Darren "The Human Beat Box" Robinson, Mark "Prince Markie Dee" Morales, and Damon "Kool Rock-ski" Wimbley all grew up rapping in the same neighborhood. Robinson's family could not afford a drum set, so Darren perfected a technique of making percussion-like sounds with his mouth -- hence the birth of his nickname The Human Beat Box. The group, then known as the Disco 3, entered the Coca-Cola / Tin Pan Apple rap contest at Radio City Music Hall and won the event hands down. But they were disappointed -- first prize was a record contract, second prize was a stereo, and the group wanted the stereo! In October 1983, shortly after winning the contest, their first single, "Reality," was released on Sutra Records. The Human Beat Box (also known as "Buff Love," "Doc Nice," and "The Ox That Rocks"), provided a rhythm track that was a first in recorded vocalization.
When, during an early European tour, the trio's manager, Charles Stettler, was presented with a $350 hotel bill for "extra breakfasts," he complained that they change their name to the Fat Boys. With that came their second single, "Fat Boys," released in May 1984. The song kicks off with The Human Beat Box doing what he does best, then brings in the 808 -- the B-Boy drum machine of choice. Prince Markie Dee and Kool Rock-ski then break into lyrics like, "I'm overweight but it ain't no thing / because I'm always fresh / and guaranteed to pass any MC contest." The song is completed with a fluid keyboard bass line and the ever- present syncopated hand-clap snare. The most requested radio record in New York, "Fat Boys" remained in the local Top 15 for an impressive 18 weeks as it swept across the country's clubs and airwaves; the zany video's celebration of overeating, meantime, fed the group's growing fan base. It was at this time that the Fat Boys, along with Whodini, LL Cool J, and Run-DMC, joined the first major hip-hop concert tour, the Swatch Fresh Fest. The crew was really starting to blow up (pun intended).
Sadly, in early '95, The Human Beat Box was diagnosed with lymphedema, a rare crippling disease. On December 10th, 1995, the industry lost a great hip-hop soldier when Robinson passed away at the age of 28 from cardiac arrest during a severe bout with respiratory flu. Prior to his death he was working on a production deal with Sony as well as a Fat Boys reunion album. The two surviving members plan on completing the album using the vocals Robinson cut prior to his death.
The group's legacy does live on. Reflecting on the Fat Boys' impact on hip-hop, The Awesome 2 confirm, "The Fat Boys were major stars! They took this art form to another level. Five sold-out Fresh Fest Tours! Incredible. We had a chance to introduce the group at their first show in Patterson, New Jersey, with the Cold Crush Brothers, and they tore the roof down! They added the visual element of the show to hip-hop. With the Fresh Fests you had the hard-core style of Run-D.M.C., the smooth, mack-daddy style of Whodini, the comedic style of the Fat Boys. They really created a niche for themselves."
Most of us would put Public Enemy, Run-D.M.C., or N.W.A. on our list of groups that have left the greatest impression on hip-hop. Few would consider the Fat Boys in this class. But if you sit down and seriously listen to the early B-boy material, if you rent Krush Groove and check out their performance, if you think about who really rocked the Fresh Fest you attended back in the day, you'll realize the Fat Boys did indeed leave a major impression on hip-hop. The Fat Boys represent an era in hip-hop when music was fun. When we didn't have to kill 100 people on record to justify how "hard" we were. When we didn't have to smoke ten bags of weed to prove a point. When we could say "yes, there are troubles in the ghetto, but we're gonna work through them with hope, humor, and confidence." The Fat Boys made us laugh at ourselves as well as think about the consequences of our actions. They possessed what many rap artists today lack -- creativity. On stage, video and wax, the Fat Boys stretched the stereotypical boundaries of machismo and dared rappers to challenge their untapped creative potential. It saddens me that some up-and-coming producers haven't sampled tracks like "Can You Feel It" or "In The House"; both sound just as fresh today as they did ten years ago. Words by Barry "Rockbarry" Benson
- Fat Boys (Sutra #1015 11/84)
- The Fat Boys Are Back! (Sutra #1016 7/85)
- Krush Groove (Original Soundtrack) (Warner Bros. #25295 10/85)
- Big & Beautiful (Sutra #1017 4/86)
- Crushin' (Tin Pan Apple/Polydor #831-948 5/87)
- Disorderlies (Original Soundtrack) (Tin Pan Apple/Polydor #833-274 8/87)
- The Best Part Of The Fat Boys (Sutra #1018 9/87)
- Coming Back Hard Again (Tin Pan Apple/Polydor #835-809 6/88)
- On and On (Tin Pan Apple/Mercury #838-867 10/89)