Heavy D, leader of seminal hip-hop group Heavy D & the Boyz and the voice behind such key rise-of-a-genre tracks as “Now That We Found Love,” “Who’s the Man,” and “Somebody For Me,” as well as the iconic theme song to In Living Color, has passed away at the age of 44.
TMZ is reporting that the rapper was rushed to a hospital in Los Angeles after being found unconscious, and passed away shortly after his arrival. No foul play is suspected, though his cause of death is currently unknown.
Heavy D was born Dwight Myers in Jamaica in 1967 but emigrated to Mount Vernon, New York with his parents as a young boy. After discovering rap music in junior high, he teamed up with backing crew the Boyz in high school.
Alongside his cohorts DJ Eddie F, Trouble T-Roy, and G-Wiz, he recorded a demo that found its way to the desk of Def Jam executive Andre Harrell, who alongside Russell Simmons had help launch the careers of LL Cool J, Beastie Boys, and Run-DMC. Harrell signed Heavy D & the Boyz to his newly-launched Uptown Records label, and he released the group’s debut album Living Large in 1987.
Living Large was not a runaway success, though it was readily embraced by the hip-hop community, thanks in part to the somewhat novelty-ish hit “The Overweight Lover’s In the House.” But the group really hit its stride with 1989′s Big Tyme, which found Heavy D marrying his considerable lyrical skills with a sound that more mirrored contemporary R&B than N.W.A. or Public Enemy.
It was something that hadn’t been heard since the early days of hip-hop: Music that was both party-ready and also accomplished in its delivery and presentation. In short, Heavy D had skills, and he wasn’t afraid to rap about relationships and spit over dance-worthy grooves like “Somebody For Me.
Heavy hit his commercial peak in 1991 with the release of Peaceful Journey, which featured crossover smashes like “Now That We’ve Found Love” and “Is It Good To You,” both of which continued Heavy D & the Boyz’ permanent residence on MTV. That fall, Heavy also rapped on Michael Jackson’s “Jam,” the first single from his massively successful Dangerous album.
“Now That We Found Love” is a particularly impressive accomplishment, bringing together a phenomenally catchy sing-along hook with Heavy’s lightning-quick delivery. In many ways, Heavy D predicted both the hip-hop-inflected R&B of Mary J. Blige and Jennifer Lopez, as well as every rap song that featured a chest-banger crooning the chorus.
Though he was regularly cited as an inspiration by the generation of rappers who followed him (Notorious B.I.G. being the most obvious example; the two dudes even sort of sounded alike), Heavy D wasn’t able to maintain the same level of fame or success after Peaceful Journey. But all of his subsequent albums (especially 1997′s Waterbed Hev and 1999′s Heavy, both of which were released without the Boyz in tow) stayed true to his original innovative sound and continued to mine his considerable talent as a rapper.
Like his contemporary Ice-T, Heavy D found work as an actor as the millennium turned, and only came back to the recording game in 2008 with the reggae-kissed Vibes. He made his return to performing only a few weeks ago with a one-two punch, performing at the Michael Jackson tribute concert (he broke out his verse on “Jam”) and knocking out a set at the BET Hip-Hop Awards, where he ended his 15 year absence from the stage with a medley of some of his signature hits.
Heavy D achieved a great deal of commercial success and respect within the hip-hop community, but he still remained slightly underrated, and he shouldn’t be: D was both a party-starter and a genuine innovator, and he will be missed.