Heavy D and the Boyz ~ Living Large (1987)

Posted on October 21, 2012

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This release brought a new dynamic to the rap game; as well as a new sound that emanated from Black New York. Heavy D & the Boyz, from the Big Apple suburb of Mount Vernon, was the flagship act for Uptown Records, the storied rap and R&B label founded by iconic impresario Andre Harrell. Comprised of Jamaica-bred MC Heavy D (Dwight Myers), DJ Eddie F (Edward Ferrell), and dancers G-Wiz (Glen Parrish) and Trouble T-Roy (Troy Dixon), the crew introduced a distinctive style and sensibility to the rap world; that helped forge an inseparable bond between rap and R&B, and typified the Uptown sound that would move millions of bodies in the years to come.

Few people could have envisioned the impact Heavy D would have on the music world when he touched down; with the possible exception of the man that put him on. Born in Mandeville, Jamaica and raised in Mount Vernon, New York; a working-class city just north of The Bronx, Heavy D idolized Hollis, Queens legends Run DMC, and sought to follow their career path to rap stardom. Hev’s ambitions took him to the offices of Rush Management, the firm that managed Run DMC, and several other rap luminaries. While Rush founder Russell Simmons couldn’t see where the Hevster would fit within the Hip Hop universe, one of his associates could: Bronx native Andre Harrell, who served as both a Rush exec (Vice President) and a client, as one half of the Rush-managed duo Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde. Simmons brushed off Harrell’s assertion that Heavy D could be a matinee idol, and when Harrell landed an A&R gig with MCA Records in 1986, he took Hev with him. Harrell’s A&R post led to a production deal with MCA for his own company (Uptown Records), and Uptown greeted the world in late ’86 with a compilation album called Uptown Is Kickin’ It, which featured the song “Mr. Big Stuff”, the debut single by Heavy D, and a trio of friends dubbed the Boyz. In 1987, Heavy D & the Boyz followed their star turn on Uptown Is Kickin’ It with the first of many dope albums: their debut set Living Large.

Heavy D and the Boyz experiment with different sounds and song templates throughout Living Large, including the loverman aesthetic Heavy D would come to personify in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Legendary Queens producer Marley Marl, a fellow contributor to the Uptown Is Kickin’ It album, helps the Hevster open the set, with the timeless banger “The Overweight Lover’s In The House”. This cut hasn’t aged a second in a quarter century, with Marley Marl’s driving, James Brown-based soul clap that still gets the body moving instantly, and a confident Casanova rhyme flow from Heavy D that hints at the legendary status he’d attain over the next decade plus. Heavy D and DJ Eddie F lace “Nike” in tandem; a slow-trudging ode to the Hevster’s favorite athletic brand, that’s similar in tone to his idol Run DMC’s classic “My Adidas”. “Chunky But Funky” uses a bouncy go-go beat – supplied by Andre Harrell and new jack swing king Teddy Riley – for support, and finds Hev showing us how a big man rocks, and flowing like the Nile along the way. The Teddy Riley produced “Dedicated” plays like an 80’s R&B version of Funkadelic’s “Cosmic Slop”, and it features Uptown Records icon Al B. Sure singing the chorus, while Hev-D speaks on male-female relationships, and the trials that arise from trying to maintain them. On the swing joint “Here We Go”, the drum machine is left on the shelf, in favor of live drums played by guest Allen Jones, and Heavy D uses Jones’ drum line to drop crowd-moving punchlines, while Eddie F works the 1s and 2s. And “On The Dance Floor”, co-produced by Teddy Riley and Andre Harrell, gives a taste of the syncopated thump Uptown would make famous, and finds Heavy D doing what he does best: spitting witty one-liners and turning out the party, over a jittery, digitized track a new jack swing singer would be perfectly suited for.

The adventurous sounds found on the first half of Living Large give this album flexibility, but the harder edge of the album’s second half is most welcome. Al B. Sure appears once again on “Money Earnin’ Mount Vernon”, the DJ Eddie F produced ode to the home of Heavy D & The Boyz, where Eddie F merges drum stomps with the bassline from the O’Jays classic “For The Love Of Money”, and Al B. Sure croons the original’s familiar “Money, Money, Money, Money” refrain, while Hev salutes the Westchester County town that he, the Boyz, and Al B. Sure all call home. Both Heavy D and Eddie F come off strong on “Overweighter”, with Eddie F mixing admirably on the turntables and concocting its booming track from a sample of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”, while Hev flips verbs like an acrobat, and interacts splendidly with his DJ. “I’m Getting Paid” – produced by Teddy Riley – is set to a digitized track that recalls the Kool Moe Dee sound of the late 80’s, and evolves into an exercise in sly conceit, with Heavy D flexing his bankroll, and profiling like an all-star. The simmering synth funk Teddy Riley presents on “Rock The Bass” fits Heavy D like a glove, and the big man from Mount Vernon gets loose over the groove with style and flair. And Living Large ends with “Mr. Big Stuff (Remix)”, a reprise of the crew’s first hit, where a young-sounding Hevster revels in his burliness, and flaunts the larger-than-life personality his fans would grow to love.

Though Heavy D & the Boyz was technically a group, Heavy D was clearly the magnum force of the crew. Hev had it all: a remarkable flow, impressive stage presence, metaphorical skills, and a thousand watts of personality. And Hev’s Casanova-fly persona changed the view of what a rap idol should look like. Unlike heart-throbs like LL Cool J and Spoonie Gee, Heavy D wasn’t slim and chiseled; and he didn’t need to be. At 6’3″ and north of 250 pounds, Hev paved the way for other big men with skills and charm, most notably Chubb Rock, Big Pun and The Notorious BIG. But each of the Boyz also played critical roles in the group’s success: G-Wiz and Trouble T-Roy with their ad-libs on records and dope maneuvers in live performances, and DJ Eddie F with his scratching and production underpinning, which would foster a successful sideline career for him in the 1990’s and early millennium.

Though Heavy D didn’t have his career unfold in quite the manner of his idols Run DMC, the Hevster turned out to be a pioneer in his own right. Living Large sold more than 500,000 copies, helped transform Uptown Entertainment into a multi-million dollar entity, formed the basis of a lengthy run of gold and platinum releases for Heavy D & The Boyz, and crafted the building blocks for rap’s union with R&B in the 1990’s. Heavy D and the Boyz would be forever linked with the success of Andre Harrell’s Uptown label; first through the brisk sales of their albums, and later with the championing of Al B. Sure, whom DJ Eddie F befriended and helped get signed, R&B mad band Jodeci, who Heavy D encouraged Harrell to listen to before rejecting their demo tape, and future Hip Hop magnate Sean “P-Diddy” Combs, a Mount Vernon native the Hevster persuaded Harrell to hire as an intern in 1989. The group would have trials to go along with their triumphs, starting with the 1990 death of Troy “Trouble T-Roy” Dixon during a group tour stop in Indianapolis. After Trouble T-Roy’s demise, the surviving members continued a successful run through 1995, before quietly – and amicably – disbanding.

Heavy D embarked on a solo career in 1997; and over the next decade, the big man blazed a multi-faceted trail: releasing gold-selling albums (1997’s Waterbed Hev), serving as President of Uptown Records after Andre Harrell’s 1995 departure; and starting an acting career that took him through the worlds of stage, screen, and television. Sadly, the Hevster joined his friend T-Roy in the afterlife far too soon; collapsing outside his home in Beverly Hills, California on November 8, 2011, and dying from a pulmonary embolism that same day. Their time in the spotlight was brief, but Heavy D and the Boyz contributed mightily to the evolution of rap music. From their battery of flavorful hits, to the other talented acts they helped prosper, Heavy D & the Boyz left an indelible mark on the music world, and proved that good guys could fade the best of ’em. Uptown may have kicked it, but from the sounds of Living Large, so did Mount Vernon.

To listen to Living Large, click here.

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