Giving Thanks For Heavy D

Heavy D as Darryl on Living Single

Thanksgiving is a day for reminiscing and being thankful for bounteous harvests, for friends, for family, for blessings, for being alive. We’re even thankful for television moments that bring us together, making us laugh, celebrate, and reminisce.

Perhaps for you the holiday invokes Theo and Heathcliff Huxtable carving a turkey in faux Julia Child voice. Or possibly you imagine a quirky Cincinatti radio station bombing a shopping center parking lot with frozen turkeys. Or, maybe, for you, it’s Lucy repeatedly yanking the football away everytime Charlie Brown attempts to kick it.

For me, Thanksgiving conjures up the image of a corny, heavyset guy named Darryl offering up words of gratitude surrounded by friends at the dinner table. His words were this:

Thanksgiving. It’s a tradition to give thanks. Me, I’d like to offer thanks for giving. ‘Cause you see, giving teaches us something that receiving doesn’t. It allows us to look deep within ourselves. And so thank you…”

I, like many people, was taken by surprise at how, well, heavy the impact Heavy D’s death has been on me. Normally, at best, I feel brief moment of sympathy for a celebrity who passes, but with Heavy I feel a sense of tremendous loss.  But why? Hev wasn’t my friend, relative, or classmate. He didn’t pay my bills. The few times I met Heavy, it was in passing at music industry events. I doubt we exchanged more than two words. So why is his death so hard to take? As the Thanksgiving holiday approached, the words “thanks for giving” that Hev uttered through his character on Living Single resonated loudly in my head. As I mourn his death I asked myself:  What did Dwight Arrington Myers give us?

He gave us consistency. In his music, his tv and film roles, his interviews, his off-camera public life, and in his family life, Hev was the same person. He didn’t have entourages. He didn’t generate salacious tabloid stories. His friends and fans have written reflections via website comments, facebook status updates, articles, and Twitter tweets that time and time again that show Heavy D’s off-stage character matched his wholesome onstage one. dream hampton wrote and tweeted about how important fatherhood was to Hev. His colleagues past and present have expressed “nuttin’ but love” for him. Dwight Arrington Myers exemplified the concept of what you say or do in the dark will be revealed in the light. From his first days when he indulged a 13 year girl in his hometown with a hug and photo, to his mid days when he pulled aside a woman who quietly shrugged off being sexually harassed at party whom he told “to never let a man disrespect you,” to his last days, in a time when others tweet petty and malicious arguments, his last words were “Be inspired,” Heavy D’s life stood up to the light.

He gave us self-confidence. When I was a teen there was a saying, “I’m not conceited, I’m convinced.” Hev convinced us that is was more than okay to love yourself. He didn’t sit on the sidelines; he danced front and center. He wasn’t shy and fearful, Mr Big Stuff announced himself loudly and proudly. He didn’t hide in drab colors or improperly fitting outdated clothes. He was stylish, and often wore tailored suits in bright colors. And even after finding great fame, he let us know in his actions and in his music that we should be loved for who we are, not for what we are perceived to be. He told hardcore rappers “Don’t curse.” And they didn’t clown him for it. No one ever punked Hev. He was big, Black, urban, male, and goodhearted, and he made all of us–even the initially doubtful hip-hop community and parents,–embrace all of who he was with wide open arms.

He gave us Uptown. I’m not just talking about the record label. I’m talking about the image of what it means to be from a region past 96th Street in Manhattan. Hev epitomized what it means to be from uptown. He was about family (it’s no surprise that he worked alongside his cousins Pete Rock and Maxi Priest). He had humility. Egos are not allowed to run big uptown in the Boogie Down and Money Earning Mount Vernon. There’s an understanding—you can be a superstar in the world, but when you come home, leave Hollywood where you found it. He was about class, family values and integrity. No disrespect to Biggie, Tupac, and others, but even in death Hev didn’t give us controversy. There were no headlines of turf wars, shootings, baby mama drama, or former loves, fans, colleagues or family members spewing bitterness and hate. I mean, in his death, Hev even got Puffy, excuse me Diddy, to take a moment of silence and stop tweeting for days. Hev was about remembering where you came from. Consistent even in his death, a Beverly Hills man whose family chose to honor his life and legacy at Grace Baptist Church, in Mount Vernon, Hev was and always will be from uptown…way, way uptown, just past the last stop in the Bronx on the #2 train, in his beloved Mount Vernon, New York. Hev’s funeral showed the world what it means to be from uptown. His funeral wasn’t a show, it wasn’t flash, it was real. It was about friends, about family, and about community.

He gave us roots. Hev may have been dipped and dyed in the New York and Hollywood scenes, but let’s be clear, Hev was inherently American and unapologetically Jamaican. Roots. Those of us with island blood in our veins saw evidence of his culture in more than just his musical tributes to the land where he was born. We saw a man who loved himself some cooked food, was sure not to embarrass the family name, minded him muddah and faddah, had the walk of a lion, and never forgot the yard from where he came. Re-spect. Inside every diddly, diddly, dee, there was a tribute to the language and rhythm of his people. As a man who self-proclaimed “relentless optimism,” Hev personified what it means to be irie.

He gave Gen X, Gen Y and Millennials a concept of legacy. While others chant “Lifes a b*tch and then you die, that’s why we get high,” Hev wanted us to find love, our own thing, and peace. His death has given many of us pushing (or pulling) forty-four a sharp reality check, like a brisk dunk in a cold plunge pool. Maybe it’s because he was 44 and just seemed to up and die, proving that tomorrow really isn’t promised to any of us. As we look back on Hev’s career, which paved the way for many artists and the industry and culture that hip-hop has grown to be, we find ourselves soul searching and asking ourselves what mark have we made with our lives? Many of the mourners who attended his public wake were tweens and teens whose parents are not dramatically different in age than Hev was. His music is the soundtrack of their childhoods. As they hear and see their current idols recognizing the impact Heavy D had on their lives and their industry, there is a seed planted nurturing their own legacies to be.

He gave us joy. I think what hurts us so much is how many good memories of Hev we have. We remember dancing to his music with our friends at a club or in the backyard or in a basement party. We remember the number of husky neighborhood boys who would overtly announce themselves as “The Overweight Lover in the House” instead of allowing themselves to be labeled as fat, ugly or obese. We remember the peals of laughter during repeated tries (and failures) to simultaneously hold and jump over our feet as we saw Heavy D and the Boyz do so effortlessly in videos. And we smile thinking of how a simple corny deliveryman named Darryl humbled the superficial and materialistic Regine on our favored sitcom Living Single.

Hev floated into most of our lives dancing on feet as light as feather, and he floated out of our lives gracefully on a Peaceful Journey, the final song that played as his coffin exited the church towards its final resting place. In his eulogy tribute to Heavy D, Rev Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson emphasized the importance of separating who Hev is from what he is. His body is no more; it’s what used to be. But who Hev was will never change. He will always be.

On thanksgiving, as we reminisce over the people, places and things that we are thankful for, I wanted to take a moment to be thankful for the things that I have to give. Thoughts, memories, and words are mine to share.

And so I thank you Lord, for giving us Heavy D.

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