Damn. First Smokin’ Joe, now Heavy D? Yesterday he tweeted a message about Joe Frazier’s passing only to breathe his own last breath at 44 years old a few hours later. Word is he was rushed to the hospital while suffering respiratory problems but a cause of death hasn’t be confirmed yet.
During the latter part of his career Heavy D was better known as an actor than a rapper but his contribution to hip-hop culture was nonetheless significant. While he was never mentioned in GOAT-lists or nearly as revered as his cousin Pete Rock, he truly was a first among his peers– rap’s first pop artist.
This is not intended as a slight to his craft by any means, contrarily to what rap purists believe pop music does not equal bad music, and it’s not a slam against the significant commercial success of several acts before him either. None of them, however, married the street music that rap was to the pop aesthetics made popular by Michael and Janet like he did. It’s not surprising that when the king of pop himself wanted a verse on one of his records, Heavy D was the one receiving that call, twice even.
He wore shiny suits well before there even was a Bad Boy Records and perfected a smooth ladies-man persona when Jay-Z was still busy on the corner. He busted dance routines with the boys when the southern rappers who would bring the moves back were mere glimmers in their daddies eyes. He refrained from curses which made him ready for prime time and mainstream acceptance well before a Fresh Prince became the friendly, non-threatening rap superstar Will Smith. In short, he was the missing link between Run DMC and Diddy, and without his blueprint there’s a good chance we wouldn’t have pop icons like Jay, Snoop, and many others. In successfully reaching for pop status he gave rap the room it needed to grow as a genre, and he sure seemed like he had fun doing it.
Below are some of his flyest videos. Enjoy, while we heed the words of the tribute given by his cousin to one of The Boyz and reminisce over him. R.I.P.