Heavy D (Contemporary Musicians)
Critics have credited Heavy D, the rap artist responsible for three platinum albums in less than five years, with achieving the unlikely in several ways: he insists on well-choreographed and "peaceful" shows in an industry that often has to tolerate violence; he became known as one of the sexiest men in rap despiter even because ofis 300-pound stature; and, most significantly, he infused his own hip-hop with rhythm and blues and encouraged established rhythm and blues artists to begin including rap sounds in their music. Dream Hampton, writing for American Visions, asserted that '"We Got Our Own Thang' marked the beginning of what is now comfortably called R&B hiphop."
Born Dwight Myers in Jamaica, not far from Montego Bay, in 1967, Heavy D had a natural start for the kind of crossing-over that would become his forte. His parents, Euhlalee and Cliff, had five children when they moved their family to Mt. Vernon, NY, during the 1970s. Dwight, the youngest, became known in his neighbor-hood as Heavy D and started on a regular diet of American rap.
Heavy D's musical career began, according to publicity material from Uptown/MCA Records, with remarkable ease and some unexpected capital. He won $1500 while gambling in Atlantic City, and lent the money to his friend Eddie F (Edward Ferrell) to buy a computer because, as he told Uptown/MCA, "Eddie F is damn near a genius; so I loaned him the money, and he got a computer. Before long he had traded the computer in for a drum machine, and that's how we got started making demos." Along with making the tapes, which artists typically submit to producers and club owners, they began playing at clubs and parties both in New York City and in Mount Vernon.
The group, collectively labeled Heavy D and the Boyz, also included longtime neighborhood friends G-Whiz (Glen Parrish) and Trouble T-Roy (Troy Dixon). While Heavy D, Eddie F and T-Roy created the music, G-Whiz honed the group's image, including the choreography, stage sets, and costumes for performance; later, he would become the creative force behind their videos.
While the friends naturally enough chose rap as their mediumll of them had grown up listening to it on their local radio stationshe influence of other sounds was evident in their earliest songs. D told Uptown/MCA, "I was always highly influenced by R&B... . My first single, "Mr. Big Stuff," was based on an old Gene Knight record by the same name, and it was always my favorite record to rhyme off of in the park."
Three Platinum Albums
"Mr. Big Stuff," an immediate hit on radio stations, prepared the market for the arrival of the new band's first album, 1987's Living Large. The album also introduced another hit single, whichs has become a trademarkunned on Heavy D's size, "Overweight Lover's in the House." Soon Heavy D and the Boyz were an important new name in rap music; the album went gold, then platinum, and earned Heavy D a reputation both as an original rap musician and as the "Overweight Lover."
In his press bio, Heavy D relayed the story of how that first album went into production. He noted particularly that he had earned the help of an important producer and that the move to his "home" label was determined by the politics of the rap market at the time: "Eddie F and I were struggling, going through a lot of things just trying to make a record.... And eventually we wound up with Russell Simmons of Def Jam Records. At that time Andre Harrell was with Def Jam. Later Andre branched off to form Uptown records, a subsidiary of MCA. But back then Def Jam was more interested in hardcore hip-hop and we always had more of an R&B flavor; so when Andre moved to Uptown, he took us with him."
Once those initial difficulties were smoothed over, however, the group met with greater and greater success in the market. Big Tyme, released in 1989, quickly went platinum and gained the Number One position on the rhythm and. blues charts. Big Tyme also established Heavy D as an influence on the non-hip-hop music around him. Hampton noted that "after Heavy D was featured on singer Levert's 1989 hit single, 'Just Coolin,' everyone from Patti Labelle to Quincy Jones began incorporating rap into their formula for hits."
Heavy D's success with the hybrid sounds in his own music widened his audience. As Hampton explained, "His experimentation with rap and contemporary R&B has allowed him to 'cross over,' which in rap... means to receive radio air play. It also means that his music is palatable even to conservative listeners."
"Now That We Found Love"
Peaceful Journey added to Heavy D's reputation. The album's success began with a series of hit singles, including "Now That We Found Love," which made it to the Number Five position on the rhythm and blues singles charts in Billboard. Alan Light, writing for Rolling Stone, reflected the general excitement: "Peaceful JourneyIs a triumph of sung choruses, insistent hooks and clear, upbeat lyrics masterful display of pop's rap strengths."
After the release of Peaceful Journey, D admitted that he had become uncertain about which direction he wanted his career to take. Already known as an especially talented stage performer, he developed an interest in acting. He has appeared on episodes of a variety of popular television shows, including Booker, A Different World, In Living Color/for which he also wrote the theme songnd The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
The 1993 release of Heavy D and company's fourth album, Blue Funk, marked a deviation from the band's musical norm. In a critically acclaimed collaboration with some of the genre's top producers, D turned out a collection of strong dancehall rhythms, a sound that was funkier, smoother, and more street-oriented than any of his previous recordings.
Dancehall is the most popular dance music among Jamaicans and the most current spinoff of reggae; it blends American hip-hop with reggae rhythms. The sound is also beginning to have an influence on rap in the United States. Heavy D told Spin contributor Dimitri Ehrlich that he considers dancehall a natural part of his musical repertoire: "Basically, it's my heritage.... I was born in Jamaica, and dancehall reggae is something I've always listened to. What the Jamaicans call DJing is very close to what rap is, and I was listening to that stuff before I ever got involved in rap. In terms of the lyrics, dancehall is even harder than rapping. They talk much faster, and it's more skillful."
In addition to his work with the Boyz, D has released two singles in Jamaica that have become dancehall hits, both of which he cut with popular Jamaican musicians Super Cat and Frankie Paul; the singles, "Big and Broad" and "Dem No Worry We," have been the work of D's independent record label, Music 4-Life.
Period of Trouble
Despite the smooth sailing of his career, Heavy D has weathered some storms. Trouble T-Roy, Heavy D's friend since childhood, died on January 15, 1990. The circumstances of his death have been reported differently in various sources: Dream Hampton referred to an accident backstage that occurred while T-Roy was on tour with Public Enemy, another successful rap band; Uptown/MCA asserted that T-Roy fell from an elevated car park while on tour with the Boyz.
In late 1991 Heavy D was caught up in the controversy surrounding a tragedy that received considerable publicity in the New York Times and on television news. As part of his charity work, Heavy D became one of the promoters of an event to raise money for AIDS education. The basketball game, featuring a lineup of rap stars, was planned for the Jeremiah T. Mahoney Hall gymnasium at City College of New York on December 29. Extensive publicity drew a turnout of about 5,000 peoplewice the number that the promoters had expectednd the crush in the hall outside of the gym caused nine deaths. In the following month, as the promoters, the college, the city, and the news media cast about for someone to blame, stereotypes about the inherent violence of rap surfaced.
Dream Hampton admitted, "In the hip-hop nation of young urban blacks, confrontational music is the style, and a live show is inevitably plagued with the threat of senseless violence." But, Hampton went on to note that Heavy D has made a deliberate attempt to support the other potentials of hip-hophe artistry, the integrity, and the empowerment for African-American youths that may be achievable without violence. In Stop the Violence: Overcoming Self-Destruction, edited by Nelson George, Heavy D declared, "We strongly believe that violence is nonsense, and that we've got to get together as one.... You pay your money to see a show but you end up seeing a boxing match. It's disgusting."
In another display of his creative reach, Heavy D has signed a deal with Universal Studios to develop a sitcom tentatively titled Little League, starring D as a businessman who adopts two street-smart kids. The project prompted the rapper to further hone his acting skills. "It's fun to be somebody else and actually make it believable," he told US magazine, "[but] I look at people like Denzel, DeNiro, Pacino and say, 'I got a long way to go.'"
With Heavy D and the Boyz
Living Large (includes "Mr. Big Stuff" and "Overweight Lover's in the House"), Uptown/MCA, 1987.
Big Tyme, Uptown/MCA, 1989.
Peaceful Journey (includes "Now That We Found Love"), Uptown/MCA, 1991.
Blue Funk, MCA, 1993.
(Contributor, with Buju Banton) "Hotness," Who's the Man (soundtrack), Uptown/MCA, 1993.
Stop the Violence: Overcoming Self-Destruction, edited by Nelson George, Pantheon, 1991.
American Visions, February/March 1992.
Billboard, September 21, 1991.
Essence, May 1991.
Music, January 29, 1993.
New York Times, January 3, 1992.
Pulse!, May 1993.
Reflex, Issue 29.
Rolling Stone, September 19, 1991; April 15, 1993.
Source, February 1993; April 1993.
Spin, April 1992.
US, May 1993.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from Uptown/MCA publicity materials, 1991 and 1993.
Ondine E. Le Blanc