(February 20, 2021). In 1985, the emerging rap trio The Fat Boys were tapped to provide a comedic subplot to one of hip-hop’s first major motion pictures, Krush Groove, a loosely biographical take on rap mogul Russell Simmons’ early days in the industry and the beginnings of the iconic Def Jam label he helmed.
True to life, the Fat Boys – Damon “Kool Rock-Ski” Wimbley, Darren “Buffy” Robinson aka “The Human Beat Box,” and Mark “Prince Markie Dee” Morales – made their entrance in the film as The Disco 3 – their original name – but by story’s end, had claimed their second and most famous moniker, due obviously to their ever-expanding sizes.
Sadly, Morales passed away in Miami, Florida on Thursday, February 18, just a day before his 53rd birthday. Some reports are saying the cause of death was a heart attack. He joins Robinson – the Human Beat Box – who died of a heart attack in December 1995 at the age of 28. Robinson was said to have reached a weight of more than 700 pounds at one point. Morales had noticeably lost much of his peak weight in later years.
It’s a heartbreaking ending to their story no one wanted to write, but could probably have seen coming. The pioneering rap trio blew up the hip-hop scene with their famous girths and, in the end, two of the former members may have paid the ultimate price for it…far too early.
Clearly, the Fat Boys were a marketing goldmine for all involved in their larger-than-life image development, and the trio rode that huge wave to the industry’s most treasured of precious metals: platinum.
Within two years of Krush Groove – and within four years of their gold-certified, self-titled debut album – the Fat Boys were making appearances on shows like “Live with Regis (Philben) and Kathie Lee (Gifford)” (then simply known as “The Morning Show”), teaming with faded rock-and-roll stars (the Beach Boys and later Chubby Checker), and getting top-20 pop hits as a result. Their 1987 album Crushin’ was among the first handful in hip-hop to get a platinum certification for selling a million copies in the U.S.
With all of the emphasis on their sizes and the very intentional pop-crossover hits on their late-1980s albums, not to mention their subsequent appearances in films like Disorderlies and their recording of the theme for a Freddie Krueger movie (A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: the Dream Master), it would be easy to dismiss the Fat Boys as a novelty act, until you remember some key things about mid-1980s hip-hop.
First and foremost is the fact that, like everyone else, rappers had to eat (no pun intended). At a time when there were few options available for Black and Latino young men coming out of Brooklyn, the trio of Kool Rock-Ski, the Human Beat Box and Prince Markie Dee saw hip-hop as their only path to success (particularly when it became clear that their other dream – professional football – wouldn’t be an option).
Secondly, one has to realize that, by the time they released their first album in early 1984, rap hadn’t yet experienced even five years of commercial success. The Sugar Hill Gang’s late-1979 hit “Rapper’s Delight,” which itself had a whole verse about bad food and “chicken slowly rotting into something that looks like cheese,” was only four or five years old and was itself considered one of the greatest triumphs of a still-nascent hip-hop genre. The Fat Boys’ rhymes weren’t much of a stretch from that legendary tune’s.
Thirdly, the hip-hop community wasn’t so judgmental back then. It was a major victory whenever any hip-hop artist – whether it was one of the more serious variety like Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, sex symbols like L.L. Cool J, the rock-rap hybrids like Run-D.M.C., or fun artists like DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince or The Fat Boys – achieved success.
Their success meant that other rappers would eventually be able to “eat,” as barriers would slowly be broken down with every gain – or with each self-deprecating fat-boy line – that the former Disco 3 made. (It’s worth mentioning here that their “All You Can Eat,” from Krush Groove, received a “Worst Original Song” nomination at the 1985 Golden Raspberry Awards, which it lost to a Sylvester Stallone tune from Rambo: First Blood Part II).
In June 1985, just months before the release of Krush Groove, the Fat Boys were pictured in an issue of Billboard magazine showing them receiving their first gold album plaques for their self-titled debut LP. In that same issue coincidentally ran a special feature story commemorating Black Music Month. It included a listing of all the Black artists who had achieved platinum album certifications since that sales level award was introduced by the RIAA nearly a decade earlier.
None of the 54 acts listed were hip-hop artists – and this included the post-Thriller era of 1983-85 where more Black artists were releasing million-sellers than in previous years.
In other words, rap music was still a fledgling art form when the Fat Boys were on their come-up, and it wasn’t until a few years later that they reaped the benefits of the dues they paid as comedic MCs – and an iconic beat boxer – as the gold and platinum records started stacking up.
When their only platinum album, Crushin’, reached the top ten for the first time in September 1987, it shared space with albums by past, present and future superstars like Whitney Houston, Madonna, Def Leppard, Heart, Grateful Dead, and U2, plus fellow rapper LL Cool J, all of whom have since been either inducted or nominated to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Who wouldn’t have killed to be in that kind of company near the top of the charts back then – rapper or otherwise.
It wasn’t too long afterwards, however, that more serious forms of rap, like the social consciousness of groups like Boogie Down Productions and Public Enemy, and the gangsta vibe of acts like N.W.A., began to emerge, and hip-hop started to splinter into its various sub-genres. The Fat Boys, by then considered a novelty act, were among the casualties and soon they would disband.
Prince Markie Dee wasted no time shedding his “Fat Boy” image and soon made his mark as a noted songwriter/producer in the ever-changing and often unforgiving music industry.
First, by connecting with Andre Harrell’s successful label Uptown Records, he forged a creative partnership with Mark “Corey” Rooney and together they produced some of the label’s biggest turn-of-the-decade hits, including rapper Father MC’s “Treat Them Like They Want to Be Treated” (featuring Jodeci) and “I’ll Do For You” (featuring Mary J. Blige), both from his 1990 album Father’s Day, which the twosome also largely produced.
Then, in 1992, the two Marks were tapped to produce four tracks on Blige’s debut album Whats the 411?, including her first top-10 pop crossover hit “Real Love” and the remake of Rufus & Chaka Khan’s classic “Sweet Thing.”
Prince Markie Dee then moved on to recording his first solo album, entitled Free. Released on the Columbia label in August 1992, the set included “Typical Reasons (Swing My Way)” – a serious take on domestic violence and a plea for a love interest to leave her physically and emotionally abusive man and swing Dee’s way.
That song went a long way in further distancing Morales from his earlier large-and-in-charge image. It reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Singles chart – becoming his only chart-topper and ironically displacing fellow mid-‘80s rapper L.L. Cool J’s “How I’m Comin’” from the top (Morales later hosted a radio show on L.L.’s “Rock the Bells” station on SiriusXM called The Prince Markie Dee Show).
The Free album also included the top-25 Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart hit “Trippin’ Out,” and another notable track, “I’m Gonna Be Alright.”
That song included the line “I’m coming brand new just being myself, so put the funny fat shit on the shelf.”
That line signaled that Prince Markie Dee had come a long way from “We’re fat, we’re fat, we can never be wack, and if they go for that, then we’ll be back.” (“Fat Boys”; 1984)
Indeed, Mark Morales’ cartoonish joyride was far back in the rear view mirror, and he would never look back.
R.I.P. to one of the great rap pioneers Mark “Prince Markie Dee” Morales (February 19, 1968 – February 18, 2021).
I leave you with one of the Fat Boys’ greatest tracks from their self-titled debut album, “Don’t You Dog Me.”
Followed by this memorable interview with the late Regis Philben and Kathie Lee Gifford on “The Morning Show” in 1987.
DJRob is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.
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