Heavy D and Tony Dofat
Dwight Errington Meyers had a way with words whether he was rhyming or not. “God gave me a gift to put people at ease,” said the artist known to the world as Heavy D, years before his untimely death in November of 2011.
His pensive words were floating over a smokey loop of “Popcorn With Feeling” by James Brown. “What I do is what I do. If I was to sit down and try to tell you and break it down, technically, I couldn’t. Because I don’t know, and that’s the God’s honest truth. I hear a beat, I feel it, I write it, I say it.”
This was one of several personal revelations Heavy used to bookend the songs on his 1993 album Blue Funk. It was the fourth release by his group Heavy D and The Boyz and the second since losing friend and group member Troy “Trouble T-Roy” Dixon to a freak accident in 1990. It was decidedly more upbeat than its predecessor, Peaceful Journey, but no less introspective. It was a rebirth in many ways for Heavy, and a reunion with a dear friend.
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“Me and Heavy D were best friends since nine years old,” says Tony Dofat, Grammy Award winning producer who has created records for everyone from Mary J. Blige and Christopher Williams to Soul For Real, and Da Band. He was Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs’ right hand man in the studio before The Hitmen were assembled, translating his ideas into hit records. But it all started on a block in Money Earnin’ Mt. Vernon.
“Heavy has a big family. He’s the youngest and I’m the next to youngest and I have a big family [as well]. His older brothers and sisters were friends with my older brothers and sisters. So on Sundays they would come over and sometimes they would bring their little bad ass brother, Dwight. From those days I used to look up to him because of his personality. From that time I could tell when people are gonna be superstars. He was an entertainer from when I was 9. He would come in the room and we would play Kraftwerk’s “Numbers” and he would start popping to it. Pop locking to Kraftwerk. He was still chubby at 11 so when he’d dance his stomach would move under his t-shirt. We would just sit back and look at him and go ‘do it again, do it again.’ Every time he came over I’d ask him to dance to that record.”
While Heavy D and The Boyz would go on to be ambassadors for their native Mt. Vernon as teens, Tony hung back and worked on his production chops making his own way in the industry.
“When he blew up at 16, we kinda didn’t keep in touch,” says Tony. “He didn’t know everything I was doing with Puff. He knew I was making beats and would invite me to his house and let me sample CDs he had etc. Helping me out. I would see him here and there after he got his record deal. He’d drive by like ‘Dofat what up!'”
But as fate would have it Tony’s new production partner was a rising executive at Uptown Records and his boss Andre Harrell gave him the reigns to executive produce an album for their flagship artist, Heavy D.
“Puff was in L.A with Eddie F and I put some beats together, sent them to him and they called me instantly,” Tony remembers. “They were going crazy over them. Every record I sent them they used for the album.”
The first track they recorded was “Who’s The Man,” a dark but funky boast infused with the Steve Miller Bands’ “Fly Like An Eagle” that became the album’s first single. Heavy introduced his friend to the faceless crowd in the booth before the drums kicked in, letting everyone know who was responsible for composing the gangsta boogie.
“He said that because we know each other,” Tony says of the shout out. “That was the first record we ever did in the studio and he was excited that I was his boy and I’m actually producing records for him. And it wasn’t even his decision. It was Puff. Hev could have put me on all day but I got on because of my talent, not because of him knowing me. I was hooked up with Puff making all these hot records and now I’m flying out to L.A to produce one of my best friends. That started me and Heavy’s relationship working together.”
Tony and Heavy would move out to L.A. occupying two houses working on music. When Heavy became the CEO of Uptown Universal he hired Tony to Executive Produce projects like Soul 4 Real, Monifah and McGruff. Through his deal with Universal Tony produced about 30 songs, including the majority of tracks of Heavy’s solo projects like Waterbed Hev, Heavy, Vibes and his last album Love Opus.
While most of the entertainment world knew Heavy D for his clever lyrics and charisma, he was equally active in the studio as a producer.
“Heavy was always in that circle where artists would allow him in the studio and share ideas,” says Tony. “I’ve worked with Babyface in the studio with Heavy. I met a lot of people through him. They would trust him in the studio. So he always had a shot to produce with somebody. That Jay-Z record “Guns-N-Roses” I helped him produce that over the phone. He’d have an idea but I’d help him with the technical stuff. I taught him how to use the MPC and stuff. I helped him pick out his drum sounds and patterns and he gave it to Jay-Z and told him he should put Lenny Kravitz on it.”Heavy D and Pete Rock in the studio
“He definitely had the ear,” adds Pete Rock, Heavy D’s cousin and frequent collaborator. “I taught him how to sequence stuff and make patterns. He caught on once I showed him how to do it. What he felt on the inside of his soul is what he projected out in his music. He’d tell you how he wants it perfectly. I could see it through his eyes sometimes, that’s why it was so easy to work with.”
Two months before his tragic passing, Heavy released his last album Love Opus and both Tony and Pete were part of the process.
“I have probably twenty unreleased songs. A bunch of stuff,” says Tony. “I have this one song we did with the sample from The Marleys, a big record that they did. We never put it out because he didn’t want to use samples then.”
“We were in L.A hanging out and recording because we hadn’t spent time with each other,” Pete remembers. “It was the normal Heavy D session. The normal him wanting to make a perfect song. It was just dope. God does things for a reason. He put me with him one last time to make music and hang out. So that was a great thing to be working with him again, not knowing it would the last time.”
No one could have predicted the sudden passing of one of hip-hops most beloved stars. On his way back from a Michael Jackson tribute concert in Europe, Heavy developed a blood clot in his leg which resulted in a pulmonary embolism. On the day of his death Adam Mills, a designer knew Heavy D, found him leaning against a railing and clearly in distress. Heavy lost consciousness and was rushed to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead. He was only 44 years old.
“He was one of the people in the industry that needed to be around in the industry,” says Tony. “He played a part even if he didn’t actively make records. His presence in the industry did a lot for it. He was a good person. He was a role model for a lot of people. He was the perfect person to look up to because he was cool, polite but he wasn’t a punk. He had major success and was a true artist. He showed how to present himself well. He knows how to make hit records and he’s a born entertainer. A lot of people want to get on a beat and put it out and say their entertainers. Hev was one of the people that definitely needed to be around.”
May 24th, 2012 would have been Heavy’s 45th birthday and five months later the pain of his loss is still fresh in the voices of those who loved him.
“I remember the fist time we heard “Mr. Big Stuff” on the radio in the park,” Pete Rock recalls. “We were outside chillin’ and it came on the radio and we all got excited. It’s just the way he always did his music and expected something good to hear from him. I think about him a lot. I have my moments when I get low and sad, but it’s part of life. Even the ones the closest to you you have to prepare yourself for them not to be around forever. As long as we’re here on Earth you have to live life to the fullest. Heavy D’s music will live on forever.”
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