Mount Vernon-raised rapper Heavy D passed away yesterday. The artist, born Dwight Errington Myers, was found having problems breathing outside his home in Beverly Hills; he was taken to the emergency department of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and died later in the afternoon.
For many, Heavy D’s musical legacy is synonymous with his uptempo, R&B-leaning song “Now That We’ve Found Love,” credited to his group Heavy D & The Boyz. The first signing to Andre Harrell’s Uptown Records, Heavy D found a way to craft rap songs that managed to appeal to the R&B set as much as straight-up hip-hop heads. But before “Love” hit in 1991, Heavy D had already been attempting to make songs that crossed over without appearing to make him a sellout. Living Large, his 1987 debut, balanced the Al B Sure!-assisted ballad “Don’t You Know” with the rugged “The Overweight Lover’s In The House,” which was produced by golden era hip-hop genius Marley Marl and hooked around a sample from The J.B.’s “Pass The Peas.”
Heavy D & The Boyz, “The Overweight Lover’s In The House”
This duality was something a young Sean Combs—now known as Diddy—was paying attention to first hand, as he interned at Uptown during Heavy D’s years at the label. It wouldn’t be long before Combs would launch the career of The Notorious B.I.G., who at one point was signed to Uptown; Combs’ plan was to endear Biggie to the mainstream with radio-friendly songs like “Juicy” while keeping his roots in the street by packaging the single with the raw, DJ Premier-crafted “Unbelievable.” Heavy D seemed to appreciate the benefits of this tricky balancing act; on Eddie F’s “Let’s Get It On,” a posse cut with Biggie, 2Pac, Grand Puba and Spunk Bigga, he rapped, “I get love from all the thugs ’cause them is still my people.” (Heavy D’s relationship with Combs and Biggie seemed one of reciprocal respect; he appeared in the opening to Big’s “One More Chance” video and is shouted out in rhyme on “Juicy.” Yesterday, Diddy was moved to tweet, “Heavy D is the person who gave me my first chance in the music industry. He got me my internship at Uptown. He believed when no one else did.”)
Eddie F. feat. Heavy D, The Notorious B.I.G., Grand Puba, and Spunk Bigga, “Let’s Get It On”
Heavy D & The Boyz feat. Kool G Rap, Grand Puba, C.L. Smooth, BDK, Pete Rock, and Q-Tip, “Don’t Curse”
Heavy D’s skill is the underappreciated part of his musical career. He held his own not just in the monolithic presence of Biggie, but also when sparring with the revered likes of Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, C.L. Smooth and Q-Tip on “Don’t Curse,” and while lining up alongside Biggie (again), Busta Rhymes, Guru, 3rd Eye and Rob-O on “A Buncha Niggas,” the closing track on his ’92 album Blue Funk. He was possessed with a jovial, likable timbre, but he was also fleet and skillful with his syllables, a talent other rappers clearly appreciated; he also etched out a sideline ghost-writing rhymes for his cousin Pete Rock and Queen Latifah.
Heavy D feat. Gang Starr, 3rd Eye, The Notorious B.I.G., Busta Rhymes, and Rob-O, “A Buncha Niggas”
At publication time, Heavy D’s death was being reported as “medically related,” with the gossip site TMZ claiming that he had recently battled pneumonia. The final tweets on his Twitter account eulogized Smokin’ Joe Frazier and proclaimed positivity through slogans like “Never stop believing” and “Be inspired!”, while his bio on the social-networking site still reads, “I have relentless optimism.” Now it’s left to his music to inspire the same uplifting feeling.
Heavy D & The Boyz feat. Al B. Sure!, “Don’t You Know”
Heavy D was 44.
Heavy D & The Boyz, “Now That We Found Love”