Click the 'Listen' link to hear All Things Considered's Guy Raz talk to Adam Bradley, one of the editors of The Anthology of Rap, about Heavy D's career and legacy.
Dwight Arrington Myers, better known as Heavy D, died today in Los Angeles at the age of 44. The rapper's death was reported this afternoon on Twitter and TMZ. The cause of death has not been reported.
The 250-pound rapper made his weight into a theme of his early career, especially in his early albums with his backing group The Boyz. Their first album, Living Large, released in 1987, included the singles "The Overweight Lover's In The House" and "Mr. Big Stuff." The latter is perhaps the best example of Heavy D's particular brand of witty party rap, a lightweight track that flips a sample of Jean Knight's dance-funk classic about an egotistical man into a boast about the virtues of his size.
He had a bigger hit four years later with the song "Now That We Found Love," which he described, in a recent interview on the BBC's Radio 1Xtra as "a bit of an anomaly."
"It was less of a hip-hop record and more of an R&B/pop record. And that was one of the first times that something like that really took flight and was accepted," he said.
As his rap career faded in the late 1990s, he turned to acting, with roles in films like The Cider House Rules and TV shows including Boston Public and Bones. In recent months a spate of activity had put Heavy D back near the spotlight. In addition to acting in the Eddie Murphy and Ben Stiller film Tower Heist, he released a new album, Love Opus, in September. Last month, he closed the BET Awards with a medley of his hits.
GUY RAZ, HOST:
No doubt, lots of Spotify playlists were set up in tribute yesterday to this man.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE GOT OUR OWN THANG")
HEAVY D: (Singing) Love is a legend. Me, I'm legendary at it. Flippin' on the mike makes me a rappin' acrobat. Don't try to swing 'cause you didn't even hang, hang, hang. Yo, we got our own thang.
RAZ: That's rapper, Heavy D. He died yesterday at the age of 44. He called himself the overweight lover MC and Heavy D was one of hip-hop's most popular and influential acts in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He was the front man for the group Heavy D and the Boys, and he was known for his moves, his music and his magnetic personality.
Adam Bradley is the author of the book "The Anthology of Rap," and he joins me now to talk more about Heavy D's place in hip-hop history. Adam, welcome to the program.
ADAM BRADLEY: Thank you, Guy.
RAZ: Talk about what Heavy D was doing in rap that made him different and fresh at the time he started in the '80s.
BRADLEY: Well, you've got to think about this moment in the late 1980s and early 1990s when Heavy D emerged. We have, on one coast, NWA with gangster rap emerging. We have, on the other coast, Public Enemy with a sort of political consciousness. And with Heavy D, what you had was a sense of musicality, a sense of the party, a sense of the fun that was always a part of hip-hop. He really brought the party back to hip-hop. He brought dance back to hip-hop.
RAZ: His biggest hit was probably the song "Now That We Found Love."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOW THAT WE FOUND LOVE")
D: (Singing) Now that we found love, what are we gonna do with it? Now that we found - one, two, tell me what you got. Let me slip my quarters inside your slot to hit the jackpot. Rev me up, rev me up, my little buttercup.
RAZ: So Adam, I mean, he was basically one of the first people to merge hip-hop and R&B pretty seamlessly, right?
BRADLEY: He did. I mean, here, we have him moving from hip-hop to R&B. Just at the same moment, you have R&B acts like Jodeci and singers like Mary J. Blige reaching out to hip-hop and the meeting in between is what created the pop phenomenon of hip-hop.
And with the record we just heard, "Now That We Found Love," that's really a pop record more than anything else. It has elements that will be recognizable in hip-hop, the strong beat, the syncopated flows, but it's really a record that's inflected with R&B and intended for a pop audience. And that's what Heavy D, at his best, could do.
RAZ: And we're not talking about - I mean, let's face it - the most profound lyricist in hip-hop. I mean, he wasn't Chuck D from Public Enemy or even Tupac, but he never tried to be. I mean, he didn't pretend to be something else, right?
BRADLEY: No. What he was was a lover man, the overweight lover, Heavy D, as he called himself. He was somebody who had fun on the microphone and you could always hear it, the kind of tongue-twisting delivery, the fact that, even when he was rapping fast, he'd sound like he was laid back.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
D: (Singing) (Unintelligible) The B to the A to the B to the Y, wants a honey bun.
RAZ: Where do you see his influence today?
BRADLEY: First of all, you have his direct influence in the records that he's produced for artists as diverse as Michael Jackson, Jay-Z, Ziggy Marley and hosts of others. But you also have his more underground influence, the way that he opened up hip-hop to include a broader range of themes, to celebrate the fun and the party that's always been a part of hip-hop culture. He brought that to the fore, celebrated it and made it into a platinum hit.
RAZ: That's Adam Bradley. He's the author of "The Anthology of Rap," remembering the rapper, Heavy D, who died yesterday at the age of 44. Adam, thanks.
BRADLEY: It's my pleasure, Guy.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG BY HEAVY D) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.