On their first disc, Fat Boys (1984), which was re-issued yesterday by Traffic Entertainment—in a collectible carboard pizza box with bonus songs, vintage radio interviews and thorough liner notes —one of the stand-out tracks is “Human Beat Box.” Released the same year as Doug E’s "The Original Human Beatbox" (1984, Vintertainment), Buff’s sound was just as dope. “Buff was the heart of the group,” Kool Rock Ski told I Am Hip-Hop author Andrew J. Rausch in 2011. “He was just an ordinary round-the-way guy. People knew he was down-to-earth.”
Like most hip-hop kids of that era, the Fat Boys had come up hard and paid their dues on stage of the infamous Disco Fever. A few years later, Fever owner Sal Abbatiello helped them pen “Jail House Rap,” a song about doing time for stealing pizza and burgers that was also included on their debut joint.
Produced by jheri-curled rapper Kurtis Blow, “Jail House Rap” was one of his favorite songs from those sessions. “Working with the Fat Boys was amazing,” the pop rapper turned preacher told reissue producer Noah Uman. “You had raw talent, which was incredible… We were tripping out, I was going crazy. The record took off so well nationally, these guys became an overnight sensation. It shocked everybody; it was just awesome to see it go down. What a great time in my life.”
Although the super-sized rappers proved themselves telegenic in the few promotional clips they made, they really made a splash a year later when they appeared in the film Krush Groove (1985). When I saw the flick at the RKO Warner Twin Theater on Broadway and 47th Street, the sold-out audience lost their minds whenever the Fat Boys appeared on screen.
“Without a doubt, the Fat Boys stole that movie,” recalls former Spin magazine editor John Leland. “It starred Run-DMC, but they were kind of boring compared to the Fat Boys. The Fat Boys were funny; Run-DMC wasn’t funny.” Reviewing the film the day it was released, New York Times critic Janet Maslin pointed out the trio’s “impromptu clowning,” at which, “the Fat Boys are particularly skilled.”
Years before MC Hammer bought his first pair of genie pants, the Fat Boys and their manager pushed rap’s crossover appeal to the point where it started to sound more like sell-out. They headline The Fresh Fest, the first corporate-sponsored rap show in history, and they toured Europe before most rap crews were traveling outside New York. But at a time when hip-hop was becoming simultaneously more militant (Public Enemy, X-Clan) and more gangster (N.W.A), the Fat Boys were doing collabos with the Beach Boys and Chubby Checker. But the new generation of rap fans had no patience for all their pop posturing.
Still, for some teens they were real-life role models. Director Kevin Smith, who cites the Fat Boy’s fourth disc, Crushin’ as one of his favorites, once told a reporter, “I love the Fat Boys, because they made it OK to be fat. I figured those dudes must be getting laid, so maybe I could too.”
After the release of their sixth album, On and On in 1989, the Fat Boys dissolved their partnership with Charlie Stettler and returned to the streets of New York. Prince Markie Dee soon became a well-known producer, co-crafting Mary J. Blige’s 1992 hit single “Real Love.” Four years later, Buff died from a heart attack in his Queens, New York home. He was 28 years old and supposedly weighed over 400 pounds.
If nothing else, the reissue of Fat Boys will give hip-hop fans the chance reevaluate the legacy of these overweight B-boys turned worldwide icons, whose portly figures paved the way for Heavy D, The Notorious B.I.G. and Rick Ross. “Before weight became part of their shtick, the Fat Boys, like Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys, were ambassadors exposing classic New York City rap to mainstream audiences,” Havelock Nelson says. “The Fat Boys weren’t just about size; those brothers also had skills.”