From The Fat Boys to Notorious B.I.G. via Fat Joe and Big Pun, many hip-hop performers have opted for a nom de rap that makes the most of their considerable size.
The engaging, playful rapper Heavy D tipped the scales at 21st and seemed to be following the comedic route of The Fat Boys when he called his 1987 debut album with his crew, the Boyz, Living Large and packed it with ridiculously-titled tracks like "The Overweight Lover's In The House", "Chunky But Funky" and a remake of Jean Knight's R&B crossover hit "Mr. Big Stuff" that made the British charts. Yet he managed to avoid the novelty-act tag and eschewed the gangsta style rap that became prevalent in the 1990s.
More articulate and personable than many hip-hop performers of his generation, Heavy D went on to forge a career that combined acting, rapping and record production. The high watermarks were his guest appearances on worldwide hits by Janet Jackson – the bright and bouncy "Alright" in 1990 – and her brother Michael – the mechanic funk of "Jam" in 1992 – that bookended Heavy D & The Boyzs' biggest hit, a version of the O'Jays' Philly soul classic "Now That We Found Love" in 1991.
He was born Dwight Errington Myers in Mandeville, Jamaica in 1967, the family moving to Mount Vernon, New York, in the early '70s: "From the time I was eight, I was listening to Afrika Bambaataa and a lot of these other cats and making rhymes." Around the same time, he met Troy Dixon – later known as Trouble T Roy or T.R.O.Y. in the Boyz.
In 1986, Heavy D & the Boyz spent the $1,500 they'd won on slot machines in Atlantic City on a drum machine and the recording of a tape that attracted the attention of André Harrell. He was about to launch Uptown Records and signed them to the label that soon became synonymous with the New Jack Swing genre. Riley's fusion of dance and rap became the dominant sound of US urban radio and he produced "Now That We Found Love" and several of the tracks that helped establish Heavy D & the Boyz, on their first album and on Big Tyme (1989) and Peaceful Journey (1991), which paid tribute to Trouble T Roy who had died in a freak accident in 1990. "My brother also died in 1989. Out of losses you can always find plusses," Heavy D remarked in typically positive fashion.
In 1990, Heavy D & the Boyz recorded the theme song for the sketch comedy programme In Living Color. He was instrumental in launching the careers of the gifted producer Pete Rock, his cousin, and the rap mogul Sean "Puffy" Combs, whom he recruited as an intern at Uptown. "Heavy D is the person who gave me my first chance," Combs said. "He believed when no one else did." In 1996 Heavy D became Uptown's president after Harrell moved to Motown but soon relinquished the reins follow up an acting career.
Having made his film debut in New Jersey Drive, a 1995 routine crime story, he appeared in The Cider House Rules, the 1999 drama by Lasse Hallström starring Tobey Maguire, Michael Caine and Charlize Theron; Life, the 1999 prison movie featuring Eddie Murphy; and Tower Heist, the comedy with Murphy and Ben Stiller which has just opened. He also appeared off-Broadway in Riff Raff, a play written by Laurence Fishburne, in 1996, and had recurrent roles in several popular TV series, including the sitcoms The Tracy Morgan Show, Living Single and Roc, and the dramas Bones and Boston Public.
He released two more albums with the Boyz followed by four solo efforts, the last being Love Opus two months ago. He also found time to rap on Deuces Wild, the 1997 album by blues legend BB King, and produced the soulful hit "Summer Rain" for Carl Thomas in 2000, and "Feel It In The Air" by rapper Beanie Sigel in 2005. "Producing is always fun," he said. "The pressure on delivering is not on me, it's on the artist." He paired Jay-Z and Lenny Kravitz for "Guns & Roses", one of the best tracks on Jay-Z's album The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse in 2002.
A perfectionist in his live and television work, Heavy D was fleet of foot for someone his size and enjoyed dancing on stage and in his videos. When asked about his unlikely sex symbol status, he said: "It has nothing to do with looks. I feel comfortable with myself, but it's more about the personality. I feel sexy."
He recently performed "Jam" with La Toya Jackson at a Michael Jackson tribute concert in Cardiff and appeared at the BET Hip Hop Awards in the US last month. He had reportedly lost 135lb, but collapsed outside his Beverly Hills home. His death was attributed to respiratory distress.
Dwight Errington Myers (Heavy D), rapper, songwriter, producer and actor: born Mandeville, Jamaica 24 May 1967; one daughter; died Los Angeles 8 November 2011.