Heavy D, RIP: Hear His Legacy in 15 Tracks
Take a look back at hip-hop pioneer's hits, deep cuts, and songs that owe him gratitude
Rap pioneer Heavy D passed away on November 8, and SPIN likes to remember him more that just hip-hop’s ever-suave nice-guy and the ladies man behind megahits like “Nuttin’ But Love.” The 44-year-old rapper had a wide-reaching impact on hip-hop, and his presence cut a smooth line from Marley Marl’s raw sample science through Puff Daddy’s pop reign â” and, in between, stopped everywhere from Jamaica to Neverland Ranch. Take a look back at 15 hits, detours, and other songs that owe him gratitude to grasp the full impact of Waterbed Hev.
THE FIVE MOST IMPORTANT TRACKS
1. Heavy D & The Boyz – “The Overweight Lover’s in the House” (1987)
Over a vintage Marley Marl smacker, the second single off Heavy D’s debut established Hev as one of the most formidable rhymers of hip-hop’s golden era: A silky-soft playboy whispering in a girl’s ear by the fireplace… but not so soft that he won’t totally stomp her boyfriend. Alongside Big Daddy Kane, Heavy helped establish the smooth badass: Drake should thank him sooner than later.
2. Heavy D & The Boyz – “We Got Our Own Thang” (1989)
Simultaneously Teddy Riley’s suavest, most utterly-impossible-not-to-Cabbage Patch-along-to beat (built on a surgically supercharged sample of James Brown’s “Funky President”) and Heavy D’s suavest, most utterly-impossible-not-to-flow-along-to jabberwocky (“Bum-deedlee-deedlee-deedlee-deedlee-deedlee-dee!”).
3. Heavy D & The Boyz – “Now That We Found Love” ft. Aaron Hall (1991)
Hip-house had played itself out years earlier and new jack swing was wearing itself thin. But Heavy and Teddy Riley still found the missing link between Yo! MTV Raps and Club MTV, due in no short part to Hev’s manic fast-raps on this locomotive of a track. Ultimately it garnered Heavy D his highest charting song, landing at No. 11 on Billboard.
4. Michael Jackson – “Jam” (1992)
“Jam” was Michael Jackson’s very first acknowledgment that rap was changing the pop universe that he had dominated for a decade. Jacko naturally requested Heavy, one of hip-hop’s greatest pop ambassadors, for a tight four bars. Jackson played Heavy a song and, as Hev told Shade 45, “One of the hardest things I ever had to do was tell Michael Jackson ‘that’s kinda wack.’ Heavy recommended maybe hooking up Teddy Riley instead… and HIStory was made.
5. Heavy D & The Boyz- “Nuttin’ But Love” (1994)
The story goes that Russell Simmons wouldn’t sign Heavy D to Def Jam way back when due to his plus-size frame, lazy eye, and smoothed-out club jams. Of course, the Hevster not only had the last laugh by never turning into a babbling capitalist shill or self-help yogi goofball, he actually became a crossover sex symbol with a cheeky hit video (produced by Russell Simmons protÃ©gÃ© Brett Ratner!) full of supermodels that he never had to marry or indulge with a train wreck reality show. Produced by boisterous New York City DJ Kid Capri, “Nuttin’ ” was an undulating, pop-funk marvel, and the video remains a historic hoot â” starring Chris Tucker (sporting an orange touring cap, Hawaiian shirt, and pearls!), plus the aforementioned bevy of “yeah, whateva” catwalkers, including Cynthia Bailey from Real Housewives of Atlanta and Rebecca Gayheart, a.k.a., the “Noxema Girl,” a.k.a. Dylan’s wife on Beverly Hills 90210, a.k.a., squeeze of director Ratner. Later, Ratner was brought on to direct Tucker’s Money Talks, due to their meeting on the “Nuttin’ But Love” set. Hey, don’t blame, Hev.
THE FIVE BEST DEEP CUTS
1. Heavy D & The Boyz – “Moneyearnin’ Mount Vernon” (1987)
An Old School-ish ode to the rough-and-tumble suburb on the northern edge of the Bronx (just up the Bronx River Parkway) that was home to Heavy D, Brand Nubian, Pete Rock, Diddy, et al. In the typically charming video, a denim-clad Hev gives a tour of his environs, shouting out both Buddy’s Big Man Shop and Shabazz burger joint over a rattling James Brown flip.
2. Marley Marl ft. Heavy D and Biz Markie – “We Write The Songs” (1988)
Two 1988 greats recorded in only one take: No overdubs, no edits, no filler. Hev was ultimately renown for his pop songs, but would have never risen to those heights in the cred-conscious early ’90s if he didn’t have the raw, unfiltered skills on display here.
3. Heavy D & The Boyz – “Don’t Curse” ft. Big Daddy Kane, Grand Puba, Kool G. Rap, Q-Tip & Pete Rock & CL Smooth (1991)
Addressing the ongoing hoo-ha over rap lyrics’ supposed negative influence on kids (thanks, Dr. Cosby!), this track could’ve turned into a cautionary Sesame Street-wise throwdown, but with some of the era’s cleverest and nastiest spitters on board, plus a Pete Rock beat that indomitably boosts Booker T. and the MG’s’ “Hip Hug-Her,” Hev concocted a classic.
4. Supercat/Heavy D/Frankie Paul – “Big And Broad” (1992)
The A-side of this 45 looks lovingly towards to the birthplace of both dancehall and Heavy himself â” it didn’t make much of a splash in America, but went all the way to number one on the Jamaican charts. Heavy D told SPIN in 1992, “Doing a Jamaican record is like going back home to me.”
5. Eddie F. and the Untouchables ft. Heavy D, 2Pac, Notorious B.I.G., Grand Puba and Spunk Bigga – “Let’s Get It On” (1994)
Longtime Heavy producer Eddie F formed a production assembly line that launched both the In Living Color theme song and Pete Rock. This massive posse cut, from an unsuccessful bid to turn himself into a Dupree-style superstar producer, is notable for it’s rare in-studio collab between Biggie and 2Pac. But its even more astounding that Heavy doesn’t sound the least bit dated standing in the storm of the two most important MCs of the decade.
FIVE SONGS THAT COULDN’T EXIST WITHOUT HIM
1. Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth – “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)” (1991)
The death of Heavy D’s dancer Trouble T-Roy in 1990 was one of hip-hop’s earliest tragedies â” before Biggie and Pac died, he and Scott La Rock were the pioneers you’d give shout-outs too on the regular. His unexpected death inspired the most vivid mourning anthem in this or any genre.
2. Mary J. Blige – “Real Love” (1992)
Heavy’s debut album was one of the very first releases for Andre Harrell’s Uptown Records, and its success and pop sensibilities were the first dominos falling for a label whose seamless blends of rap and R&B would change both forever; ultimately launching Mary J. Blige, Jodeci, Guy, Monifah and Soul For Real. Few meldings of hip-hop and R&B seemed as effortless as Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love,” which samples Heavy’s golden-era contemporaries Audio Two.
3. Notorious B.I.G. – “Juicy” (1994)
Quoth the big man himself: “It was all a dream/I used to read Word Up! magazine/Salt-N-Pepa, Heavy D up in the limousine.” The presence of Heavy D as a pop sensation was the aspirational ideal for a Brooklyn teenager who would grow up to be the greatest rapper ever, as told in this self-fulfilling prophecy.
4. Montell Jordan – “This Is How We Do It” (1995)
This colossal crossover hit â” Def Jam’s way-belated cash-in on the New Jack Swing sound birthed by Teddy Riley at Uptown Records, where Heavy D later served as an exec â” basically sounded like a marginally scuffed-up Heavy D song without Heavy D rapping on it.
5. Puff Daddy ft. Ma$e – “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” (1997)
Says Diddy on his Twitter, “Heavy D is the person who gave me my first chance in the music industry. He got me my internship at Uptown. He believed when no one else did.” But Puffy got more than his start from Hev, who was never seen without colorful clothes and monstrous hooks.