Why the Fat Boys still matter.
But the name-branding and Chubby Checker collaborations shouldn’t diminish the early recordings, put to tape when the Fat Boys were just talented teenagers who could flow. “Can You Feel It?” is an electro-funk classic. Producer Kurtis Blow—then in “Basketball” form—enlisted Run-DMC drum-machine programmer Larry Smith and bassist Davy “DMX” Reeves, both of whom were behind some of the best records of the era to work on it. (They often collaborated with a session drummer named Pumpkin, AKA “B. Eats.”) Rick Ross apparently still knows the entire Spider-Man verse from “The Place To Be,” another spare treat. Many people—including the Fat Boys themselves—were dismissive of their first single “Reality,” but the James Mason-arranged music behind their rhymes could be a lost John Carpenter track. (A keyboard player for Roy Ayers, Mason recorded some fine interstellar space-cruiser ballads on his own.)
According to Wimbley, the original lyrics to “Jailhouse Rap,” the first track on the debut album, were toned down; stories of shooting cops in the back turned into stories about “getting arrested for doing something stupid related to food.” While Run-DMC strutted in fedoras and Adidas, the Fat Boys were having food fights in bathing suits and inner tubes. Their namesake single, “Fat Boys,” produced by Kurtis Blow, was pretty hardcore about being soft in the middle: In the video, Kool Rock Ski wore a functional bright green umbrella hat while Buffy beat-boxed into an ice cream cone, possibly pistachio. At the height of the group’s popularity, it was not uncommon for women—many of them older—to ask Buffy to Hugga-Hugga into their cleavage.
Mention the Fat Boys around the office and you’ll get instant recognition in the form of fake hyperventilation and motorboat sputter—an unflattering impression of a talented kid essentially killed by his own brand. What often got lost in the clowning was Buff’s impossibly deep bass register, which made him sound as if he’d swallowed a subwoofer. When the Fat Boys toured Europe and the states, Buff left behind a wake of blown speakers and astonished soundmen. (Though Doug E. Fresh was master of the clicks, “Buff,” as Biz Markie once declared, “was Bass.”) It was said he could shake a classroom from the hallway. He could also make your stomach vibrate—as if just being in the presence of beat boxing could make you hungry. Buff’s leather motorcycle jacket, studded in forks and spoons, is now in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. The rhinestone-framed Cazals are still the best picture windows in hip-hop.
I’ll never listen to “Are You Ready for Freddy?”—it’s not the Fat Boys best effort—but I love that Robert England tore off his prosthetic nose on set while filming the video and gave it to Markie Dee as a souvenir. I like the idea of one of the Fat Boys having Freddy Kreuger’s nose boxed up in storage. I like to think that Disorderlies is always playing somewhere on late-night cable during a late-night snack, that someone is watching Buff Love do an emergency cannonball into a pool to extinguish a hissing dynamite fuse to save the day.
But real affection for such silliness goes hand in hand with respect for what the Fat Boys accomplished. The other day I saw a subway ad for the social networking site Badoo. It was a mock profile in bad spoken word, a young woman talking about beat-boxing while eating a burger. The Hugga Hugga deserves a better legacy.
The Fat Boys made some great records. They also managed to make me laugh after my apartment nearly burnt down. I was ankle-deep in soot and water when I heard a member of the NYFD say, “Hey—the Fat Boys!” His flashlight had hit on a backstage photo of them in matching Schlitz Malt Liquor sweatshirts. I tell this story often, as the fire is a good excuse to talk Fat Boys, and to brag about that photo. It currently hangs on the wall outside the door of my fourth-floor apartment. That way I can instruct visitors to keep walking until they run out of stairs and see the Fat Boys. Because sometimes I just like saying the name.