Saturday, November 12, 2011


Like everyone else who loves hip-hop, I was sad to hear that Heavy D passed away earlier this week. By now, lots of tributes been written (and Tweeted) about the man. Here's my take.

Like LL Cool J, Heavy was one of the first hip-hop acts to be able to adapt with the times.  When tastes and styles changed, he rolled with it. Actually, I would argue that once the New Jack Swing thing started happening, that's when Heavy really came into his own. When R&B and hip-hop blended, and it was cool to rap about love and talk about the ladies, that's where "The Overweight Lover" really found his sweet spot  (this is my take, a hip-hop historian may disagree).

I'm sure his biggest hit was "Now That We Found Love." So take a look at that song: more than a sample, it was a hip-hop update of a soul classic by The O'Jays. Reggae group Third World also had a hit cover of the song, and Heavy brought a little of that flavor as well: his super fast style was definitely influenced by Jamaican music, and I'm sure he would agree.  So: a reggae-influenced hip-hop/R&B track... and he combines that with house music.  Not many artists could combine house with hip-hop... it a ballsy move, and he was man enough to try it. This combination could have been gimmicky in the hands of a lesser artist, but Heavy D & The Boyz (and producer Teddy Riley) came up with a huge pop hit.  Twenty years later, that song can pack a dance floor in ten seconds or less. It's a timeless classic, period. And P.S. it probably introduced a few kids to The O'Jays and Third World. Heavy always had a good sense of music history.

I don't want to make it seem like he's just about one big hit, though.  And it's important to point out that although he did a lot of records about love, it didn't make him "soft."  As if to remind people of that, around the time of 1991's Peaceful Journey (the album that featured "Now That We Found Love") he put out the single "You Can't See What I Can See," which sampled Flavor Flav at a time when Public Enemy was the most feared band in the land. It's an underrated classic: if you thought he was soft, that record smacked the taste out of your mouth.

Peaceful Journey also included the mind-blowing MC showcase "Don't Curse."  Produced by Pete Rock,  (and featuring one of the funkiest samples ever: Booker T & The MGs' "Hip-Hug Her")  it featured Heavy D along with Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, Grand Puba, C.L. Smooth and a very young Q-Tip. Heavy led some of the best MCs of that era in a curse-free classic that never got preachy or corny.

Lots of hip-hop heads cite The Notorious B.I.G. as one of the greatest MCs of all time.  Heavy paved the way for him.  Yes, as a large man in hip-hop, but beyond that, Biggie was definitely influenced by his style ("It was all a dream, I used to read Word Up! magazine/Salt N Pepa and Heavy D all up in the limousine!" was the first line from one of his early hits, "Juicy").  And beyond that, Heavy is the guy who put Sean Combs on the hip-hop map. The mogul himself recently tweeted: "Heavy D is the person who gave me my 1st chance in the music industry. He got me my internship at Uptown. He Believed when no one else did." Say what you want about Diddy, but he's the guy who gave Biggie his first chance, so think about the implications of that...

It takes a guy confident in his masculinity to be able to do things that aren't macho, especially in a genre like hip-hop (and I'd say the same about metal and punk rock).  Rapping about love, using R&B singers and incorporating house music were definitely not par for the course back in '91.  Heavy D broke down boundaries in music and left a great catalog of songs (besides the ones that I mentioned, "Nuttin' But Love," "Mr. Big Stuff," "Is It Good To You," and by the way, he must be one of the only MCs to work with both Michael ("Jam") and Janet Jackson ("Alright [remix]"). He's gone too soon, but he'll not be forgotten. Rest in peace Heavy D.

No comments: