On Tuesday, November 8, 2011, the world lost hip-hop icon Dwight Arrington Myers, better known as “The Overweight Lover” Heavy D, at the young age of 44. Many were shocked and saddened to hear of his passing, a wave of grief spanning not just the hip-hop community, but stage, screen, television and other music genres. I am especially saddened because he is of my generation – I owned copies of, listened to, and danced and sang along to his music. He will be missed and I am praying for his family in their time of loss.
Being the classic hip-hop head that I am, I had to do a little extra reflecting at this time. I have found myself shying away from the radio and social media tributes, perhaps wanting to grieve in my own private way. Perhaps it is because my grief is larger than just over the loss of such a talented young man. While riding today, I heard Run-DMC’s first hit, “Sucker MCs” on a classic hip-hop station and smiled, as this was the second rap hit I learned to recite by heart (The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rappers Delight” being the first). I thought of Heavy D and how his early hits with Heavy D and The Boys were part of a clean and refreshing new hip-hop/R&B sub-genre called “New Jack Swing.” I reflected on a post I wrote back in January, “Maybe Hip-Hop IS Dead After All?” and decided to revisit my affirmation about the death of hip-hop.
Listening to Run-DMC made me think of Jam Master Jay’s untimely death some years ago. Interestingly enough, it was through social media outlets that I read the unbelievable news of both Jay and Heavy D. There has been no Tweet or Facebook post that declares hip-hop’s demise, yet I feel that pieces of the hip-hop I met and loved as a youth are slowly being lost. Lost, first through the physical deaths of some of its originators, and then through the unfortunate desecration of this sacred genre by so-called artists whose “songs” are filled with a myriad of excessively profane, misogynistic and often downright nonsensical and unoriginal lyrics. Much of today’s so-called hip-hop is merely a bad genetic mutation of the original rap/hip-hop music of the 70’s, 80’s and even early 90’s.
I remember when my sister first purchased the “Rapper’s Delight” 12-inch. It was around Christmas and we were having a big family dinner at our house. My mother had heard of this “rap” and she insisted we play it and show our aunts and uncles how “y’all dance to this rap music.” I remember my family being totally amazed that I knew all the words to the short version of RD (side note: who remembers there was a “long version” and a “short version?” You were a real fiend if you actually memorized the “long version!”) And we had FUN…you could actually recite the lyrics without fear of being popped in the mouth for using foul language (OK, well maybe with the exception of the term “super-sperm,” but that’s neither here nor there!). Even Sucker MCs and other raps of that time were relatively profanity-free. Imagine having the family gathered around this Thanksgiving to hear the youngins singing some Lil’ Wayne tune! (Oh, the horror!)
Some say I’m hard on the game. No, I’m hard on what’s happening in the game. I’m hard on people standing on the shoulders of Run-DMC, Heavy D, KRS-One, Afrikaa Bambaataa, Roxanne Shante, DJ Sha-Rock and so many others, only to produce some of the garbage that is being labeled as hip-hop. The hip-hop I knew is DEAD. Any remnants are found only in independent and underground movements, in the halls of hip-hop history, and kept alive in proxy through classic hip-hop radio programming. We need to remind the youngins of the early hip-hop movement – the sound, the quality, the LYRICS! Hoping the ghosts of hip-hop come and pinch today’s artists and encourage them to do better.
Rest in peace Heavy D…remembering your last Tweet – “BE INSPIRED.”