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There was no way for Heavy D to know that his last words to the world would be such a succinct and sparkling tweet. But even if he had, this entertainer–who used his gift for stringing words into rap to create some of hip-hop’s most beloved classics–could have left us with nothing better.
Like everyone, I was shocked to hear of the 44-year-old rapper/actor’s death from presumed respiratory failure on November 8. I came of age as hip-hop came on the scene and, while I’m no rap aficionado by any stretch, I loved Heavy D.
We had a few things in common: West Indian heritage and geographic proximity, for starters. I came up in the Bronx, a few miles south of his hometown, Mt. Vernon, NY. So I had a sense of growing up in roughly the same time and place as Heavy (nÃ© Dwight Arrington Meyers). We also shared a love of music and of words. We had a respect for how both could help shape and reshape the world; how they could heal, uplift and, without question, inspire.
As hip-hop became increasingly associated with darker forces–ignorance, self-hate, drugs, violence, misogyny–Heavy kept it mostly light, but he somehow managed to keep it real at the same time. He found ways to acknowledge the complexities of life in his music, and to address the harsh conditions in our communities, our homes, and our souls, while still celebrating the good, the promising, and the joy. He managed to call it like he saw it without condemning or demeaning others. When he encouraged fans to “say ho” it was a shout-out to raise the roof, not defile women. When he rapped about losing siblings or friends tragically and too soon, he never let his pain overrun his positivity; he never let his anger crush his charm.
At a time when a lot of his hip-hop peers became invested in posturing, pimping, and perpetrating, the “overweight lover” really did exude love–for himself, his community, his family, his fans, and his art. In a business often criticized for engendering narcissism and divisiveness, Heavy stepped out of the box to explore acting to collaborate with a diverse (and enviable) group that included Michael Jackson, the Notorious B.I.G. and blues great B.B. King. He also spotted and promoted new talent.
A brokenhearted Sean “Diddy” Combs tweeted, “Heavy D gave me my 1st chance in the music industry. He got me my internship at Uptown [Records]. He believed when no one else did.”
When Heavy appeared on the BET Hip Hop Awards a few weeks ago–his first live rap performance in more than a decade–the audience was a mirror for what he gave: They were up on their feet, dancing, every face smiling, every mouth rapping along with him, especially when he diddly-diddly-diddly-deed. Everybody was having a party, feeling nothing but good.
In the last few months, Heavy seemed poised for a comeback. In addition to performing again, he released an album, Love Opus, and he appears in the recent Eddie Murphy film, Tower Heist. But it’s that last tweet of his that has had the most reach so far. Heavy wrote tens of thousands of words in his short life, many of which we’ll all be dancing to and singing with for a long time, but in just two final words he managed to capture the simple power of his positive legacy.
So let’s answer the call and Be Inspired, by his art, his attitude, his authenticity, remembering that what truly set Heavy apart was his perpetual light.
Any fan of hip-hop would appreciate the new coffee table book, Hip Hop, A Cultural Odyssey. To purchase your copy of Hip Hop, A Cultural Odyssey click here and every 10 books sold will result in a copy being donated to a HBCU library.