Three years ago, the Jamaican-born hip-hop superstar Heavy D fulfilled a long-time wish and dropped his first reggae album. When he was first introducing this new musical direction to the world, he stopped by the Manhattan offices of my former employer to drop words of wisdom about his life and his work. Listening to him now, in the wake of his sudden death, Hev’s words take on new meaning.
His final post on Twitter, just hours before his still-unexplained death, was an all-caps “BE INSPIRED!” Heavy certainly followed his own advice. He had just released a new album, Love Opus, in September—a follow-up of sorts to his Grammy-nominated reggae album Vibes, the first full-length release to feature him singing throughout.
Hev also performed a medley of his hits live on the latest BET Hip-Hop Awards, looking and sounding as sharp as ever. Since the shocking news of his passing, DJ Premier revealed that he and Heavy had been working on a new hip-hop project, Blue Funk 2. Perhaps we'll get to hear some unreleased jewels one day.
Many of Heavy’s fans and friends have been in a bit of a blue funk since we heard about his untimely death. But hearing him speak about following one’s passion and honoring one’s creative spirit, it’s clear that Dwight Myers lived his life doing exactly that. How many of us can same the same? BE INSPIRED. Nuff said.
As told to Rob Kenner (@boomshots)
On His Early Rap Career....
"I started young. My first record came out when I was—what? 18? So I was in the studio when I was 15, 16. My whole life from a certain point was guided and geared to...You do this, you don’t do this. If he gets the big rope chain, your shit better be bigger. If he get the car, your shit better be better. You got to have the loudest system.
"[One day] it just all clicked, like, 'Wait a minute—I don’t even know who I am anymore.' Like, I need to find out who I am. And raising my daughter brought me back to me, if that makes sense...
"So I went into the studio, like, 'Yeah, let me get back in the studio and make this album. Make some hot records!' They were hot, and you can all sit there and romanticize—those of you who ever cared about Heavy D or whatever—and be like, 'Aw yeah, we can’t wait till Hev come out.'
It just all clicked, like, 'Wait a minute—I don’t even know who I am anymore.' Like, I need to find out who I am.
"Trust me—you can wait. They’re gonna be good records. But they’re not gonna be great. And they’ll never be able to compare to what I’ve done in the past. Because that was something else. The stars and the moons were aligned differently. My youth was different. It was new. We were all learning about [hip-hop] culture. We invented the culture to a degree. So that’s gone for me."
The hardest thing for an artist to do is to let go. I don’t wanna be the dude—if you come to my house, there are no pictures circa ‘86 in my house. No there’s not. I’m proud of what I’ve done and I’m very happy about that. But how do you move forward and start looking back? You can’t."
On Falling Off...
"You know, it’s easy to write a rhyme—it’s easy to write 16 bars, 32 bars—but to do it where it really means something, and that it’s gonna transcend towards what people really respect and honor in the craft—it’s over. I’m happy to admit it. I had a great run. The baton has been passed. But that shouldn’t stop me from being an artist and delivering a message.
After a while, when you’re in a career as long as I have been, you end up—no matter what people say—trying to keep up. If you’re not accepting that, dude, somebody’s gonna take your place.
"After a while, when you’re in a career as long as I have been, you end up—no matter what people say—trying to keep up. If you’re not accepting that—dude somebody’s gonna be better than you. Somebody’s gonna take your place. You’re struggling, trying to keep up, there’s this kind of pity that happens. I didn’t want to do that.
"You know, I’m 41 now. I’m in a different headspace. The maturity level is different. The things that I listen to. I’ve got an 8-year-old daughter. I’m a single dad. It’s like my life is different, so for me to pretend like I’m gonna up in the club at three in the morning and poppin’ bottles—it’s not gonna happen. I went to LL’s release party yesterday. I spent 15 minutes with him and I was like “Goodnight—I’m gone.” I couldn’t do it.
"And where I think we get stuck in the business—those of us who are part of the business—we get stuck in a way of not allowing people to mature or grow. There’s territorial-ness, you wanna keep your artist right where they should be. And I’m not gonna allow anyone to do this. Not in a bully way, but I’m pouring my heart out in this.
"As an artist there were different levels in my career that brought me to a realization that I am what you would call a pure artist. And I don’t say that with any type of vanity."
On His Reggae Album...
"This whole album is reggae. It’s a departure from what you’re probably normally used to hearing from Heavy D. And why I haven’t made a rap album is simply because I feel like I’ve done the best that I could do. I had a great run. There’s a lot of years. Actually this month—today maybe—is like my 22nd year.
"Most of you who have followed my career—and those who haven’t—I’m Jamaican by birth. I’ve always had one foot in the reggae and one foot in hip hop—whether it was sneaking behind the major label’s back and doing records with Super Cat and Buju Banton and catching hell for it later. I caught hell from the record companies—I wasn’t supposed to be in Jamaica recording with Supercat. I was never supposed to do those things.
I was sneaking behind the major label’s back and doing records with Super Cat and Buju Banton and catching hell for it later. I was never supposed to do those things.
"But reggae was always a passion of mine. I used to say in interviews that I would love to do a reggae album. But it consumed my life being a hip-hop artist and being Heavy D, which I’m happy and proud of.
"For the last four years I’ve been working on this product and I felt like I really started getting excited again. The artist in me was reinvigorated. And I just fell in love with the process. And I was just having a good time again. I hadn’t had fun in a long time.
"I made a bunch of rap records. I got 40 sitting in a vault somewhere. I tried to do a hip-hop album. I didn’t love it enough to present it to the world. But I am in love with this project right here. It’s all reggae. It’s different.
"All my friends kept saying, “Do a reggae album.” But I was always thinking Sean Paul, I would think Elephant Man. But now what that reggae has become is, it’s become Jamaicans rapping over hip-hop beats. So there’s no real reggae culture anymore.
"I’ve arrived in a place where I’m comfortable with just being happy with who I am. And it’s a great place to be. For those of you who aren’t quite 40 yet, it’s wonderful. Trust me. Cause the dumbness is just silliness now. The pain now, I’m avoiding that. I’ve seen that before. So I’m in a great place."
Life as a CEO & An Actor...
"I’m much happier when I’m creating than when I was the CEO of Uptown Records, delegating all these responsibilities, overseeing 30 employees. That was one of the first steps.
"I realized that when I quit there was no way I could do this and be happy. It’s a different type of art, being the CEO of any company. It’s certainly an art form to it. But it wasn’t my creative juice. So I left that.
"My whole life started becoming, 'Okay, What can I do?' [Some people said], 'Well man, give it up.' Hell no, I’m an artist. I can’t give it up. So the acting was an obvious thing, since I’ve been putting my chops in for years with that. And then being Jamaica, I’ve always had one foot in reggae, one foot in hip-hop.
"Also I had already been bitten by the acting bug and fell deeply in love with it. My love for acting isn’t just, 'Let me try this thing out.' It’s really I wanna align myself with the best. I don’t wanna be the biggest.
"I just wanna be the one that the biggest look at and say, 'He’s one of the best.' I try to attach myself to these classic materials and work with actors that are way better than me. Because that’s the way you learn the most."
Hev Dropping Knowledge...
"I’m gonna give you two great quotes. Miles Davis said, 'Sometimes it takes a long time to play like yourself.' The other great quote is: 'The truth is magnetic.' What I’m expecting from this album is nothing more than people will feel it. As long as they give it a chance. And that’s the problem sometimes that we run into because you would put someone in a box because they did that or did this.
"You guys don’t realize how much power you have in shaping what the future of the music is. And not just subscribing to what everyone’s doing. You figure out a way to make it, if you like it. If LL came out and sang opera, you’ve gotta give it a listen. You’ve gotta give it a listen because you control the media. Give it a real chance to let it affect you.
If you have passion, it’s gonna lead you right where you need to be. Just follow that little voice and those goosebumps and everything that happens along with it. Just follow it. Cause that is where your destiny lies. That is where the truth is. All I’m trying to do is follow my truth.
"When you create history you don’t know you’re doing it. I don’t care if somebody says, 'We’re gonna make history.' Bullshit. You don’t know you’re doing it. You don’t know that till later on. Ask anybody—the most important people that you admire, the books you read—they didn’t know. They were just going on passion and what they want to do, and following that thing.
"There’s something in you that leads all of us here. Everyone here is here for a reason. If you’re good at what you do, or great at what you do, it’s cause you’re passionate. Not because you wanna be the President of the United States or of the company. If that is your goal it probably won’t happen.
"But if you have passion, it’s gonna lead you right where you need to be. Just follow that little voice and those goosebumps and everything that happens along with it. Just follow it. Cause that is where your destiny lies. That is where the truth is. All I’m trying to do is follow my truth.
"I’m unafraid. I know when people hear this… I’m telling you, I’m gonna get a Grammy. I’ll put it on the record. I’m gonna get a Grammy. Or at least a nomination. I don’t want to seem too arrogant but I believe I will at least get a nomination for this album. [Ed Note—Vibes was, in fact, nominated for a Best Reggae Album Grammy that year.]
My biggest goal was to drink a 40-ounce and listen to Mr. Magic at midnight in the park just to hear 'Mr. Big Stuff.' When that happened I was like, 'I could die now. Cool. I’m done.'
"I believe people are gonna respond to the truth. I think it’s refreshing. I think people want something different. The ultimate goal as an artist is to just be honest. In hip-hop, it’s hard as hell to be honest. They don’t really let us do that. I remember when I was making the records I used to make. I would write about a friend’s situation. I would get bashed for it, back in the day. Now you can’t hear a hip-hop song without a melody, a chord.
"It’s not just me, it’s other people. You’ve gotta open up. When you control the future, everybody has to open up. With mostly everything that I’ve done in my career—even the groups that I’ve signed or worked with—it was just because I felt it.
"I didn‘t see the bigger picture. My career, I didn’t see the bigger picture. My biggest goal was to drink a 40-ounce and listen to Mr. Magic at midnight in the park just to hear 'Mr. Big Stuff.' When that happened I was like, 'I could die now. Cool. I’m done.'"