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A look back at Heavy D’s insurmountable impact on hip-hop culture

Ralph Bristout

 // Nov 8, 2017

In the mid-1980s, rapper-turned-record-executive Andre Harrell picked up a phone call that would change his life.

At the time, he was working at Def Jam via Russell Simmons' Rush Management empire, but just like that, opportunity struck. "Hey, we have this artist named Heavy D." On the other receiving end of this call was a convincing Albert Joseph Brown III, who would later be christened Al B. Sure! But that's for a different story. Over the phone, Harrell was being assured that the "cat" Heavy D was "brilliant" and his group, which comprised of DJ Eddie F, Trouble T. Roy, and G Whiz, was "a lifestyle group that's gonna say something." Now the words "lifestyle" and "different" could have very well piqued Harrell's interest because, after all, he is the architect of "ghetto-fabulous." However, it would take some more convincing.

The year was 1985 when, without an appointment, Heavy D walked into the Rush Management offices in hopes of walking out with a deal. Simmons wasn't interested. Andre Harrell, however, was sold. "Andre believed in us from the start," Heavy D would tell New York Magazine in 1995. After spending months trying to convince Simmons otherwise, Harrell left Def Jam and launched Uptown Records in 1986. His first order of business as label head was signing Heavy D and his group the Boyz. By 1987, the group went platinum on their first effort, Living Large. Boasting hits like "Mr. Big Stuff" and "Don't You Know," the debut album title would fittingly come to capture the impact and essence of Uptown Record's undeniable groovemaster.

REVOLT Remembers | Heavy D
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To the ladies, the charismatic rapper was the "Overweight Lover." To close family and friends, he was Dwight Errington Myers. In the history books, he is the ever incomparable Heavy D. Equipped with an insouciant flow and ever-congenial voice, Dwight "Heavy D" Myers was a superstar in every sense of the word. However, "superstar" was only a microcosm of his reach. Beyond a star, Hev was truly larger than life.

With his group, Heavy D & The Boyz, the robust, baritone-voiced rapper released a string of well-received albums, such as the aforementioned 1987 debut Living Large along with 1989's Big Tyme and 1991's Peaceful Journey. His group was also instrumental in helping to swing the pendulum for New Jack Swing as well as providing the spark to hip-hop soul. As a solo artist, Hev released four studio albums; became the only rapper to work with both Michael Jackson ("Jam") and Janet Jackson ("Alright"); rapped alongside both Biggie and 2Pac on Grand Puba's "Let's Get It On"; and collected countless credits for contributions to television and film.

But while it is public knowledge that he was one of hip-hop's early bonafide pop stars, a good portion of Heavy's illustrious moves were also made behind the scenes. You would be hard-pressed to name an artist who came up during and after his era that can't cite Uptown's marquee star as an influence — and if it wasn't acknowledged verbally, it was certainly showed in their artistry.

Over the past 25 years, this influence is locked into the very fabric of modern day hip-hop. His golden touch was essential in the development of rap as it grew from a micro to macro phenomenon between the late 1980s and 1990s. In celebrating the life of the rap game's perennial quarterback, we shine a spotlight on the magnitude of Heavy D's enduring influence.

#IfItWasntForHeavyDUptown Records wouldn't be Uptown Records

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Before the success of Guy, Al B. Sure!, Mary J. Blige, and Jodeci, it was Heavy D who provided the cement for Uptown Record's foundation. At the time, Def Jam was the towering record label and its signature sound was hardcore. "Def Jam had built a sound. Loud, abrasive, aggressive, alternative music," Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons revealed during an episode of BET's Inside the Label series. "Then, Andre comes in with 'Mr. Big Stuff.' I'm like 'What am I going to do with that?! What is that shit?! We don't do that here.'" With Russ uninterested, Harrell parted ways with Rush and launched Uptown off the potential of Heavy D. As history would have it, the risk was well worth it.

What songwriting great Smokey Robinson was to Berry Gordy in defining the Motown sound, it was Heavy D to Andre Harrell and Uptown Records. Besides churning out hits with his group the Boyz, Hev was instrumental in the structure of Uptown's roster. He helped get his fellow Mount Vernon pal Al B. Sure! signed to the label and made the call to get a young Sean Combs an internship. "One day he was outside and I said, "I really need you to make this call for me," Combs recollected in an interview this year. "He had the cell phone and he pulled it out, he made the call and he set up a meeting for me to meet with [Andre Harrell]."

#IfItWasntForHeavyDthere would be no Jodeci

The quartet out of North Carolina were discovered by Heavy D after he overheard their demo as an A&R at Uptown was in the midst of passing on them. Wowed by their talent, Hev later convinced Andre to let the young former gospel group to audition for the company. Harrell signed them right after and sent them to his protégé Sean Combs, who would famously help groom them into the "bad boys of R&B."

#IfItWasntForHeavyDthere would be no such thing as a fly fat rapper

Heavy D - Is It Good To You (MTV Unplugged) [HD]
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Before the Notorious B.I.G., before Rick Ross, there was Heavy D. Embracing his hefty frame, the rapper made heavyset rappers less of a novelty act (à la The Fat Boys) and more of an artist to be taken serious. Light on his feet, smooth with the ladies ("Is It Good to You," "Overweight Lover"), and super fly, Hev used his size as fuel for what ultimately changed the narrative for the big guys.

"What's the best thing," a Los Angeles Times reporter asked the rapper in a 1991 interview. The question happened to be in reference to what Hev considered was the best parts to being a rapper. To that, he fittingly answered, "Being a 320-pound sex symbol."

#IfItWasntForHeavyDthe launch of Ruff Ryders could have been different

In 1986, after growing tired of the foreboding effects of the street hustle, Joaquin "Waah" Dean was plotting on ways to make it into the music business, but he needed advice. Pulling up in a white Range Rover, Heavy D met up with Bronx-born entrepreneur. "The first thing I said was, 'Yo Her, y'all living the life right now and we trying to get in the game. Let us know what's good,'" Dean recalled in an docu-series last year. "He said, you get an artist you believe in and you make hits, the industry will come to you." Dean took Hev's advice to heart and not long after, he launched his artist management company initially called Special Effects, before eventually changing into Ruff Ryders. DMX would become the label's marquee artist and, like Hev mentioned, the industry came knocking.

#IfItWasntForHeavyDNew Jack Swing could not have blossomed into a phenomenon

Heavy D. & The Boyz - We Got Our Own Thang
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Teddy Riley is the king of New Jack Swing, but Heavy D and his group the Boyz were the knights who polished its potential. The hits from the Mount Vernon team, which included "Mr. Big Stuff," "We Got Our Own Thing," and "Nuttin' But Love" to name a few, helped spill New Jack Swing onto the center of urban music. Hev was a walking-and-talking party and this energy jumped from his rhymes, echoed from the production and amplified the infectiousness of the groove.

#IfItWasntForHeavyDThe transition from performers to label exec would be farfetched

In 1996, Heavy D became the first rapper to become the head of a major music label. This would open the door for countless of artists including Jay-Z, who headed Def Jam in 2004.

#IfItWasntForHeavyDthe avenues for hip-hop expression could have remained limited

Heavy D & The Boyz - In Living Color
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In addition to providing the theme song for Keenan Ivory Wayans' Fox sketch comedy series, In Living Color, Heavy D also landed acting roles in shows like "Roc" and "Living Single," as well as films like 1995's "New Jersey Drive," among others. In 1996, Hev pushed the boundaries yet again when he played leading role in the Laurence Fishburne-directed Off-Broadway play "Riff Raff. His performance as a thief named Tony earned the rapper a nomination for a Drama Desk Award, one of the highest honors given to a stage performer.

#IfItWasntForHeavyDthe world would have never known the "#1 Soul Brother," Pete Rock

Pete Rock & CL Smooth - They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.) (Video)
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Besides being actual cousins, it was Heavy D who gave Pete Rock his start. The Overweight Lover's success helped pave the way for Pete Rock to make his own mark. "[At the time,] Heavy D was building his career and that's my cousin," Rock noted to REVOLT. "He noticed something in me and was like, 'You got to bring that out.' So [from there] I'm diligently working on music. The beats was wack at first [Laughs] and then the more I made beats I felt like my shit was getting better and better. I was like nobody shifts the beat, nobody makes changes, let me do that and go hard." The motivation would lead Rock to connect with partner-in-rhyme C.L. Smooth and together they would release 1992's Mecca and the Soul Brother, which featured the classic tribute to deceased Heavy D & the Boyz group member Troy Dixon (a.k.a. Trouble T Roy), "They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)."

#IfItWasntForHeavyDThe sound of Michael Jackson's Dangerous album would have been entirely different

Heavy D remembers Michael Jackson
Angela Yee

In a 2009 interview, Heavy described this moment best: "Micheal brought me into a studio to hear a track he wanted me to rap on and it really wasn't a good track [Laughs]. Probably one of the hardest things I had to do was tell Michael Jackson that that's kind of wack. But, the thing about him that made him great was 'no' wasn't the end of it all. It was more of a, 'Oh okay. What do we need?' So he was like, who's hot out here. I said the best person to get right now for you would be Teddy Riley. I had just came off of working with Teddy for "Is It Good To You" and "Now That We Found Love." Then I somehow got Michael in touch with Teddy and Teddy was working on the album (Dangerous) and to his credit, maybe eight months later, I get a call from Michael and Teddy to get on "Jam."

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