R.I.P. Heavy D

Rapper-actor-record executive Dwight Arrington Myers—better known to fans as Heavy D—died Tuesday, reports TMZ. He was 44. The circumstances of his death aren’t clear at the moment; Myers was rushed to the hospital this afternoon and pronounced dead at 1 p.m. PST. While the 911 call reported an unconscious man laying in the walkway of his Beverly Hills home, he was alert and speaking when help arrived. Police are investigating the cause of death, but there are no discernible signs of foul play.

While Heavy D is most identified with hits from the late ’80s and early ’90s, including “Now That We Found Love” and “We Got Our Own Thang,” he was able to maintain a successful career for more than 10 years, from his 1987 debut Living Large to 1999’s Heavy, which was his seventh straight album to hit the R&B Top 10. After that, he took a break from music to pursue an acting career that included roles in The Cider House Rules, the Eddie Murphy-Martin Lawrence comedy Life, and the TV drama Boston Public. In recent years, he resumed his musical career, releasing the reggae-influenced Vibes in 2008, and performing at the 2011 BET Hip-Hop Awards and the Michael Jackson Tribute Concert in Wales—his first live shows in many years.

Heavy D’s death at such a young age is tragic, but he managed to leave an indelible mark on hip-hop during his short life. He was born in Jamaica on May 24, 1967, and moved with his family to Mount Vernon, New York soon after. He discovered hip-hop at age 8, and by junior high he was making demo tapes. Heavy D recruited his backing group, the Boyz, from the ranks of high school buddies like DJ Eddie F, Trouble T-Roy, and G-Wiz. They made a tape, and sent it to Def Jam’s Andre Harrell, who made Heavy D And The Boyz the first group on his new label, Uptown, in 1986. Living Large came a year later, and the album made Heavy D rap’s first “big” romantic leading man, an image the man himself propagated on “The Overweight Lover’s In The House.” Several years later, the rapper who followed in Heavy D’s footsteps, Notorious B.I.G., namechecked him in the song “Juicy.”

Heavy D’s next two albums, 1989’s Big Tyme and 1991’s Peaceful Journey, made him a star on the pop and R&B charts, as well as on MTV, which put the poppy and likeable “Now That We Found Love” into heavy rotation. Heavy D continued to sell million of records even as hip-hop become harder and more street-oriented; in many ways he was a throwback to an earlier era, concerned mainly with feel-good jams and a positive outlook that sought to appeal to as many people as possible.

But Heavy D was also smart with his career, always making sure that he never lost his core following as his pop audience grew. (In 1996, he applied those smarts to his brief tenure as president of Uptown Records.) As his performance last month at the BET Hip-Hop Awards showed, Heavy D’s audience remained loyal right up until the end of his life.

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