Breakfast Bills, Weight Contests, And Good Morning America: Fact-Checking The Myths About The Fat Boys
The early rise of the Fat Boys is an unfairly overlooked rap story. Having broken through as mainstream figures in the mid-'80s, an ascent helped by collaborations with Chubby Checker, William "The Refrigerator" Perry and Robert Englund's Freddy Krueger character, the oversized hip-hop trio have been characterized as something of a buffoonish and cartoon-styled act. And sure, "The Twist" is a pretty corny rap-meets-rock outing. But before that, East New York kids Kool Rock Ski, Prince Markie Dee and Buffy The Human Beatbox cut a raw and punchy first album in tandem with Kurtis Blow and Davy DMX, while their 1983 debut song "Reality," recorded under the guise of the Disco 3, could kid more than a few ears that it's an early Run-DMC demo. Under the managerial stewardship of Swiss-born Charles Stettler, the group also set industry trends and clocked up gargantuan bank balances before their peers.
This formative, and often ground-breaking, part of the Fat Boys' hip-hop history is one that's been memorialized with this week's reissue of their self-titled debut (smartly packaged in a mini-pizza box). Checking in with Stettler, Sound of the City hit him with some rumors and myths about the group during this early-'80s periodand discovered a tale of canny opportunism, record industry tricks and gigantic breakfast tabs.
Did the Fat Boys get their break at a talent show?
The Tin Pan Apple After Dark Dance And Rap Contest is what the Disco 3, as they were then called, won. It was a talent contest I held held at Radio City Music Hall. I was actually upstairs when they came on stage, 'cause everybody thought UTFO had wonthey eventually won the break-dance contest on the nightand then all of a sudden the house went berserk when they heard the beat-boxing. I was like, "Oh shit, I guess I'm in the music business."
Was the group's first song, "Reality," an attempt to copy Run-DMC?
It was a friend of mine, James Mason, that came up with that song. Once we signed to Sutra Recordswhich I had no clue was a bunch of gangsters, with Morris Levy and those guyssomeone told me, "Yo, man, you're gonna get screwed." But I said there's nobody else doing rap. So obviously the song didn't go anywhere. These kids were 14, 15-years-old and I decided that I thought [hip-hop] was going to be a big thing and the only thing I knew about rap was Run-DMC had a song called "It's Like That" and Grandmaster Flash had "The Message," but my guys were funny guys. So I said to myself, "Hey, I'll stay respectful to the culture but because you guys don't know anything about politics I think you should stick to humor.
Was a disputed European breakfast tab behind the group's name change?
Swiss television agreed to bring the group to Zurich to do a couple of TV appearances. At the hotel one morning, I was presented with the bill, which was a $350 breakfast bill, which I didn't want to pay 'cause it was supposed to be included in a European breakfast plan. But the boss at the hotel came and said to me, "Look, every day after you have your meetings and do your business then they come down here and eat like 20 more meals." So that's when I said, "You're nothing but a bunch of Fat Boys." They got mad and wouldn't talk to me for a couple of weeks, but when I came back to New York I reached out to Sal [Abbatiello], who reached out to Kurtis Blow and pitched that idea. And that's when the song "Fat Boys" came about, and sold 100,000 singles in four and a half weeks.
Did the group go too far with the oversized gimmick?
I had the idea to hold a guess the weight contest at Tower Records. I think the combined weight of the group was somewhere around 860 [pounds]. We had them on a scale. They were just chubby guys. Everybody thought it was fun though. I mean, I don't have any children but Buffy was probably the closest I ever had to a son. We spent the last four weeks [of his life] trying to get his weight down so he could have an operation. It is what it is. People can laugh at this group for not being like the same thing everybody else rapped about, but the bottom line is the Fat Boys sold more records in the first two years than Run-DMC and Whodini combined and they got paid for it accordingly.
Was changing the name from the Disco 3 to the Fat Boys responsible for the group's success?
Absolutely. We already knew that. We did "Reality" and it didn't go anywhere. Everything is a brand. I know I did the right thing because on the Fresh Fest tour, which I co-promoted for five years, I was on the busses every day so ask anybody from Whodini to Kurtis Blow and they'll tell you: I was the guy who branded this stuff, who did the first tour jackets, who had them appear in all the videos, who did the first flyer hand-outs and stuff like that for them. The Fat Boys is a brand we built together and the guys started making a lot of money from it.