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There was once a time in music when the word “legend” was thrown around like thin, multicolored double dutch ropes on a warm Sunday. Everyone bestowed the word— which has become waterless, easily digestible, and as familiar as a catchphrase. And really, what makes a legend? Is it the effortless embodiment of a particular thing? The longevity? Impact? A body of work that boasts powerful praise?
Though this is an endless argument, many involved in the “old and new” world of the culture we call hip-hop will easily stand up and say that not many can wear the crown of a legend… But then, Hev: a rapper, producer, actor, businessman, dancer, tastemaker and artistic genius is hands down the epitome of such praise.
“He’s the classiest person in hip hop ever,” radio host Ed Lover once said.
Known in the late ’80s and early ’90s as the star of Heavy D & the Boyz, Hev, the 250-pound, lovable emcee has managed to remain relevant after parlaying an illustrious solo career, acting career and influential roles as a label executive.
Born Dwight Errington Myers in Jamaica in 1967, Hev was raised by Eulahlee Myers, a nurse, and Clifford Vincent Myers, a movieola tech. When he was 4, his parents moved to the Bronx, New York and Mount Vernon four years later where Hev eventually became the big kid in class, not just for his commanding physical presence, but popularity with the ladies. In junior high school, Hev – always a ringleader- was making his own rap demo tapes. By the ninth grade he’d dropped out of school and was introduced to G-Wiz (born Glen Parrish) and popular DJ, Eddie F (born Eddie Ferrell) by his best friend since third grade, Troy Dixon a.k.a. Trouble T-Roy, who met Eddie and Glen through the New York party scene. The four formed a rap group called Heavy D & the Boyz.
Their demo tape fell into the hands of legendary Uptown Records founder Andre Harrell, and in 1986 Heavy D & the Boyz became the first artists signed to Uptown. Their 1987 debut Living Large, featured the classics “Mr. Big Stuff,” and “The Overweight Lover’s in the House,” and became a major crossover hit. Large solidified Hev as the first hefty male heartthrob in hip-hop, who was known as much for his suggestively sweet and respectful lyrics towards women, as his slick dance routines.
Though Living Large was well-received and went gold, the group’s second effort, Big Tyme, which featured the hits “Somebody for Me,” and “We Got Our Own Thang,” became a platinum phenomenon. It also took Hev out the arena of being seen as just a tenderhearted, lovable emcee, and into the conscious fold of a skilled songwriter and versatile superstar who could touch all genres of pop music.
Heavy D & the Boyz went on to release three more successful albums, including 1991’s platinum-selling Peaceful Journey, which was dedicated to the tragic lost of Boyz member Trouble T-Roy and Hev’s brother Tony. The album was named by Hev’s other brother Jerry, who passed away a few years after its release.
By 1995, Hev – looking for a fresh start – became one of the first rap artists to head a major label after accepting a prestigious offer to take over as president of Uptown Records. This spawned the careers of everyone from Mary J. Blige and Jodeci (whom Hev convinced Andre Harrell to sign), to a young A&R exec named Sean “P. Diddy” Combs who Hev hired. During his tenure, he signed R&B star Monifah, and the group Soul For Real of the hit 1995 single, “Candy Rain.”
But after awhile, Hev began to miss his true passion: discovering and developing new talent. So in 1997, Hev moved on from Uptown to become Senior Vice President of Universal Records, where his focus became scouting and nourishing the careers of new hip-hop, pop, and R&B acts.
That same year, he dropped his first solo album, the Uptown/Universal LP Waterbed Hev, which featured one of the biggest West Coast rap duos of that time, Tha Dogg Pound. The album turned out to be an R&B-flavored success that was hard enough for the streets, and relevant enough for a new generation of hip-hop heads. He soon followed up with 1999’s Heavy.
Around this time, Hev was also raising eyebrows for his various acting roles. Though he was a regular face on the popular ’90s sitcoms Roc (Calvin Hendricks) and Living Single (Darryl), he won the hearts of critics in 1995 when he starred in the Laurence Fishburne-directed off-Broadway play Riff Raff, which earned him a prestigious Drama Desk Award nomination.
Hev went on to appear in several films including 1995’s New Jersey Drive (Bo-Kane) Life (Jake, 1999) and The Cider House Rules (Peaches, 1999), which went on to win two Academy Awards. By 2000, Hev had a recurring role as Big Boy on the Emmy-award winning television drama Boston Public.
In 2002, he co-starred in the comedy Big Trouble, as FBI Agent Pat Greer. The film, directed by the legendary Barry Sonnenfeld – whose film credits include Get Shorty (1995) and Men in Black II (2002) – also starred Tim Allen, Rene Russo, Omar Epps, and Tom Sizemore.
In 2006, Hev was honored with a “NAACP Spirit Award” for his riveting starring role as Dale “D.J.” Jackson, a Vietnam veteran in the Will Smith executive produced and Delroy Lindo directed play Medal of Honor Rag.
But never straying too far from his rap roots, Hev kept busy with an impressive catalog of production work ranging from Jay-Z’s “Guns & Roses” off 2003’s The Blueprint 2.1, Timbaland & Magoo’s “I Got Luv 4 Ya” from their album Under Construction, Pt. II (2003), and Beanie Sigel’s critically-acclaimed “Feel It In The Air” off 2005’s The B. Coming, to name a few.
Now Hev’s back with his highly anticipated reggae album Vibes. Though it’s been a long time coming, this time Hev’s heading back to his deeply carved Caribbean/reggae roots.
“It’s really the first music I’ve ever experienced,” says the now 41-year-old, who has collaborated with reggae legends such as Super Cat, Buju Banton, Josey Wales and Robert French to name a few. “I feel excited again, like I’m doing something for the first time! I feel like I can give the people something with passion and quality.”
Hev, who has been blending hip-hop with reggae for years, started working on Vibes five years ago, perfecting it in secret. One of his favorite tracks on the album, “Delilah,” is close to nine years old. The overall result is a squeaky clean reflection of Hev’s growth, and unlike his past dance routine days, he feels no pressure to attempt to keep up with his legend in hip-hop.
“I didn’t want to disrespect the hip hop culture by doing a hip hop album with half the passion,” he says. “I truly believe that I’ve given my best to rap music. Anything more would be less than stellar culture. The people deserve better. My spirit was leaning more towards my roots.”
Vibes will feature reggae heavyweights Sizzla and Barrington Levy. The first single, “Long Distance Girlfriend,” is a steady-tempo, horn heavy rhythmic track that landed on every major music website and blog it’s first day of release. The album is set to drop September 2008 under Hev’s label Stride Records (Universal).
In regards to the timing, Hev is cool on that…besides, what legend wouldn’t be?
“The timing chose me,” he says matter-of-factly, “I didn’t choose it.”