cola, radio station WBLS and Fiorucci. The event was staged at Radio City Music Hall, with first prize being a recording contract (with his label that didnt really exist) and second prize being $1,000 dollars worth of stereo equipment. These prizes were enough to entice Markie, Kool and Buff to enter with their rap act, known then as the Disco 3 (at the time the word "Disco" wasnt antithetical to Rap, the best New York rap venue was the Disco Fever). When the big boys hit the stage the crowd was thoroughly impressed and they easily won first prize.
What made the group stand out wasnt their girth, though, but rather the amazing sounds emanating from Buffs head. As he explained to Keyboard magazine, "My family didnt have much money. I wanted DJ equipment like the other kids had, but I couldnt get it. So I just started playing the beat with my mouth. It just came naturally." Taking scatting to another lever, Buff had perfected a science that simulated the sounds of a bass drum, a kazoo, an asthma attack, a gas attack, a drum machine, a popcorn machine, and some sounds completely unique to his mouth. Audience responses to his techniques were tremendous, earning him the nickname, The Human Beat Box.
There are debates over Human Beat Box milestones, with proponents of both Buffy and Doug E. Fresh arguing over titles like "Original Human Beat Box," "First Human Beat Box on Wax" and other such semantics. But whether Fresh or Buff introduced the HBB idea into Hip Hop, the joyous, creative innovations demonstrated on Fat Boys records were not only more prominent than Doug E. Freshs stylings, but superior. Follow Freshs career from his cameo in Beat Street, to his success with the Get Fresh Crew, to his touring as a Gospel/harmonica-toting Beatboxer, to his awkward tenure as a Prince sideman, the shining moment is undoubtedly the brilliant single "Ladi Dadi." However, what makes that song a remarkable Hip Hop classic is Slick Ricks awesome wordplay, Freshs Beatboxing isnt integral to that record being special. Buff Loves contributions to the Fat Boys sides, however, are crucial. It should also be noted, as far as innovation, that around 1980 Black sound effect comedian Michael Winslow (famed for the Police Academy film series) had guest starred as a troubled sound effects producing high school student on The White Shadow, a TV show popular with urban kids. Though he didnt explore the same rhythmic ends as Fresh and Buff, it would be shortsighted to overlook his influence.
Whatever the history of Buffs beat, the fact is, it did the trick. The Boys won the record contract (reportedly disappointed not to get the stereo) and then Stettler went about actually getting a record label interested. Sutra was a New York indie with an interesting history in Urban youth music. It was half owned by Morris Levy, who had successfully exploited Frankie Lymon and his peers with Roulette Records in the 50s. Stettler was a powerful shill, and had little trouble convincing Sutra of the commercial potential of his new discoveries.
The Disco 3s debut 12" single, "REALITY" (Sutra, 1983), is exceptional only because it utilizes (under-utilizes, really) Buffs Beatboxing (he supposedly laid his human rhythm track first and the producers worked around that). The content of the lyrics was extremely pedestrian, with the Boys giving a positivity themed "State Of the Streets" report. The lyrics cant compare to Grandmaster Flashs "The Message," and the production and delivery are nowhere near the league of RUN-DMCs "Its Like That." However, what soon would make the Fat Boys great is evident here. Markie has a resonant, solid (if rudimentary) rap flow and Kool has a somewhat unique voice, occasionally displaying the "big tongue speech impediment that made Biggie Smalls (and Andre the Giant) so unique. (Buff almost never rhymed on the records, concentrating on his Beatboxing.) But what would prove to be so charming about their strongest work is hinted at here. On their best records they write rhymes that "read" like a well-intentioned High School term paper; simple and straightforward, structurally solid (you can almost see the outline and sentence diagrams), occasionally losing focus between the beginning and ending of a section, and prone to revert to lists. While this may sound like a putdown, it isnt. People think about the "Fat," but its the "Boys" part thats just as important. By avoiding the dire, street tough image of many of their contemporaries, they also allowed themselves to be the kids they were (they were 17 when they debuted), and the fun, goofy, youthful energy they exude is one of the most endearing aspects of the early Fat Boys. The 11th Grade English class vibe of their writing only enhances the youthfulness of their work. The fact that their outfits (matching t-shirts with their names on it) and simple dance moves also invoked a high school talent show added to this magic. Perhaps of all the rap acts, The Fat Boys capture the joys of youth the best. Kools amazing, beaming smile (a rap rarity) captures this joy.
Though the record wasnt a success, Stettlers plans didnt require it to be. Hed previously hit in Europe with a novelty he referred to as, "the worlds worst record," so he knew that a funny product (obese Black kids doing this odd thing called Rap with Buffys mouth-magic as the ringer) was all he really needed. He had filmed the talent contest for broadcast in several European countries, so with only an obscure single under their straining belts, the Disco 3 became one of the earliest Rap acts to tour Europe. Legend (and numerous Stettler press releases) has it that while in Switzerland the boys ran up a $350 room service bill for breakfast, prompting him to suggest that the bulky B-boys next single should be about a subject close to their artery-challenged hearts food!
The Disco 3s "FAT BOYS" 12" (Sutra, 1984), was an instant smash, selling almost 200,000 copies and becoming the hottest request-line record in New York. Before you even heard the content of the lyrics you could tell this was a superior record to the debut. Rap pioneer Kurtis Blow was brought in to do production and he delivered some of the most joyful, simple old school tracks of his career. The spare keyboard lines (with a very 80s flaring chime every now and then) submitted to the distinct drum-machine of choice, the 808. The record becomes sublime when that inhuman beat box mixes with its human counterpart. Lyrically the bulk of the text is just normal boasting and toasting (Markie: "Im 5 foot 8, I got hazel eyes, and if you think Im soft youre in for a surprise" ) but the few lines that are devoted to the Disco 3s size and appetites stand out. Markie explains how as a Fat Baby he ate the birthday cake, plate, candles and all, and how at breakfast "5 pounds of bacon" had his "stomach kind of achin. Kool Rock (last name is Ski) has "one slight problem, hes a little overweight" but he implores the girls to look beyond his girth because "I got class!" The hook, a sultry female chorus singing "Fat B-o-o-o-y-y-s-s" was so memorable it led to a band name change. Not entirely comfortable committing to buffoonery, Kool and Markie were resistant, but Stettler (with Kurtis Blows help) convinced them that a new moniker was prudent. The Disco 3 was now the Fat Boys!
Helping with the success of the song was a hilarious low budget video that showed off the boys in shorts and cutoff shirts (and made it pretty obvious that Markie Dee was rather svelte compared to his buddies). Highlights of the clip include the boys eating pizza at super speed and attacking a comically endless string of sausage links. The supreme moment of absurdity has Buff singing into a soft serve ice cream cone like a microphone before covering his face in frozen confection. Very evident in the video is the magnetic youthfulness they possess, displaying an innocence and energy thats been replaced by hardness and saviness in todays rappers, even the "Lil" ones. Fans picked up on this, and the single grew in popularity. Coupled with a second track, "Human Beat Box," that featured just Buffs sound effects as the backing track, the records appeal began to spread far beyond the 5 boroughs.
The Fat Boys success opened up touring opportunities, and for the next few years the act was on the road constantly. They were featured on the high profile Fresh Fest, the first big Hip Hop package tour which would hit the road with differing lineups for several years. Whodini, LL Cool J, Grandmaster Flash, Run-D.M.C and others were also on these bills. The Boys proved to be consummate performers, and their funny tunes were well received as the crowds ate up their awkward synchronized dance steps and absurdities like the gigantic Buff doing the worm (a breakdance move) across the floor. The high points of the show would be the Human Beat Box portion, where the soundman would add delay, making Buffs mouth solos seem superhuman.
The loving fans were ready for a strong follow up single, and they got one. Though the title salutes the Elvis song (foreshadowing Stettlers future crossover schemes and dreams) "JAILHOUSE RAP" is a unique Fat Boys tune. Unlike "Reality," this almost mocks urban street "reality," as the Fat Boys all end up incarcerated for a series of food related crimes (not paying at Burger King, robbing a pizzeria, etc.). Opening with a groovy, bassy keyboard line, some wicked 808 beats and some exuberant Human Beatboxing, this is one of Blows nicest productions. The chorus "In jail in jail without your bail, in jail, in jail because you failed," is the kind of jingle-like chant that made early rap records so uncomplicated-ly infectious. Buffys solo in the middle is one of his funniest, with more fart noises than usual. The video for this was also memorable, as the boys are taunted towards their food-related crimes by a Shel Silverstein-looking white guy in a devil suit (played by Stettler, who appears in several of their videos). In jail the Boys voraciously eat a cake that contains not a file, but a "Get Out Of Jail Free" Monopoly card, which they use to pick the lock in one of their unsuccessful jailbreaks. The video ends with them giving a rap concert to an appreciative crowd of inmates, busting their moves while balancing balls and chains. This was actually shot at Rikers Island prison, as Stettler had arranged a high-profile press event, with reporters given old time striped prison uniforms to match the Fat Boys costumes. Those prison suits would prove to be the most enduring Fat Boys garb, rotating in and out of the prop closet for years, reemerging when youd least expect them. If you ever see the video note that the Fat Boys prison garb is accessorized by Swatch watches (Swatch sponsored the Fresh Fests).
The success of the singles led Sutra to release a full length album. FAT BOYS (Sutra, 1984) is an all around exceptional LP. This excellent package is wrapped in hilarious, bizarre, low budget cover art (the babyfaced Boys, gripping ice cream, pop and a burger look down at a pizza where they see tiny version of themselves in the jailhouse stripes eating a slice as big as their bodies). In addition to "Jail House Rap," "Human Beat Box" and "Fat Boys," the album also featured the amazing "Stick Em," which has perhaps Buffs finest Beatboxing, the great "Can You Feel It," and "Don't You Dog Me," a wickedly fun song featuring Buff barking like a robot pooch. Low budget promotional videos were shot for almost every song on the album. For ""Can You Feel It" they rock crowds by the beach wearing shorts and presiding over a carnival-like atmosphere. In "Stick Em" they badly lip synch (you try to lip synch to Human Beat Box sounds!) while being assaulted by hilarious cheapo video effects. Check out the giant 3 foot wide records that Buff mock- scratches on the turntable while making the music with his mouth, climaxing by manipulating the record with his big ass. The boys all look like oversized kids having the time of their life in these videos, and all the songs on the album represent the fun, unjaded old school aesthetics the Fat Boys were all about when they started. America ate this up, pushing the album to #6 on the R&B Billboard charts, while crossing over into the top 50 on the Pop charts (#48).
When the Fat Train started rolling Stettler was adept at getting press for the crew, and he was never shy about announcing his schemes for the band, including Fat Boys comic books, Fat Boys dolls, Fat Boys jeans, Fat Boys cartoons, Fat Boys cookbooks and other such nonsense, none of which came into fruition. But the fact that he threw everything at the wall paid off every now and then, and when it was announced that the Fat Boys had shot a movie with Sammy Davis, Jr. it was only half lying! One of Stettlers amazing achievements was taking these incredibly unlikely stars to unexpected levels. And not once, not twice, but THREE times he actually got them on the big screen!
The Fat Boys first screen appearance was an inauspicious one. KNIGHTS OF THE CITY (New World, 1985) a/k/a Cry Of The City, was a low-budget film that demonstrated just how little was understood about Hip Hop at the time. Leon Isaac Kennedy, famous for his roles in the Penitentiary series, plays the leader of a street gang that doubles as a musical act. After getting arrested in a rumble they get signed when a record exec locked up on a DUI hears them kick out a number. The song they do is performed by four gang members who never appear in any other part of the movie. Kurtis Blow (in a slick all white outfit and Kangol) and the Fat Boys (with Markie in a midriff bearing shirt that would embarrass Christina Aguilera) kick out an a capella "Jailhouse Rap," while the rest of the "gang" does mediocre breakdancing (note: Stoney Jackson worst breakdancer EVER). Its unfortunate that their roles werent expanded because the rest of the flick got Hip Hop so wrong it was an embarrassment to the usually unshamable exploitation film industry. The street gang (of course) was that same gang that youd always see on Hunter or 21 Jump Street, a mixed race group of switchblade toting dancer-types in headbands, leopard prints, studded belts and berets. If you ever yearned for a feature length film about the gangs in the Beat It video, look no further. Most of the "breakdancing" sequences drew from Denny Terrios Dance Fever, and the act signed on the basis of the Fat Boys rap is actually a full band, with no elements of Hip Hop whatsoever. By the way, Sammy apparently ended up on the cutting room floor, but if his appearance was anything like KCs or Smokey Robinsons, we didnt miss much, as they seemed to have been duped into signing releases, as nothing from their screen time suggests that they actually knew they were being filmed for a movie.
Bad film notwithstanding, the Boys were rolling, and they quickly went to work with Blow on a sophomore LP. THE FAT BOYS ARE BACK! (Sutra, 1985) didnt do as well as the debut LP (#11 R&B, #63 Pop), but it did great for an independent release, going Gold and featuring some great music. The Boys had initially been resistant to the "Fat Boys" idea, not sure they wanted to commit to comedy, and announced that the second album would be harder and more serious. The success of the original derailed this plan, however, as much of the second album consists of updates of things on the debut ("Human Beat Box Pt. 2" for example). The title track does the original theme song better by having the chorus sound like high school girls doing a Double Dutch chant ("The Fat Boys are back, and you know they can never be wack"). The lyrics are more focussed on FOOD only, and even the boasts are now eating related. (Markie: Ill devour any MC as if he were a snack/Ill eat and eat and Ill drink and drink and Ill tell you one thing, my breath dont stink." Kool: "Im the eating machine of 85!") Its also notable that when Kool gives his lunch menu it sounds like hes describing his real lunch, because rather than describing some hyperbolic food orgy he inventories a substantial, but realistic, menu: 5 hamburgers, 3 shish kabobs, two large cokes and a slice of cake). This record also introduces an unfortunate new nickname for Buff: "The Ox That Rocks." The most interesting track on the record may be "Hardcore Reggae," a sincere attempt to bridge the similarities between Rap and Reggae and more significantly, between scatting Jamaican toast techniques and Buffs Beatboxing. Sure, their Ja-Fakin accents are bad (though better than Miss Cleos) but what redeems this record is the high school essay format, which has them a giving a Reggae history lesson, inventorying the various aspects of Reggae records, and namechecking all the greats their research turned up (including Jamaican Fat Boy Jacob Miller see his eating scene in Rockers). The video for the song was a Spaghetti Western (Jerk Chicken Western?) set in a Jamaican shantytown (with Fat Boys shirts hanging from clotheslines). Titled "The Good, The Fat and the Hungry," it features the Fat Boys in western gear confronting dreadlocked cowboys.
The success and sincerity of their Reggae homage contrasts with the albums track that falls flattest. "Rock & Roll" is an attempt to get on the then new Rap-Metal bandwagon started by RUN-DMC/Aerosmith, that fails miserably by showcasing generic riffage and doing a bad job affecting "Rock" attitude. Though in this case they would wither in RUN-DMCs shadow, the boys were about to make a high profile move in which they would prove that they could stand their ground with the Kings from Queens.
In the mid 80s the non-Hip Hop world had conflicting ideas about what rap was all about, and the press coverage of the Fat Boys reflected this. While the Chicago Sun Times expressed amazement that the short-term fad hadnt passed, a dozen blocks south Ebony magazine saw a bigger Rap History arch, referring to the Fat Boys (who debuted in 1983) as late-comers to the game. But fad or valid art form, money was to be made from it, and corporate America was ready to cash in. This leads us to the greatest of the Rapsploitation movies, KRUSH GROOVE (Warner Brothers, 1985). The film was directed by Black cinema veteran Michael Schultz and photographed by the great Ernest Dickerson, and it drew its strengths from Hip Hop. Good decisions were made (casting rappers as themselves, using live performances in the movie instead of lip synch) and the movie is genuinely fun. The Fat Boys received third billing is this flick that follows two rarely converging storylines. Buff and Co. rarely factor in to a highly fictionalized telling of the early history of Def Jam Records (with Rick Rubin, RUN-DMC and LL Cool J playing themselves, with only Russell Simmons being replaced by a real actor, Blair Underwood. Charles Stettler appears, under a fictionalized name as a sleazy record label rival). The second storyline is the fairly straightforward autobiographical story of the Fat Boys. In it they play high school rappers, the Disco 3, who are trying to get noticed by girls and hang out at Disco Fever. They pin their hopes on winning the big Tin Pan Apple rap contest. When they embrace their love of food and change their name to The Fat Boys (with Kurtis Blows encouragement) they win the record contract, despite desiring the 2nd place stereo, and they get the ladies and are welcomed into the Fever!
In this film we get to see more of the individuality of the rappers. Markie Dee, in his suave coonskin cap, is the ladies man who just wants to impress the girls. Kool, despite his smile, is the skeptical one. If these are, in fact, their real personalities, it makes sense that they would have resisted the Comedy/Fat Boys metamorphosis of the Disco 3. Buffs character is a little harder to describe, but what he brings to the table is completely unique. It goes without saying that nobody that looked like him had ever been on the big screen before (unless, of course, you put a maids uniform on him). But whats amazing is the delivery and humor Buff brings to the role, all oddly funny in a genuinely original way. Every comic scene of his is amazing, whether hes crying over losing a talent contest, or telling his co-horts "I aint fat, man" with a hilarious cadence, or trying to revive a fetal pig in science class (Kool is cooking his pig fetus on a spit over a bunson burner). All the videos theyd done had made them very comfortable in front of the camera, and it shows. While all the other rappers do a good job, the Def Jam storyline, with hackneyed love triangle stuff thrown in, ends up being far less compelling than the screen time with the surprisingly compelling Fat Boys.
Though most of the movie features live concert performances, the one music video style segment has the Boys going to an all-you-can-eat buffet at Sbarro and cleaning the place out. The song they perform, "All You Can Eat," is their best food song ever, and is probably the Fat Boys all around finest moment. Kurtis Blow produced it, but there must have been a little more money to throw around at studios, because while this contains all the elements of his other productions (the chanting chorus, the simple keyboard lines, the solid beats) overall theres a somewhat bigger sound. The song is just a relentless menu of foods they plan to demolish at the buffet (perhaps thats what "Buff" is short for). The break in the middle has Markie asking Buff to list the foods he wants to eat, to which the Human Beat Box responds with his arsenal of sound effects. In the clip they keep walking from the buffet to their table with trays piled to the sky with every food imaginable, including two 10 pound provolones and four giant salamis. When they are finished even the pictures of food on the wall are gone! The highlight is when Buff makes one of his signature sound effects by clapping two calzones in front of his mouth. At the end of the scene they are chased by an ambiguously ethnic restaurant manager demanding they pay more, and when they collapse on a stoop, stains on their warmups, food on their faces, they decide to change thheir name to the Fat Boys. "All You Can Eat" appears on the KRUSH GROOVE Original Soundtrack (Warner Bros. 1985), and the Fat Boys also appear on the single by the Krush Groove All Stars, "KRUSH GROOVIN" which reached #87 R&B.
When the dust cleared the movie had done decent box office, grossing over 11 million dollars, and demonstrating how naturally rappers take to acting. However, the modest success didnt set off a Rap movie boom, and it would be years before Hip Hop truly assaulted Hollywood. But the Fat Boys performances were noticed, and as they matured as artists, bigger things were on the horizon.
As Fat Boys become fat men obviously some of the magic that came from their unadulterated youth began to fade. That particular magic had never really been in Stettlers plans, however. He was a plugger, and he was looking for blatant, shameless ways to cash in, crossover and get that money. The first desperately blatant cash-in project was the 1985 single "CHILLIN WITH THE REFRIGERATOR" (Sutra, 1985). That record seemed more natural than forced, however, as William Perry, star of the media-darlings Super Bowl champ 85-86 Chicago Bears, was a joyful, youthful, mammoth novelty star himself. Its not surprising that they made him "an honorary Fat Boy" on the record, as they sang his praises and honored him by offering Perry "pizza, spaghetti and a pound of veal." Perry posed with the boys for the cover, but doesnt rap on the record, even though he busted rhymes on a single with Walter Payton and on "The Super Bowl Shuffle" (the chorus and drum programming on this has comparable street cred to the "Shuffle."). The mid 80s also featured the charity record boom, in the wake of "We Are The World," so it was also prudent for the Fat Boys to be a part of that. They make at least two (minor) appearances on benefit supergroup projects, Artists United Against Apartheids "SUN CITY" (Manhattan, 1985) and the King Dream Chorus and Holiday Crew "KING HOLIDAY" (1986, Mercury).
The Boys post-Krush Groove album was BIG & BEAUTIFUL (Sutra 1986) which had slightly more trouble selling than its predecessors despite being fairly solid. The absurdity on this album includes not one, but two, Beat Box showcase tunes, and the high concept (?) numbers "Double O Fat Boys" and "Rapp Symphony (in C-Minor)," On the LP cover the boys appear at a party in tuxedos flanked by ladies. Markie Dees coonskin cap perhaps clashes with his magenta cummerbund, but whose gonna complain?
The way Stettler demonstrated his real belief that the boys were ready for the next level wasnt with the music on this album, though, but with the video. "Sex Machine" is one of the Fat Boys better songs, a genuine Rap-remake, that really respects the James Brown song (instead of sampling the hook, they rap and sing a good portion of the originals lyrics). The video for the tune was directed by Zbigniew Rybczynski, at the time one of the hottest, most progressive names in music video, having directed Peter Gabriels breakthrough "Sledgehammer" clip. A far cry from the previous low budget videos, ZR ups the budget and takes the humor and absurdity up a notch. Obviously the boys were told to bring every outfit they had (including the Jailhouse uniforms) and the PAs were sent to every gag store in town, and the end result is a tornado of satin, gorilla masks, hot dogs, top hats, stop-motion-style Madonna-wannabes, Willie Tyler and Lester, the James Brown cape routine, grids, Three Stooges slaps, and hotties eating pizza in super-fast Fat Boys style. Though the song failed to crossover to the Pop charts and missed the R&B Top 20 (#23), the album charted about the same as the previous one, and the fact that it didnt break out wasnt perceived in the industry as a weakness of the band. Rather, it reflected the limitations of the small label backing the Boys. The Fat Boys, it was believed, were still on the way up.
1986 saw Fat Boys management exploring other mediums. In February they made a well-received cameo on MIAMI VICE in an episode called "Florence Italy." The Boys played street corner pot dealers who Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) decides to have some fun with. After identifying himself as a cop he makes Buff eat the stash, before driving off in his convertible laughing. Later in the year a compilation tape of all the Fat Boys music videos (except for the cheapo Fridge video, which was just NFL game footage) was released. FAT BOYS ON VIDEO BRRR WATCH EM! (MCA Home Video, 1986) was one of the best selling music video tapes at the time. They also appeared in commercials and PSAs, telling kids to do everything from buy Swatch watches to be nice to people with AIDS. One commercial they turned down actually led to a huge lawsuit. When Joe Piscopos Miller beer ad campaign wanted the Fat Boys to appear the Boys refused because they were underage. Miller hired three obese Black teens and did an ad that had them human Beatboxing. The case was in court for years, and several rulings that went the Fat Boys way became precedent.
With three gold LPs and a hit movie, plus the TV and videotape successes, The Fat Boys were poised to get figuratively LARGE, and Stettler negotiated a move from indie Sutra to major label Polydor. After knocking out a Greatest Hits LP, THE BEST PART OF THE FAT BOYS (Sutra, 1987), the Fat Boys were with the Big Boys, and plans were made to make their major label LP a mega-hit. CRUSHIN' (Tin Pan Apple/Polydor 1987), with cover art featuring the boys draped in a giant snake when Britney was still in nursery school, made it to #8 on the Pop Billboard charts and #4 R&B. Both singles released charted R&B Top 20 and the one shameless crossover attempt successfully made the Fat Boys first real trip to the Pop-side. "Falling In Love" made it to #16 R&B, mostly on the strength of the B-side "Protect Yourself/My Nuts," which unintentionally mocks safe-sex messages by being the most absurd condom-friendly record of the 80s. But it would be the next single that would be a blatant missile aimed at the mainstream, squarely hitting its target.
"Wipe Out," a remake of the Surfaris classic, was packaged as a duet with the Beach Boys, and made it to #12 Pop and #10 R&B. As the Beach Boys do some harmonizin and Doo Wopin in the background, the Fat Boys tell the story of how they ended up in the Golden State and met "the real Beach Boys!" When promoting the single Kool was asked by a reporter if they actually surfed, and he responded "HELL NO!" This actually is a pretty good Fat Boys record, combining straightforward Fat Boys style of storytelling (where nothing really happens, but they seem really excited about it) with some great Beatboxing, and some solid vocal delivery. For some reason the video featured boxer Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini with the Fat Boys behind him and boxer Hector "Macho" Camacho with the Beach Boys behind him, and by some jump of logic this incites the original East Coast-West Coast rivalry. The Beach Boys go to NYC and use their powers to turn hardened homeboys and homegirls into hang-loose Beach folk, and the Fat Boys go to California and experience bikini girls, volleyball and sand that cant take their weight. At the end they all get together, with the Beach Boys scratching on the turntables. The only truly memorable moment of the thing is Mike Love and Buff Love going nose to nose. If only Buff had ate him wed never have had to hear "Kokomo" again!
"Wipe Out" was a worldwide smash, and if theres any Fat Boys ephemera collectors out there, seek out the CD Video single (a precursor to CD-ROM) and the special burger shaped vinyl single. The Beach Boys also made a cameo in the Fat Boys next big project, one that had the synergy minded execs salivating. Stettler managed to convince the moneybags with the power to "green light" that three babyfaced, portly, rapping Brooklynites were the next Boffo Box Office Superstahs! The Fat Boys were starring in their very own movie!
DISORDERLIES (Warner Brothers, 1987) featured the Fat Boys as variations on themselves (they have the same names, but arent pursuing a career in music). This film has them working as inept orderlies at a New York old folks home. Anthony Geary (Luke on General Hospital) plays a gambling-debt addled heir to an ill millionaire (Ralph Bellamy in his 100th flick). He decides to kill the old man by hiring the Fat Boys who will certainly do him in with their bumbling. Despite their best clumsy efforts, they manage to make Uncle Albert "young again" by under-medicating him, taking him rollerskating, putting an Asian hooker on his lap, and declaring, "Old people need to have fun, too!" The model for this Crass Ethnics Wreak Havoc On The Wealthy comedy is supposed to be the Three Stooges (previews for the film intercut Stooges and Fat Boys footage) and in case you didnt remember that, every so often the movie awkwardly throws in some slapping or Stooges-style comic sound effects. These include some effects the Stooges overlooked, including the comical audio indicating nubile boob jiggling and the unmistakable creaky "boing" of an elderly man popping a rusty boner. Overall this film ranges from stilted not-funniness to dismal comic failure. Its not the Fat Boys fault. They do everything they are asked, reviving their Krush Groove personas (Markie is a ladies man, Kool is skeptical and Buff is uniquely comic) and delivering the pathetic lines as well as possible. The failure of this movie has to do with its flawed concept. The Fat Boys, with their girth and comic take on urban surroundings, are aberrant even in their own neighborhood. To put them in a situation where they fit in even less results is a confusing mess. Some of the blame can be directed at the director/co-producer.
Michael Schultz had a puzzling career. His early films included two of Hollywoods most brilliant, authentic urban comedies, Cooley High and Car Wash. After following those with two solid Richard Pryor films, Schultz was made an offer he both couldnt refuse and couldnt win by accepting. Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band was the first major white-cast film to be helmed by a Black director. It was also a doomed, bloated, insane project, in which incongruent Beatles lyrics were strung together to form a star-studded incoherent semi-narrative. After that failure it seems Schultz spirit was broken, and the films that followed ranged from harmless hack work (The Last Dragon) to truly awful things like Carbon Copy, Livin Large and Disorderlies. Krush Groove may be his most entertaining film of the 80s and 90s, but that was largely due to the outstanding performances (both acting and musical) of the rappers.
In this disaster the Hip Hop audience is abandoned. Despite the Fat Boys Brooklyn B-boy demeanor, we are asked to believe that they listen to Bon Jovi on the car stereo when cruising for girls. Despite the obvious racial politics of the film (competent white caretakers are replaced with the Fat Boys who will surely kill the old man) there is only one acknowledgement of race in the text of the film (Markie says of a growling Doberman, "This dog is a bigot."). And though this is a film with a Black director and stars the only scene which really seems to be drawing from a specific African American comic tradition is a funny one where the Boys over-demonstrative parents see them off at the airport. Its hard to tell when everyone involved knew this was doomed, but certainly the abrupt, pathetic ending (Geary gets shot in the ass and everyone laughs and laughs and laughs) indicates that either money, spirit or hope had run out and they just wanted to get this thing done with.
The only musical sequence (the Fat Boys only have one song on the DISORDERLIES Soundtrack [Tin Pan Apple/Polygram, 1987] which is padded with 80s MOR stuff like Bananarama and Gwen Guthrie) is when they find some camcorder equipment and declare "Lets make a video!" They then perform a rapped-up cover of the Beatles "Baby Youre a Rich Man," a tune Stettler had to negotiate with Michael Jacksons people for hours to get. Jackson, who owned the Beatles catalogue at the time, had recently refused the Beastie Boys the rights for "Im Down." Paul McCartney was reportedly "pissed" about the Fat Boys cover, yet they still namecheck him and Jacko (as well as Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Lionel Ritchie, Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason [?] and Tina Turner [??]) as "Rich Men" in the rap. The song is an uninspired tune with an irking, sing-songy melodic keyboard line and a generic rhythm track. It had little chance to be a mega-hit. Youd think Schultz would have learned from Sgt.Peppers that Beatles covers dont necessarily equal gold. If you must see this film, watch for cameos by Ray Parker, Jr. (as a Dominos delivery guy) and Cheap Tricks Rick Nielson. Also note that Buffs ass may have doubled in size since the bands debut.
Surprisingly the film did comparable box office to Krush Groove (about $10 million) but certainly wasnt the crossover success the studio expected. Though they had a 3-picture deal and plans had been developed for a follow-up feature, a horror comedy, Disorderlies would be their last movie..
The so-so showing of the movie didnt halt their recording career. Their next LP COMING BACK HARD AGAIN (Tin Pan Apple/Polydor 1988) didnt have the momentum of its smash-hit predecessor, but was a solid seller, reaching the Pop Top 40 (Billboard 33, R&B 21), and yielding another hit single. The cover art has the Fat Boys covered from head to toe in ridiculous custom leather biker outfits, with studs and spikes augmented with forks, spoons and Hip Hop gold rope chains. Theyre standing in a fake, smoky graffiti covered alley and are making the goofiest tough guy faces imaginable. This LP tried to outdo Crushin by having not one, but three absurd crossover attempts. The most successful commercially was "The Twist (Yo Twist)," which made it to #16 Pop in the US and all the way to #2 in England, the highest a rap record had ever charted in the UK at that time. The song was pretty ridiculous, using a cheesy version of the music on the 1960s Chubby Checker hit, with only one little "hard" horn break nodding towards Hip Hop. Chubby guest stars on the record and doesnt do much. In the video a Black girls Sweet 16 party is ruined by an accordion band her square mother has hired, but when the Fat Boys jump out of the TV to liven the party up they magically Hip Hop up the accordion band with Kangols and dookey rope gold chains. Chubby arrives with the most unfortunate hair of the 80s, an asymmetrical number in which long extensions on one side compliment his poodle puff do.
More interesting was their remake of "Louie Louie," which features no guest stars, but at least boasts an interesting concept; the dont just remake the song, they rap about the famous Kingsmen versions infamy. The Boys rhyme about how Markies mom told them about this record back in the day that "caused a big-assed rumble/They thought it was filthy because the words were mumbled." Buff, with his Human Beat Box superpowers, of course, can understand all the incoherent lyrics of the original.
The third would-be crossover cut was "Are You Ready For Freddy?," which they recorded with Robert Englund a/k/a/ Freddy Krueger (this was made as the theme song for A Nightmare On Elm Street, Part IV). Its notable that on the 12" sleeve they bust out their old "Jailhouse Rap" stripes (I guess they keep reverting to horizontal stripes to appear fatter). The Freddy single flopped and that would be the last pandering Fat Boys tune. After releasing 3 X 3 (Tin Pan Alley/Polygram Music Video, 1988), a second music video collection of their crossover records, they began work on a record that, as promised since the second LP, would be more serious.
ON AND ON (Tin Pan Apple/Mercury, 1989) theoretically was a concept album. The cover declared it the first ever "Rapera," allegedly an LP length story told through rhyme. Were it really such a thing it would have been a trailblazing work, a decade before the Prince Of Thieves project or MTVs "Hip Hopera" Carmen. Unfortunately, Ive listened to this thing numerous times and theres definitely no cohesive narrative thread, its just a regular collection of would-be singles, and the "Rapera" idea must have been an afterthought that was slapped on the sleeve. Putting the "Rapera" aside, this simply is an unfocussed album. The Fat Boys are followers here, rapping like other rappers with all kindsa production going all over the place ("Its Getting Hot" is a would be House song that sounds like B-grade C+C Music Factory, the title track is a Public Enemy impersonation musically and rap-wise). Its not that all the songs are bad, its just that no two belong on the same album. "Just Loungin" is a decent smooth R&B Hip Hop Pop tune, and the Reggae number "Tings Na Go So" is OK, but what do they have to do with each other?
One thing noticeably absent is the humor that made the Boys large. Theres a great Human Beat Box a capella suite, and a bad Fresh Prince ripoff, but other than that none of the tunes are particularly fun or joyful, not even the awkward high school song (they were in their 20s at this point). I suppose they were sick of being clowns, and this seriousness is demonstrated on the sleeve art. Just like on their previous album they appear on the street posing in front of a graffiti wall, but instead of wearing over-the-top costumes and making exaggerated tough guy comedy faces, they now are wearing street clothes and genuinely trying to look hard. OK, Ill give Buff credit for his blonde hair and gold teeth, but the other dudes are TOO serious. The only redeeming factor is the decaying poster-covered wall behind them that mixes Fat Boys promo posters (including the Disorderlies one-sheet and a PSA where the Boys school kids about AIDS) with rock and political broadsheets, which include "Free Mandela" messages and a Danzing/White Zombie concert poster.
The album barely made the top 200 Pop and peaked at #52 R&B before disappearing from the charts a few weeks later. Neither single ("Lie-Z" and "Just Loungin") charted Pop and both peaked in the low 80s on the R&B charts. The album was a failure artistically and commercially. Stettler even demonstrated his loss of confidence in his stars by overtly promoting his new clients, DJ/Vee Jay duo Doctor Dre and Ed Lover, at the Fat Boys expense. Dre and Lovers names appear almost as big as the Fat Boys logo on the front cover, despite the fact that their intro (the "yo"verture) and outro are only about a minute long combined.
After On and On tanked, Prince Markie Dee apparently wanted to distance himself further from the clowning and foolishness. He left the Fat Boys, and consequently, the groups associations with Stettler and Tin Pan Apple ended (possible with some litigation involved). Though the members of the Disco 3 would continue in music, the true Fat Boys era definitely ended when Markie parted ways with his longtime crew. They had sold almost 10 million records over the previous 6 years, and at their peak they had a "Q" rating (which measures commercial recognizability) that rivaled Michael Jackson. But the sales and the popularity were behind them, and Markie, Buff and Kool found themselves starting over from zero.
The new Fat Boys (now a duo) resurfaced first, with a new album and a new record company. Ichiban is a Southern label best known for raunchy Blues records aimed at an older Black audience ("Strokin" by Clarence Clemons is their quintessential cut), but they had dabbled in rap by releasing the first Vanilla Ice LP. Ice was on another label when he made his mega-money, but that success must have inspired them to take another dip in rap-land. MACK DADDY (Emperor/Ichiban, 1991) has Buff and Kool seeming a bit lost without Markie, searching for a style and grasping for 90s authenticity by saying "nigger" and cursing, and having LOTS of sex songs. Sometimes Kool Rock Ski raps like Chuck D., sometimes like Heavy D., but he rarely raps like Kool Rock Ski. Also, the layered 90s style production replaces the Human Beat Boxing (Buff couldnt blame anyone for that he did the production). The party rap song, "Da Bump" is a "Humpty Dance" ripoff that actually mentions the "Humpty Dance," and the single, "Whip It On Me" is perhaps the most dated track on any Fat Boys record, sounding like a third string Guy reject. The record sputtered up to #89 R&B before mercifully disappearing.
When Markie reemerged it was with a higher profile on a major label with slightly more success, commercially and artistically. Prince Markie Dee And The Soul Conventions FREE (Columbia, 1992) yielded chart singles, had videos and sounded like a focused record. Markie avoided the comic shenanigans of the Fat Boys, but also made no nods to current Gangsta conventions, instead producing smooth radio friendly R&B rap music, mostly about positivity and sex. "Trippin Out" was a minor hit (#13 R&B) and it sounds like something that belonged on BET in 1992. The follow-up single "Typical Reasons (Swing My Way)" eked into the R&B Top 20 and even crossed over to the Pop charts. Markie had made a name for himself as a producer, and his biggest success came that same year with tracks on Mary J. Bliges Real Love album. If youre familiar with the Hip Hop influenced R&B/Pop on that record you have a good idea what the best material on Markies album sounds like. Most notable on the record is "Im Gonna Be Allright," where Markie acknowledges his Fat Boys past with some embarrassment, and gives his fans an ultimatum to accept his mature self. The song also dismisses rumors that hes gay and/or dead.
Despite his new non-Fat Boy image, theres no hard feelings, as Buff does some DJ work on the record (Buff thanked Markie in the liner notes on the Fat Boys LP as well). The minor success of the album didnt impress Tommy Motolla and Co. and Markie didnt release a follow up on the Columbia label imprint. In 1995 he released another positive, non-comic LP (LOVE DADDY, Motown, 1995), and the production was tighter and the songs were more distinct, but that album disappeared quickly. By the mid-90s solo work wasnt his only focus, however. His differences with his former Disco 3-mates had dissipated and triumphantly an older wiser Fat Boys began work on a reunion album. Sadly it wasnt to be.
Darren "Buffy" Robinson had several ups and downs after Mack Daddy fizzled. On the positive side, he was a father enjoying his relationship with his son Quentin (a/k/a Qwee Qwee), he was developing a reputation as a producer (hed done work for Cameo), he had signed a deal with Sony to do production work, and the Fat Boys reunion recordings seemed promising. On the negative side, hed been videotaped attending a party where a minor had been sexually abused, leading to criminal charges against him and his posse for contributing to her corruption, and the stress of that couldnt have helped his deteriorating health. In addition to problems associated with his weight (the New York Times reported that he weighed 450 pounds in 1995) he had also acquired lymphedema, a rare and crippling disease that causes fluids from the lymph nodes to collect in other parts of the body. On December 10th, 1995, while rapping for friends, he fell off a chair and lost consciousness. At age 28 Buff Love died from cardiac arrest.
It seems unfair to say that his death seems sadder than some of his Hip Hop brothers. But the fact is, when you watch the videos, check out the movie roles and hear the recordings of Tupac, Biggie, or most appropriately, Big Punisher (who also died as a result of his weight problems) you hear profanity laced threats to kill everyone around them. They are young men whose credibility is based on a hardness that borders on evil at times. Biggie and Tupac welcome their deaths and accept (and sometimes beg for) it on wax ("Youre nobody til somebody kills you "). When you check out Buffy in videos or listen to his records he just looks like a little (OK, a big) kid having fun and being cute and laughing and making funny noises. He was full of life, and he never dealt with his mortality on wax (unless it was at the hands of Freddy Krueger or some other nonsense) so his passing seemed extremely tragic.
Markie and Kool pledged to complete the reunion album using Buffs tracks, and even suggested they might get prominent obese rapping colleagues to chip in (Heavy D., Chubb Rock, etc.). If the album was finished it was never released.
Markie and his production partner Mark C. Rooney continued to do work on other artists records, including Jade, Shabba Ranks, Angie B., Craig Mack, and Tito Jacksons kids, 3T. Most recently he did prominent work with the Gospel Hip Hop artist BB.Jay ("Believer Blessed in Jesus"). A remix for Mariah Carey led to his being signed as an artist and house producer for Careys Sony imprint Crave Records. He released a 12" single as a teaser for his album, and "BOUNCE" (Crave/Sony, 1997) was a solid record that sounds like a party-time Bad Boy/Puffy record. In fact it sounds exactly like one, because the way Markie sampled "Hollywood Swinging" as the foundation of the track was later used identically on the Puffy/Mase tune "Bad Boys."
Though the single was decent, Mariahs divorce from Tommy Motolla buried Crave and his full length never came out. Its notable that Markie doesnt appear on the singles cover art (gigantic breasts appears in lieu of the artists photo). A possible reason for the rappers newfound humility may have surfaced a couple of years later when MTV ran an AMAZING 3 hour long annotated version of Krush Groove, with contemporary comments from all the participants added to the movie. (If anyone has this on tape get in touch with Roctober PLEASE!!!) When they interviewed Markie, who had always been the thinnest of the Fat, shockingly his weight had ballooned. He now appeared to be the size of the housebound obese people Dick Gregory is seen on TV helping. Hopefully his health has improved since then.
Since Buffs death Kool seems to have dropped off whatever radar is available to this magazine. Perhaps he pursued his dream of becoming a chef. After the Fat Boys, Charles Stettler never had another real hit act on Tin Pan Apple, but the Fat Boys catalogue kept the imprint active longer than imaginable. He also worked his magic on Ed Lover and Doctor Dre, inexplicably maneuvering them into starring in their own theatrical feature film.
Outside of their own work, its hard to say what the Fat Boys legacy is. Certainly overweight Hip Hop superstars have followed, from Biggie (who almost never rapped about his weight, and who enjoyed the highest level of credibility with Rap fans) to Big Pun (who was so large he needed oxygen on stage). But the carefree goofy side of Hip Hop that the Artists Formally Known As The Disco 3 were able to capture from 1983-1986 doesnt seem to be something that will be revisited soon. Still, Fat Boys tracks appear on numerous compilations, Buffs motorcycle jacket (with forks and knives replacing studs) hangs in The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and Rhino has released ALL MEAT, NO FILLAH! THE BEST OF THE FAT BOYS (Rhino 1997). Fat Boys references still pop up occasionally in rap songs (recently on the Silk the Shocker/Lil Romeo song "Thats Kool" Silk does a New Orleans-style Buff tribute) and most importantly, human Beatboxing is still a growing artform, thanks to masters like Rahzel. But whether a Fat Boys revival, or a full appreciation of what they did, ever occurs or not, whats important is that the raw material is out there and available. For anyone who wants to study the Fat Boys just head down to the used record store. Youll find a treasure trove of wonderful material to work with cheap!