This week pioneering hip-hop act the Fat Boys have been profiled on TV-One's documentary series, "Unsung". Think of it as a version of VH-1 Behind the Music, but exclusively focusing on urban music acts. Check the TV One website at http://www.tvoneonline.com to see the entire episode stream online, as well as to see when it will be aired again. In the meanwhile, this author penned a review of the group's greatest hits compilation, originally released in 1997- an updated hits set can be found on Itunes and Amazon.com.
All Meat, No Filler - The Best of the Fat Boys
As of 2003, despite there being over 20 years of recorded hip-hop and rap music, the genre still has a relative dearth of archival collections. Part of the problem is most rap acts have not sustained careers beyond one or two albums.
Another is that many early rap acts recorded for independent - and now defunct - labels, which make it that much harder to assemble a proper compilation.
Rhino Records' All Meat, No Filler - The Best of the Fat Boys hopes to satisfy hip-hop aficionados with a jones for Reagan-era rap. The disc covers all the bases, from "Jailhouse Rap" to "Falling in Love" and more.
In 1984, Mark Morales, Darren Robinson and Damon Wimbley were all still in high school in Brooklyn, NY, when a local rap talent show was announced.
The contest featured a first prize of a recording contract with the indie label, Sutra. The young trio, calling themselves the Disco Three, joined the competition, but their eyes were on a different prize - second prize was a home stereo.
Morales (Prince Markie Dee) and Wimbley (Kool Rock-Ski) would do the rap vocals, while Robinson (Buffy) did vocal percussion as "The Human Beatbox." They got the top response and the top prize.
Early rap personality Kurtis Blow took them on as a mentor and producer. The trio would soon abandon the Disco Three name when, according to their manager,they ran up a $300 bill in room service at a hotel, prompting him to complain, "You fat boys! You making me broke!"
Produced by Blow, their self-titled 1984 debut sold over 500,000 copies, making it one of the first rap albums to be certified gold. Their follow-up albums, Fat Boys are Back and Big & Beautiful, continued the hit streak.
Despite earning three gold albums in a row, the group left Sutra Records. Subsequently, they signed with Mercury Records, making them one of the first rap acts to sign with a major industry label. The year 1987's Crushin' paired the band with the Beach Boys for the unlikely collaboration, "Wipeout". It was a pop smash, and it propelled the group to double-platinum heights.
"The Disorderlies" was a film comedy built around the Fat Boys, where the industry promoted them as "the Three Stooges of Rap." It didn't do great at the box office that summer, but the soundtrack did feature the Boys' cover of the Beatles' "Baby You're a Rich Man."
1988's Coming Back Hard Again featured hit covers of "The Twist" and "Louie Louie". They would perform at that year's MTV awards with Chubby Checker.
They also did a song for that year's "Nightmare on Elm Street 4" soundtrack, featuring a rap by Robert Englund.
But the Boys had become weary of reworking oldies for material. Rap's street audience had started moving on to heavier stuff, and pop radio was catching on to newer faces like the Fresh Prince and Young MC.
"On N On" in 1989 arrived with little fanfare, and was their least-selling album. By this time, the Boys had launched a lawsuit against Sutra over alleged unpaid royalties, that was finally settled out of court. In a 1990 press conference, they announced plans to take some time off, but essentially, it would be their last group appearance as a trio.
Since then, Wimbley and Robinson recorded an album as a duo, and Morales has recorded two solo albums, working intermittently as a producer for artists like Mary J. Blige and Mariah Carey. In 1995, Robinson died from heart-related problems, scuttling tentative reunion plans.
As of 2007, Morales is an on-air personality at a Miami, Florida radio station. The catalog for the Fat Boys has morphed even further since the release of this compilation: In the late 90's, BMG Special Products (now Sony/BMG Special Products) purchased the Buddah/Kama Sutra Recordings catalog, from which their first three LPs belong; also, in the late 90's, Universal Recordings purchased Polygram Entertainment, where the masters of their three albums recorded for Tin Pan Apple/Polydor lie. Rhino Recordings, a subsidiary of Warner Music, apparently allowed this compilation to go out of print.
Any new compilation will have to license the songs from two distinct recording catalogs: Sony/BMG and Universal- never an easy task. Currently, the first three albums from the group have seen limited re-release on CD in Europe. Hopefully, a proper stateside re-release will follow from Sony/BMG, which would include the first three albums and bonus material on each CD, and maybe a bonus DVD with the music videos. Though the Tin Pan Apple recordings are not considered as vital, Universal could do the same, though, at least re-releasing the "Crushin'" and "Coming Back Hard Again" albums.