By Seth Colter Walls
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The "heavy" in Dwight "Heavy D" Myers's stage moniker has always stood for more than the rapper's size, so why shouldn't it be the title of his new CD? When Andre Harrell (himself an ex-rapper) first dared to step away from executive ranks at Def Jam to start his own label, Heavy D became his muse, his idée fixe. This serious-minded teenager from a hardworking Jamaican family came to Uptown Records from money-earnin' Mount Vernon with just the right moves, charisma, and feel for polyrhythmic r&b to give his rhymes a crossover potential quite different from the raw, gritty, rock-inflected sound Rick Rubin was crafting for Def Jam. "The Overweight Lover M.C." was the catchphrase Andre created to sell D, thinking that a suave, chunky, but streetwise brother like Myers squared off perfectly against the scruffy long-limbed little ruffneck then being played by Def Jam's top contender, L.L. Cool J.
See, these two iconic entertainers could be recognized as a classic ghetto juxtaposition, one which was commercially played out again over 10 years later in the contrasting images of Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur compare the expensively dressed, cigar-toting image of Biggie at the peak of his success to the leather-vest and bandanna-headed couture of Tupac's last few music videos. Symbolically, the well-kitted-out "big willie" simply outclasses the upstart street punk, no matter how much money and muscle they both have. From a marketing standpoint this is one of the oldest and most effective strategies in the world, as long as it stays playful. Which is one of many reasons Heavy D is still around.
Just look at the production talent listed on Heavy D & the Boyz' 1987 album debut: Teddy Riley, D.J. Marly Marl, and D.J. Eddie F. would all go on to become major players within the emerging Uptown hit factory. Riley was on the verge of monopolizing an experimental trend in swingbeat records that would dominate black radio for three years; Marl was still deconstructing vintage James Brown riffs on his way toward an attitudinal sound of his own. Under Heavy D's guidance, his stage deejay Eddie F. began mixing and matching everything from go-go beats to emulator breaks and orchestra strikes from freestyle disco. Funded and fired up by Andre Harrell's visionary entrepreneurship, this is the studio brain trust that quietly fomented the revolution now known as hip-hop soul.
As a de facto A&R staff member, Heavy D joined in Uptown decision making long before a departing Harrell made him president of the company. D helped recruit and groom many junior members of the brain trust, including a young Puffy Combs. As one of the few late-'80s rap stars to achieve popularity without cussing like N.W.A., Heavy D became the industry's first choice for guest-rap cameos on high-profile soul records. It was while working with Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson that D suggested Michael work with Teddy Riley, and Dwight Myers never let similar opportunities go by without slipping in a good word for label mates Mary J. Blige and Jodeci. Ever the team player with an instinct for smart combinations, Heavy D always hit big behind the scenes . . . something that is too often forgotten, because the Heavster doesn't toot his own horn.
Now 32, Heavy D has an independent creative stance that hasn't really changed since his 1989 position statement "We Got Our Own Thing." He pioneered a nonchalant response to player-haters 10 years ago when he traded designer track suits for GQthreads and dared to mix Jamaican lover's rock in among his hardcore funk and swingbeat anthems. By his third album D had enough juice to challenge Pete Rock, Big Daddy Kane, C.L. Smooth, Grand Puba, and Q-Tip to join him on the G-rated anticensorship jam "Don't Curse." But with the release of his seventh long player, Heavy, Dwight Errington Myers surrounds himself with an even more diverse set of collaborators. Closer to Bowie's Low than to P.M. Dawn, elegiac tone poems like "Ask Heaven" and "Dancin' in the Night" stretch rap's definition well beyond typical r&b structures. Always a natural polyglot, Myers adopts regional dialects on tracks like "Don't Stop" and "Like Dat Dhere" as fluently as a Berlitz scholar training for the UN. You can clearly see the diplomatic intentions behind "On Point," a high-concept throwdown between himself, Big Pun, and Eightball three equally weighty personalities from completely different cultural backgrounds.
Myers coproduced most of the album with high-tech comrade Tony Dofat, alongside small but tasty contributions from new-school vets Erick Sermon and Q-Tip. No wonder he recently resigned as the administrative head of Uptown who wants to be stuck counting beans and pushing papers when they can make records as dynamic as Heavyin between lucrative acting gigs in Hollywood and legitimate theater? Fresh from filming Life and The Cider House Rules, D confesses he'd like to tour with this album, ideally co-billing with Mary J. Blige. He's also signed a production deal with Bad Boy Records, which puts him back in the artist-development business with two of his favorite people: Andre Harrell and Puffy Combs. Experience has taught the Heavster that hip-hop's weightiest decisions don't get made in sterile executive suites; nor do the hits. And when you are Heavy, you'd rather be a freelance shot-caller than a lead-bottomed bureaucrat.
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