Heavy D: Island Soundz

Heavy DHeavy D, born Dwight Myers, was born in Jamaica, but migrated with his family to Mount Vernon, New York when he was still a small child. Always a fan of music, young Dwight instantly fell in love with hip-hop, and actually remembers writing his first rhyme when he was only in the third grade. Those first memories of hip-hop would go on to materalize into a platinum-plus music career.

Heavy D & the Boyz were the first group signed to Andre Harrell’s, now defunct, Uptown imprint, unleashing their commercially successful debut, Living Large, in 1987. Its platinum-plus follow-up, Big Tyme, was an even, pardon the pun, bigger chart-topper, producing four hit singles: “We Got Our Own Thang,” “Somebody For Me,” “Big Tyme,” and “Gyrlz, They Love Me.” Sadly, that feat would also become bittersweet, as Troy, Heavy’s childhood best friend, would meet his untimely demise due to an accidental fall at an Indianapolis concert. “Trouble” T. Roy would later be eulogized on their third record, Peaceful Journey, on the title track, as well as Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s classic “They Reminisce Over You T.R.O.Y..”

Two more albums — Blue Funk and Nuttin’ But Love in ’93 — would materialize, but by the latter, Heavy D opted to venture out on his own. He had discovered a new passion in acting, and went on to appear in several TV series and film roles.

Much time has passed, and with a new first reggae effort, titled Vibes, in stores now, BallerStatus.com chopped it up with the Money Earnin’ Mount Vernon representative to catch up a little.

BallerStatus.com: What’s up, Hev? Tell me why you opted to, more of less, leave rap behind and take up acting full-time?

Heavy D: Well, um … How do I answer that? The best way to answer that is what I’ve realized, probably in hindsight, is that as an emcee I’ve given the game my best, and anything else would be really less than stellar. It wouldn’t be good for the culture. I was always, always about trying to provide quality. It’s easy to make a record. I mean, I could make a record all day, I could make a hundred records all day. But, to give you a full album of great music, it was just … I’ve tapped myself out. My life has changed, and I’ve grown up. The life that I used to live, my perspective, my outlook and the type of music that I did, it wasn’t in me anymore. So, I fell in love with acting. Of course, from a natural perspective, and it was just like a natural progression to me, like it just took over my passion.

BallerStatus.com: But, now you’re finally back musically. Only this time, you’ve done a full-on reggae record. What prompted this decision?

Heavy D: Well, I don’t know how much you followed the career, but I was always involved with reggae music with a heavy hand, but on an underground level. Like Super Cat, Buju Banton, Josey Wales, way before it was as popular as it is now, from the dancehall perspective, and I always would talk about doing a reggae album. But, I was so deep into the hip-hop, that that was my lane. That’s what I was loving at the time, and it was just fun to do the reggae stuff. You know, these side projects that I could just feel free, and have fun and nobody would really pay attention in terms of like the record company. ‘Cause they didn’t really think too much of the music to begin with, so it was like a free ride for me, you understand? But, so, over the years, realizing like as an artist like, “Okay, well I got to do something. My spirit is wanting to do something.” You know, but natural progression, again, was do a reggae album. That’s my roots, that’s where I’m from, that’s the first music I’ve ever fallen in love with. It was reggae, the birthplace of hip-hop, despite what people say. It isn’t the Bronx, it is Jamaica ’cause Kool Herc, who is Jamaican, brought the whole culture of DJing and emceeing from Jamaica to America. So, it was always something I was doing. Like me growing up, my two cassettes would be filled with whatever the latest “live” dancehall stuff was from Jamaica, and whatever the latest “live,” you know, rap shows were. Like the Cold Crush Brothers and all those. So, it was those two cassettes that I would always be balancing around, looking forward to just getting ’em, like waiting months for the newest cassettes.

BallerStatus.com: So, pretty much from day one, you knew you’d eventually record a reggae project?

Heavy D: Had to! It was … yeah, it was inevitable.

BallerStatus.com: Does that then mean that you are completely finished with hip-hop?

Heavy D: Um … yes, but from this level, like I don’t think I could give you twelve strong rap records, you know? I may be able to put out a hot single, or guest appear on somebody else’s record and give you a hot sixteen bars, but outside of that … You know, so I’ll just say I think my best days with it are behind me. I’m moving forward to bigger, bigger ambitions, brighter ambitions, and I’m still here. I’m still relevant in my way of just being an artist, you understand? So, yeah, I mean I can sit here and write a rhyme as good as anybody at this point, but with what? With what type of passion? Like, you gotta have a point of view, and I always felt like there needs to be a 100% level of honesty coming from an artist, you know? You’re obviously in this business, but a lot of these cats aren’t being honest. They’re just making records. And, I don’t want to take it from that perspective. I just want to be honest, and, honestly, I feel like I could never do it as good as I’ve done it, as well as I’ve already done it.

BallerStatus.com: How did you come up with the title, Vibes?

Heavy D: Well, funny enough, like Wyclef and myself — Wyclef’s a reggae fan, and he knows how — he’s Haitian, I’m Jamaican. Whenever we would see each other, we’d be just like … we would say nothing, but just, “Vibes, Vibes.” And, it’s just like this wonderful energy, and funny to us, all at the same time. Because first he would say, like, “Vibes,” and just give each other a pound. It’s always resonated with me ’cause still to this day, if I see him, it’s the first thing we say to each other. I was really, like, just looking and digging and searching for a name, and like, it just came to me one day: “Vibes.” It’s because of the feeling. Like to me, it was just all about the feeling, ’cause “Vibes” is appealing, and at the same time kinda synonymous to being parallel in terms of what I was trying to reach for. It just fit perfect. It’s one of those words that means so much, without being with too many syllables. And, it’s just a powerful, strong word, and the “Vibes” from my album is all good feelings.

BallerStatus.com: How does it actually measure up to what you had already been known for?

Heavy D: Well, it’s how can I … it’s Heavy D, but now, and with a real reggae feel. I reached back to try and emulate like famed recording label of the ’60s and ’70s Studio One type feeling. Like a lot of Ska. There’s a lot of “live” instrumentation — live horns, live scratch, live guitars, live drums, live tracks. I just kept the energy “live” ’cause I think a lot of that is missing out of music today. That energy that comes from the musicians, you know? A lot of the musicians I worked with are top tier musicians. You got cats like Warryn Campbell, Teddy Campbell … I mean a bunch of dudes on there who are world renowned for their instrumentations, and the album is just gonna feel like you’re not listening to anything synchronized or syncopated. It’s just … It feels free. The energy’s good, like, you’re gonna be just uplifted. It’s interesting ’cause what I’m noticing now is that there’s a younger generation, which I wasn’t expecting, that is really embracing it. Like when I go to these big meetings like at Vibe magazine, and that’s just when there’s thirty people in the room listening to the album, when they leave, a lot of these young 18 and 21 year olds, they come up to me and go, “Man, it’s gonna be great. Like our college is gonna love this!” You know, and my 15, 16 year old nieces and nephews, their friends are like, “I really like this!” Like they’re surprised that they like it, ’cause to them I’m like the old rapper dude. So, when they hear it, they’re like, “It’s so good!” What’s starting to happen is like what I was saying before, it’s like there’s this quote that I like to use like “The truth is magnetic.” It just feels good, so you can’t help but listen to it and feel good as well. That’s what I set out to do.

BallerStatus.com: Sonically, I don’t see a great big difference in what you are doing within Vibes, and what’s already been going on musically in hip-hop.

Heavy D: No, you’re right. I said that the other day to somebody. I was saying that now you have reggae artists and that they’re basically rhyming over hip-hop and R&B beats, which is the evolution of music itself, and that’s fine.

BallerStatus.com: Which type of music is easier for you to create?

Heavy D: Well it’s less words, so this is a little easier. It’s like you’re only filling up … and, it’s weird. It’s like with a rap record, you gotta fill up sixteen bars. With an R&B record, you gotta fill up eight bars. So, it’s way less work, in terms of like how many words you gotta use. But, what I try to do is always find a concept, and I’m always inspired by the music first, you know? 90% of the time I write songs based on what the music is saying to me. If I get an idea, a melody idea, musically I’ll call in the band and I’ll just tell everybody the part how I want it to sound, and how I want it played. Then, the ideas start. A hook will come in, I’ll say, “Okay, I got the hook.” Once I get the hook, that’s it ’cause the rest …oOnce I get the hook, because the hook is really the concept of the song. What you hear in the hook is what the song is about, and now you gotta fill in the blanks.

BallerStatus.com: When did Heavy D first come to love music?

Heavy D: Ah, man, back in the day bangin’ on the car, and I would memorize all the lyrics. I would know it like at an early age. Like my mother would tell me that I would always be picking up the newspaper, and just looking at the words, like trying to see words. I guess I had a passion for words or wordplay. Even as an actor, like that’s what interests me most about acting is the melody in the words. I had this conversation with Denzel Washington or Delroy Lindo. We were talking about different techniques and approach, and I was like, “I hear music, literally, when I read dialog.” Especially like lengthy dialog, I find melodies. They were telling me it was actually a good thing.

But, when I was eight, I think I wrote my first rhyme, and that was, like, third grade-ish. By then, hip-hop was there ’cause Mount Vernon was so close to the Bronx. We were basically right there, and I was affected immediately. I started in the basement, started forming our little crews in the third and fourth grade, and … but, I was the only one who kept sticking with it right through sixth, seventh grade. I would always write rhymes, and by then I had a little kinda, like, I was the little dude that can rap in the neighborhood. I came to the block parties, go to the hood. My older brothers, they were kinda on the other side of the tracks if you will. So, I was always able to get on somebody’s microphone for a good thirty, forty seconds, and then people be like, “Damn, he’s good.” So, I had a little following.

When I was fourteen, fifteen, I dropped out of school and started making demos, and I held down two or three jobs because I promised my parents that if it didn’t work out, I would go get my GED and go to college. Of course it didn’t work out right away, so I had to go and get my GED and then went to college for a quarter of a semester, and finally it broke off. Like I finally got Andre Harrell to listen to the demo, and he was just starting Uptown Records, and we were … like, our style fit his image. Like Andre was just the kind of guy … you remember Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of “Genius Rap” fame? They were in suits. We started in sweats, and ended up in suits, and that was basically Andre’s vision of how to make it fly. He was the first person the whole “Ghetto Fabulous” thing was all Andre.

BallerStatus.com: You mention growing up on a mix of AM radio and MTV, but who from the reggae world really influenced you?

Heavy D: Coming up, it was you know the Cold Crush Brothers for hip-hop, but, of course, Bob Marley. But, like on the reggae side, it was like Yellowman, Brigadier Jerry, Josey Wells, and Super Cat, who was like the epitome of it for me. Like that was the dude who I admired the most. But those older cats, like, I would have tapes, man, where you hear like Josey Wells or Brigadier Jerry just filling up a sixty minute tape non-stop. They used to do dancehall shows from sundown to sun-up and that was like, I mean, the feeling I used to get from that was unbelievable. So, those are my favorites, as far as influences. But, even my rap style, if you go back and compare it to when I used to do all the “Diddly-Dee” and fast rhyming stuff, like that was all from my reggae groups. That was all from the music that I grew up with.

BallerStatus.com: Tell me how you and Troy hooked up initially, and later brought in both Glen & Eddie F to complete “The Boyz?”

Heavy D: Troy was my best friend since third grade. We were like super-tight. We just always lived a block, not even on the same block. Always, from the time I was eight, seven years old, when I moved to Mount Vernon, Troy was the first person I had a fight with. So then, we became like best friends. Troy was the kind of guy … I was more of an introvert. I was always one of those guys that was like, “Nah, I’m not gonna go out.” But, Troy was always out like partying, a pretty popular guy. He knew … he and Glen were friends, and he knew Eddie F ’cause Eddie F was the local DJ at this time. I had already made a few demos, and I needed a DJ. Remember, back then you couldn’t be a rapper without a DJ? You needed a DJ. And then, Eddie turns out to be this computer genius who actually is like on his way to go to computer college. You know, Eddie was gonna be like an IBM executive. He probably would’ve been like Bill Gates or something. Instead, we pulled our money together. I remember winning $1,500 illegally at Atlantic City. We went on a bus trip with the neighbors. So, we were supposed to walk around, but I think I put like fifty cents in the slot machine and I hit like $1,500. Then I came home, and hid that money. I didn’t tell anybody. I might’ve put it in my shoes. I took it to Eddie, and I was like, “Let’s get a drum machine.” So, we bought like a DX. I think it was the first drum machine we bought, and made “Mr. Big Stuff.”

BallerStatus.com: Right after the release of Nuttin’ But Love, the group parted ways and you went completely solo. How come?

Heavy D: No, no, it was not … You know, it was never that. Eddie, I think at the time, you ‘member he had Untouchables Entertainment, and it was doing really well. He had a couple of groups and production for several artists. I guess he just got tired of being on the road. Eddie F really was the first person to start the whole “have your own label and own artist” thing. He had … you know, with Kenny Greene the singer?

BallerStatus.com: Intro.

Heavy D: Intro, you’re right! He had Intro, Pete Rock & CL Smooth that was his group. Pete, who also is my cousin and lived on the same block as me, like, we all grew up together. Eddie, I think, just really by then, we had just beaten up the road a good seven, eight years, hard, and I think Eddie just was more like, “I want to be more of a businessman.” By the Nuttin’ But Love album, all they did for that was show up for a photo shoot for the album cover. It was a mutual decision. It wasn’t no bitterness. It was they were always there if I needed ’em. Glen, I think traveled with us, but didn’t perform, and then it was kinda just natural progression. It’s like after Troy passed away, it was just like ’cause he was the link, you know? But, we’re all extremely close. Like we’re still family, so …

BallerStatus.com: Honestly, you have had a very lengthy tenure in the entertainment business. What has been your secret in staying relevant all this time?

Heavy D: Well, the thing that I’ve been saying over the years, and that I will continue to say, is “passion.” You could be successful at something without passion, but you can’t have longevity or quality without passion. And, I love what I do. So, I cross the T’s and I dot the I’s, because I want to make sure everything is as perfect as I could humanly possibly make it from a one person’s perspective. Because the longevity comes from how much you really love what you’re doing, and I love what I’m doing. That’s why I love it so much that I know I can tell you that there’s no way I can do a whole rap album right now. I love it too much just to even try it.

BallerStatus.com: On the acting front, what do some of your future plans entail?

Heavy D: Yeah, well, this fall — I don’t exactly know which play I’ll be doing — but I will be doing another play in California. I am also in the process of having a TV show, and I just finished a script with my writing partner whose name is Avery Williams. Give him credit, Avery Williams. The name of the script is called “Cross,” and we’re close to having the finances for it.

BallerStatus.com: Which do you prefer more, being in front of the camera? Or, “live” on stage?

Heavy D: Well, you know what, here’s how the medium breaks down. If you’re a TV person, TV is really run by the writers, who are slash producers, so that’s their world: film. Movies are the directors’ medium. That’s their world. Stage … The stage is the only place an actor … once you hit the stage, there is no pausing. There is no stopping. That’s the only place you can really fulfill the actor, I should say. I like it all, but I prefer the pacing of the play as opposed to the pacing of filmmaking.

BallerStatus.com: Do you still keep up with what’s going on in today’s hip-hop music?

Heavy D: Well I’ll be honest with you, I don’t. I’m not even really that familiar with the current state of it ’cause — and, it’s not in a negative way — but the interest, my interest levels aren’t in hip-hop. Like, when you in hip-hop culture, like everything I do is … my whole swagger is still through hip-hop. But, as far as the music goes, I don’t relate to it. I don’t know what what the latest fad is anymore. I don’t know what the latest dress code is, or … because I’m a grown man. But, I dress according to how I still feel, you know? I’m always gonna have a pair of Adidas shell toes or gonna have a pair of Air Force Ones. I’m always gonna have the retro Jordans. I know to wear the Levis right now, but I may not put on True Religion or some other kind of, like … I’m definitely not doing skinny jeans. And, I don’t think I’m gonna get in a fade soon. So, there’s just certain things like, “Dude, I did that … can’t do it no more.” But as far as the music goes, I love Kanye West. I don’t know, is Kanye still young and relevant?

BallerStatus.com: I would definitely think so …

Heavy D: ‘Cause every time I turn around, somebody just says “Lil Wayne is better than Jay-Z.” I gotta go, “Man, you know I’m out of it.” I mean, it’s like the general consensus. I’m like, “Okay then, it’s over for me. I’m out.” I don’t even have an opinion.

BallerStatus.com: Yeah, comparing the two rappers seem pretty ludicrous to me, too.

Heavy D: I love what Lil Wayne does though by the way. By him, I love to see there’s an artist in him, and like he totally reaches, you know? That’s what I love about whatever talent is out now. I don’t care about the seventeen girls in the video, flexing with your shirt off, whoever you are. I care about, like, how far you can take it, to push yourself, and Wayne I think pushes himself.

BallerStatus.com: Yeah, that’s definitely true.

Heavy D: How do people feel about 50 Cent right now?

BallerStatus.com: I think hip-hop fans are pretty divided about 50 right now.

Heavy D: I don’t know. Like 50’s somebody I like, but I don’t know how, like, my nephew’s gonna feel about 50.

BallerStatus.com: For the most part though, I think a lot of people feel like 50’s basically fallen off some.

Heavy D: Yeah, but, he’s still a businessman.

BallerStatus.com: And, what’s up with the Boyz — G-Whiz and Eddie F?

Heavy D: Uh Glen, he like works with troubled youth facilities, but he’s like one of the top. I don’t know what his title is, but he’s been there for many years and he’s actually perfect for it. And Eddie, has started some online company, MusicWerks.com, I think it’s called where you could basically, like, you can put a record out through their company right away, and he’s doing music business from that angle. But, he’s taking more control of his life. Everybody’s happy … like in a happy place.

BallerStatus.com: Are there any plans to work together again?

Heavy D: Yeah, I definitely would work with Eddie for sure. And Glen, I spoke to G-Whiz probably about a month ago, and he’s a father of two beautiful girls. One’s away in college.

BallerStatus.com: I recently interviewed your cousin, Pete Rock, for his new album, and he expressed interest in working with you again. Any plans to carry that out, too?

Heavy D: Yeah, Pete’s gonna do one of the remixes for the record. It’s funny, Pete was just over at the house yesterday. He was here visiting with my mom, and I just happened to catch him, chopped it up. I played him the album about two months ago, when he was in L.A., and I played him the finished version of it again, and he loved it. He was super excited.

BallerStatus.com: Another thing I can’t forget to point out is the fact that you, literally, aren’t “Heavy” anymore! How much weight did you actually lose?

Heavy D: Altogether, man, 140, 150 pounds, maybe.

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