(9) Classic Sounds…

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Way before Drake, there were a multitude of charming rappers who stayed in their lane and played the radio-friendly ladies-man role with great results. Yes, that includes Light-skinned 80’s rhymesters who steered clear of the gangsterism that began seeping its way into the mainstream at the turn of the decade.

One such member of this cluster of Don Juan rappers, and albeit, a severely underrated and seldom-mentioned one, is none other than the “Overweight Lover” himself – Heavy D.

Although the career has been one of many memorable and pioneering moments, Heavy D & The Boyz‘ span over Hip-Hop has been a far cry from reigning. It’s one that I don’t think Hev is unhappy about tho…You’ll never hear the grunts or whimpers of foul-play coming from his corner. He rose to label-head ranks way before it became a popular hip-hop trend, made memorable theme songs and show intros like those for MadTv and the iconic In Living Color, and parlayed his fame into low-key acting roles that have sustained him for the last 15 years. Alongside Doug E. Fresh, Heavy D was my favorite rapper as a young kid in the 80’s…Mainly because of the sounds they could make with their mouths (Pause) and the light, catchy swagger of their songs.

All of the albums released under the group have been successful, but none generating bigger hits as this Platinum album, which was dedicated to fallen member, Trouble T-Roy. Though not as good as their previous classic, Big Tyme, this album solidified the group’s stance as a fixture in Hip-Hop and a selling force.

The album starts off with the classic dance track, “Now that we found love”. As some of you know, this was a mega-smash on the dance/pop charts and fell right in line with the wave of dance and pop influenced Hip-hop that was running things at the time, but receiving much backlash from hardcore advocates.

Somehow, Hev and co. managed to come thru the hate unscathed as he seemed to maintain some sense of universal respect for always being able to mix in with the harder rappers but never step out of his range. He chose to stick to a non-explicit ethos akin to his 80’s brethren The Fresh Prince, but he was always more accepted by the rap community than the latter. If there was some kind of flack for any air of corniness surrounding Heavy D’s steelo, it probably began here…

Tracks like “Let it Rain” and “I Can Make You Go Ooh” were cringe-worthy from their inception. Much like LL Cool J during the middle of his career, Hev began taking the Ladies man role a bit too far and started experimenting with different sounds and angles to get that point across. Something must be said for the pioneering of blending rap verses with softer ballad-like R&B tones, but even the wording became more sappy and similar to those words you would hear used in an early 90’s love song by Christopher Williams or Aaron Hall. Yikes!

This was, after all, the New Jack Swing era. And with the bulk of production being helmed by the Legendary Marley Marl, and group member Dj Eddie F, the experimentation was understandable. It was also affordable for an Emcee of Heavy D’s stature at the time (No pun intended). Yet and still, Hev fared much better when he didn’t try so hard. For an album that doubled as a solemn celebration of life, Hev made sure he kept it a party, with 80% of the subject matter being about his love for the women. That being said, cuts like “Do Me, Do Me”, where he employs a more laid back and playful flow over a more stripped down beat are more in the pocket. The same goes for the requisite reggae-infused track which has become a benchmark and staple of Heavy D albums, paying homage to his Jamaican roots – literally. On “Body and Mind”, he flips the light patois flow over a synthy Island groove that sounds more like ub40 than Shabba Ranks. He seems comfortable and natural, although the music is trash and would make any Yardie scream bombaclot!

The love songs don’t end there of course… Hev gets better on more topical women-friendly tracks. On “Sister, Sister”, an undeniable New Jack Swing anthem, Hev makes a stance to show appreciation to Black women and acknowledge all of their strengths and obstacles. It’s one of the most thoughtful and honest hip-hop songs ever, and because of its New Jack appeal, it would have made for a great single at the time. Too bad it sounds so dated now…

On “Cuz He’z Alwayz Around”, He tells a story of trying to get with a young Lady who may be mutually attracted, but her dude is always in the way, cock-blocking. Heavy is at his best, however, on the singles that made him famous. The hit “Somebody For Me” from the previous album even gets a mellow revisit at the end of this album. Joints like the aforementioned “Now That We Found Love” and the smash “Is It Good To You” which is a reworking of the 90’s R&B single by the same name (by Tammy Lucas), are prime examples of Hev just being the original radio-killer. I’ll never forget watching this video back in the day with my sister Veen and thinking ‘man, this is kinda corny but it’s so good!’ He glides effortlessly over sampled, groovy commercial jams, always ending with a clever and well-timed couplet.  Let’s not forget the man used to dance! This was the whole concept of the group; They encompassed multiple elements of the Hip-Hop code back then, quick rhymes, one dj, 2 innovative dancers and one big dude in the front dancing right along with them. This was groundbreaking, tho Hev probably was unaware just how so. Sure, he knew he was stepping out of the box by aiming to defy stereotypes and take the lover role as opposed to yucking up the Big Guy thing like the Fat Boys, but he probably could never know the impact it would have. He singlehandedly paved the way for Biggie to be accepted in his Big Poppa persona years later.

We’re still talking about Rap music here. And on a few spots on the album, Hev takes a break from romancing to just spit some bravado. On “The Lover’s Got What U Need”, Hev is in more familiar territory over an uptempo Marley marl flip of Diana Ross’ “Love Hangover” where he just has fun. But it’s on “Swingin’ With Da Hevster” where he re-enters a raw hip-hop arena that some may not have heard or expected him to go back into since the last album. You would swear this was a missing track from Rakim or Big Daddy Kane‘s files the way the beats thumps and Hev attacks it with the rapid-fire flow that he’s popular for, but only uses when he wants to. It’s so overlooked how fast Heavy used to actually go in (without sounding winded, like some other big rappers)! but he spits on this one. It should be noted that this album also spawned the big single “You Can’t See What I Can See” that was released after the 92 L.A. riots as a B-Side and saw him taking a more hardcore turn which would set the stage for the subsequent and harder album, Blue Funk. Though the track wasn’t included on the album, it was a big song for the group and gave Hev more credibility by balancing the softer songs. It was even debuted in the middle of In Living Color as a world premiere. 

And then we get deep on the title track, which was released as a single. Although this dedication to Trouble T wasn’t anywhere near as big or recognizable as the later dedication “T.R.O.Y.” (They Reminisce Over You) by Heavy D’s cousin Pete Rock and his partner C.L. Smooth, there’s a sentimental vibe here that made this album important. This song was necessary because everyone was waiting to hear Hev’s words about the tragic accident that took his group member’s life. Over The Jacksons’ “Heartbreak/This Place Hotel” sample, Heavy laments and recites an open letter that sums up the feelings perfectly. He also turns it into a song for anyone who’s lost someone or has to overcome some adversity. Peep the early Jodeci vocals. 

Speaking of letters, on “Letter To The Future”, Heavy kicks reality rap and picks up where his guest appearance on 1989’s “Self Destruction” by the Stop The Violence movement left off. Hev does a flawless job of painting a clear picture of where he stands and where the average knucklehead in the hood stands, and plays the role of elder who opts to shoot it straight at the reckless youth instead of preaching at them. With lines like “Martin Luther King had a dream (Who Cares!), that’s exactly what turned his dream into a nightmare”, he exemplifies how you can say alot by saying a little.

This album is a fine specimen of a group sticking to what they know. By turning a tragedy into a happy musical experience full of honesty and feel good lyrics, the mission seems to get accomplished. The dated sound, the inevitable cheesiness and the over-doing of the ladies man schtick might serve to bring the album down, but the memorable tracks are just that. Heavy D is a lesson in simplicity done right.  My favorite songs on here are the title track, “Swingin With Da Hevster”, “Is It Good To You”, “Letter To The Future” and the Classic clever Posse cut “Don’t Curse” featuring everyone from Big Daddy Kane to Kool G. Rap

Overall, this album gets 8 Candles out of a possible

4812 or 16.

4(Classic Just because where it stands in Hip-Hop, whether it be the time of it’s release, it’s influence, or the popularity of it’s singles overall)

8(Classic because it was solid for it’s time, but may be a little dated or less than amazing by today’s standards)

12(Classic as a complete release and probably celebrated widely on the surface, but possibly lacking one key element – be it one song that doesn’t fit, a wack guest appearance, lyrics, lack of depth or beats)

16(Classic all around)

As I mentioned in my review of the Luniz debut album, if I gave ratings in intervals, I would really give this album something closer to 6 candles because it really is lacking some key elements and could have been at least 2 songs shorter, but for the sake of the scale, we’ll keep it at 8.

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