It’s interesting how news of a death hits us in the digital age. Before the 24-hour news cycle and social media, news of someone’s passing used to smack like being hit with a 2×4. Now there’s this creeping dread as the rumours hit Twitter, speculative stories hit the web and you wait with a sink in your stomach for the inevitable confirmation.
That’s what I was feeling as I rode the streetcar last night and learned about the passing of Dwight Myers, better known as Heavy D. He was 44 years old, ten years older than I am now. We will ignore that for now.
Last spring I did an episode of RadioPFG lamenting the disappearance of fat rappers from the hip-hop landscape. Writing the script to that episode I learned a couple of things about my relationship to hip-hop, how it got its hooks into me at such a young age. Part of it was my innate fascination with rhythm and drums, but I really think another part of it had to do with rappers like The Fat Boys, Chubb Rock and Heavy D. As a weird overweight kid in Southwestern Ontario, hip-hop was the only musical form that not only showcased artists that looked like me, but celebrated it. The philosophy of hip-hop is confidence, bragging and boasting, even if you had some extra pounds packed. Heavy D was the best of them. He didn’t ignore that he was a big dude, he wore it as a badge of honour. He called himself the Overweight Lover and made songs celebrating his love of beautiful women. Riding the crest of the New Jack Swing Era of the early 90s, Heav busted out dance moves better than some dudes half his size.
That was just his own career. He played a role in the careers of so many artists: cousin of Pete Rock, as an employee at Uptown Records he hired a young intern named Sean Combs who brought Mary J. Blige to the label. He gave the Notorious B.I.G. his first extended verse on the posse cut ‘A Buncha N*ggas’ in 1993. He wrote the theme to In Living Colour. You know you remember him keeping the crowds at bay on the Bed-Stuy stoop in Biggie’s ‘One More Chance’ video. He did tracks with Janet and Michael Jackson. He returned to performing at the BET Hip-Hop Awards last month. And we all thought we’d have him for much longer than we did, because who drops dead at 44?
This was his last tweet, sent hours before he died.
Which is fitting, because I always was by him.