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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

New York rappers The Fat Boys were best known in the 1980s for a series of crossover pop hits recorded with everyone from the Beach Boys to Chubby Checker. By the '90s, the Fat Boys had faded from the spotlight. A new boxed set reissues their 1984 debut album and reviewer Oliver Wang says the big men packed more than just a gimmick.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE FAT BOYS BEAT BOXING)

OLIVER WANG, BYLINE: Before there was Heavy D, or Chubb Rock or the Notorious B.I.G., there were the Fat Boys - Prince Markie Dee, Kool Rock-Ski and Buff Love, a.k.a. the Human Beat Box.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEAT BOXING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Rapping) Amazing to the eye (unintelligible) to the ear, and if you've never seen them, you wonder where his beats come from, machine or man, he's also cuttin' up 'cause he's in command.

WANG: You might remember the Fat Boys as a gimmick group, and there's a little truth to that. At the height of their career, towards the late-1980s, they cranked out a string of singles that remade old rock 'n' roll hits, including "Louie, Louie," "The Twist" and, of course, their hit collaboration with The Beach Boys on "Wipeout."

(SOUNDBITE OF "WIPEOUT")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Rapping) ...making lots of noise, when around the corner came the real Beach Boys. So we all jumped up and started to shout, let's all sing the song called "The Wipeout."

THE BEACH BOYS: (Singing) Wipin' out wipe out, wipin' out, wipe out, wipin' out, wipe out, wipin' out, wipe out...

WANG: However, just a few years earlier, the Fat Boys were hip-hop's most potent trio this side of Run-DMC. They first met in the early-'80s at George Gershwin Junior High in east New York and formed into a crew called The Disco 3. In the spring of 1983, they entered a talent contest at Radio City Music Hall, one of the most ambitious hip-hop events of the old-school era.

They won and event organizer and impresario Charlie Stettler took them under his wing and, given their substantial stature, renamed them the Fat Boys.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

THE FAT BOYS: (Rapping) Now we may be a little chubby, but don't feel (unintelligible) we got to tell you one thing, we can surely come to the party and rock the house, as we (unintelligible), we can turn it out. So (unintelligible) smooth and take it from me, listen to the big sounds of the disco three, ha, ha.

WANG: The Fat Boys album was recorded at a time of transition between the disco-influenced styles of the old school and a new, harder, sparser sound that was a natural fit with the staccato flows of Fat Boy MCs Markie Dee and Rock-Ski. However, no one packed more of a sonic punch on this album than Buff Love. He was one of the very first beat boxers to be recorded, and the album was a veritable showcase for what he could create with little more than spitting into his fist.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BOYS: (Rapping) So check it out party people, it's the human beat box.

WANG: The album reissue comes packaged in a mini cardboard pizza box, a gesture that feels both loving and kitschy. And the CD has a few bonus tracks, including the crew's first single when they were still The Disco 3. The Fat Boys would eventually go on to greater fame, but on this album, they're still young, still green, and they still sound, pardon the pun, hungry.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BOYS: Now there was just one thing that I will never forget, I got jailed for something that I'll always regret, it was...

CORNISH: Reviewer Oliver Wang is an assistant professor of sociology at California State University Long Beach and writes the audio blog, FullSize.com.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BOYS: (Rapping) I thought to myself I could almost die, then an image appeared, a pizza pie. So I put on Addidas, headed out the door as I pictured myself...

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