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OBITUARY: Darren Robinson

The current popularity of Public Enemy, Cypress Hill and the more militant and sensationalist end of the rap scene has rather overshadowed the work of the genre's more populist performers. But the Fat Boys were one of the first rap acts to cross over in a significant way to appearances on television, in movies and in the charts.

The trio's main asset seemed to be Darren Robinson, who was dubbed the "Human Beat Box" because of the percussive belches, grunts and clicks he could produce with his mouth.

Originally called the Disco 3, Darren Robinson, Mark "Prince Markie Dee" Morales and Damon "Kool Rockski" Wenley came to the attention of the manager Charlie Stetler. Given the size of all three performers (Robinson weighed in at an impressive 450lb) and the hotel and restaurant bills he kept getting landed with (the trio were once charged $350 for breakfast), Stetler suggested they changed their name to Fat Boys and go for an all-out gimmicky approach as the cuddly face of the emerging hip-hop culture. The publicist's ploy worked like a dream but also proved to be the eventual undoing of the group.

After winning a contest in Brooklyn, the Fat Boys started to work with the legendary rapper and producer Kurtis Blow who helped them fashion a commerical sound exploiting their image to the full (their first three albums called Fat Boys, The Fat Boys Are Back! and Big and Beautiful, were full of lyrical boasts concerning their gargantuan appetites).

In 1986, Run DMC crossed over to a much wider audience with a cover of Aerosmith's rock anthem "Rock This Way". On moving to Polydor the following year, the Fat Boys tried a similar tactic with a rap version of the Surfari's "Wipe Out". The record became a hit all over the world, reaching No 2 in the British charts and No 12 in America while the Crushin' album went gold in the United States).

The Fat Boys were on a roll and repeated the feat in 1988 with another attempt at bridging the generation gap: their update of Hank Ballard's "The Twist" (featuring the original hitmaker Chubby Checker) was another UK No 2 and an American Top 20 success.

Mainstream acceptance had brought in film and television offers and the Fat Boys, who'd already been featured in the Krush Groove documentary, now appeared in Miami Vice and in television commercials. After doing an update on Three Stooges' comic routines in Disorderlies, they also provided the theme song for one of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies.

However, rap had moved on and the increasingly gimmicky output of the Fat Boys seemed out of step with a genre that had become polarised between the new-age, hippie sound of De La Soul and Arrested Development and the gangsta style of Snoop Doggy Dogg and Niggers With Attitude.

On and On (1989) saw the trio attempting to jump on the gangsta bandwagon and its failure accelerated their fall from grace. Prince Markie Dee went solo. Darren Robinson, the Human Beat Box, plunged into obscurity. While some artists rap about crime, Robinson always said he rapped to make people happy. He will be remembered for bringing a smile to the face of many self-conscious fatties.

Pierre Perrone

Darren Robinson, musician: born 10 June 1967; (one son); died New York 10 December 1995.