Yesterday saw the passing of golden age hip hop MC Heavy D, “The Overweight Lover,” at the too-early age of 44. Best know to the world at large as the man who spat the nimble rap verse on Michael Jackson’s “Jam” (1992), he was an important figure in 80 and early 90s hip hop whose substantial contribution is perhaps a little overlooked today.
Musically, his greatest contribution was arguably helping define the so-called ‘new jack swing’ sound along with producer Teddy Riley — the amped-up fusion of hip hop and r’n’b that ruled the airwaves through most of the nineties and eventually won over even Mr. Jackson himself. While this synthetic, slightly facile vein of pop music hasn’t dated all that well, however, the Hevster’s emceeing sounds as fresh today as ever. He floated effortlessly on any beat with his soft voice and sudden changes of tempo into what may well be termed proto-double tempo raps in a way that probably influenced more MCs than one might think.
Although his first couple of albums, Living Large (1987) and Big Tyme (1989), contain much of his classic material, I actually find a few cuts on his fourth, rather uncharacteristically raw fourth disc, Blue Funk (1993), to mark the pinnacle of his craft as an MC. The title track has him weaving elegantly through his cousin Pete Rock’s elegantly sliced and spliced break from Lou Donaldson’s “Pot Belly”:
That particular album, which featured additional production from the legendary Premier, also saw the major label debut of the Notorious B.I.G., which highlights another central contribution of Heavy D’s, namely his role as a rap godfather to up-coming-talents, some of whom grew to define 90s hip hop. Heavy D got Puff Daddy his first job in the industry, at his label Uptown, and he put on his aforementioned cousin Pete Rock along with his partner, C.L. Smooth (in part on the memorable and humorous pushback against rap censorship “Don’t Curse”, 1991), whose melodic style of emceeing was in direct lineage from Heavy D’s.
A fitting way to mark his passing, then, is once again to invoke that most solid of eulogistic hip hop classics, Pete and C.L’s “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)” (1992), which was originally written in mourning after the tragic death of Trouble T-Roy, dancer in Heavy D’s group The Boyz, at 22 in 1990. A fitting testament.