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 period—and 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 won—they eventually won the break-dance contest on the night—and 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 Records—which I had no clue was a bunch of gangsters, with Morris Levy and those guys—someone 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.
Fat Boys, “Stick ‘Em”
Did the Fat Boys trump Run-DMC as the first rap group to be played on MTV?
MTV wouldn’t play any rap at first, but contrary to what everybody says about Run-DMC being the first group to have their song played [on the station] most people actually thought it was the Fat Boys. I convinced Swatch to buy ads on MTV and we did the “Brr… Swatch” commercial. It was being played 70 times a week on MTV and white people didn’t know the different between a commercial and a rap. Everybody saw my guys and they just became bigger and bigger.
Did the Fat Boys hoodwink their way onto Good Morning America?
I heard that the Jackson 5 were gonna do a reunion tour. So I got together a press release saying they were going to be the opening act for the Jackson 5. Of course they weren’t, but it got us on Good Morning America. I told the guys that if Regis, who was the host then, asked them what it feels like and they didn’t know how to answer, just go “Brr… stick ’em!” ’cause I knew that was a big song. It worked.
Did the Fat Boys really out-sell their hip-hop peers?
The Fat Boys were the richest [rap] group by millions. At one point they had clocked $5.7 million and we had the cancelled checked to prove it. And that’s before they were 18-years-old. What they did with it once everything fell apart… The bottom line is Markie Dee was not part of the Fat Boys for almost eight months on the last album because he was drugged out and I covered up for that bullshit night after night from Berlin to Paris to anywhere in the world because we had number one records. I said, “You know what, I’m not Run-DMC and I can’t do “Walk This Way” ’cause I only have two guys left and the third guy is on drugs and I’m not sure how long I can keep this squeaky clean image going.” But Fat Boys, at the time, had the highest royalty rate of any Polygram act.
Did drugs bring about the demise of the Fat Boys?
It was a wonderful fantastic time until the night somebody I will reveal in my book gave Markie Dee crack backstage. I flipped out. They were the youngest; Run was older, Jam Master Jay was three or four years older, Whodini was older, [Grandmaster] Flash was older. It was all fine until that night when Markie tried the pipe. Mark went on to become a great producer and be on the radio later on, but it took about two years before he cleaned up… I remember in 1988 Markie Dee crashed in Zurich in front of the president of Polygram, in front of the president of Burger King, in front of the president of Swatch, when I expected to walk out with a six million dollar deal for them which was more money than anyone had remotely come close to in hip-hop. That’s when he went on stage, took off his Swatch watches and cursed everybody out and told everybody to go fuck themselves. Three weeks later they were dropped by Polygram. That’s when it was over.