Hip-hop pioneer Heavy D died suddenly early yesterday afternoon after being rushed to the hospital from his Beverly Hills home. Arguably the most beloved rapper ever, Hev was quickly and widely mourned by his fans and music industry peers.
Barely out of high school, Heavy D and the Boyz signed a record deal with Andre Harrell‘s new label Uptown Records. His 1987 debut, Living Large became an anchor album for the label, whose mission was part lifestyle, and made Heavy a star. His early collaborations with Teddy Riley began an R&B and hip-hop mashup that persists in both genres today. His early insistence that he was a sex symbol made him one and paved the way for big men like Fat Joe and The Notorious B.I.G.
When his music wasn’t fun and danceable, it was thoughtful. He seemed never even tempted to make misogynistic music, even as women and relationships were recurring themes. On an early tour, his dancer and friend Trouble “T-Roy” died from injuries related to a fall. The death of his friend resulted in his bestselling album Peaceful Journey and also the classic tribute “T.R.O.Y.” by CL Smooth and Pete Rock, whom the historic producer Hev considered family.
Born in Jamaica and raised north of Manhattan, in Mount Vernon (which he put on the pop music map), his collaborations with rude boy Super Cat and crooner Frankie Paul bridged hip-hop and dancehall. Heavy D recommended Howard University student and sometime hip-hop video dancer Sean “Puffy” Combs to Harrell for an internship at Uptown Records and remained a friend and mentor to Combs. Years before JAY Z became president of Def Jam, Heavy D acted as President at Uptown Records at MCA, where he released Soul 4 Real, a group he groomed and produced. Heavy D was also among the first wave of rappers to successfully transition as actors, appearing on many TV shows and films, such as The Cider House Rules with Toby Maquire, and most recently Tower Heist, with longtime friend Eddie Murphy.
In the last few years of his life he barely earned his nickname, shedding and maintaining a weight loss of more than a hundred pounds through diet and daily exercise. But his biographical sketch barely begins to describe the beautiful person Dwight Arrington Myers was to his fans and friends. From the beginning of his career Heavy D possessed an uncommon dignity. He was unfailingly considerate and consistently kind. Colleagues describe him as nice as he was professional and friends can testify to decades of loyalty. I’ve counted him as a friend since 1991 and witnessed the many opportunities he gave to the guys he grew up with in Mount Vernon. I’ve seen Michael Jordan ask him for an autograph and Michael Jackson seek him out when he wanted to make his first record with an MC. His fans included Luther Vandross, who was otherwise intolerant of rap. In recent years Hev shared a bit of frustration at the way his many contributions were overlooked. He privately shared how important character was when dealing with fading celebrity, but he was never bitter, always working on the next project. He continued to produce music, as he did for JAY Z with “Guns N Roses” featuring Lenny Kravitz. Will Smith produced a small one man play starring Hev years ago and when he recently completed writing his first feature-length screenplay he shared it with Smith and director Brett Ratner, who was helping him develop the project. His new album Love Opus is not only very good, but it’s in many ways, very much a fresh approach.
But more important to him than any of it was his daughter. He enjoyed fatherhood far more than he ever had fame. When he and his girlfriend split, he insisted they divide a large home so he could continue to live with his daughter. He was completely hands on, making breakfast, helping with homework and being her father was the thing of which he was the most proud.
Still, I can only pray that he is able to feel the massive outpouring of love that followed his sudden, too soon death.