Album Review: Heavy D – Vibes (4/5)

Heavy D "Vibes" album cover

"Vibes" elegantly mixes reggae and rap.

Heavy D, a great artist I worked with in the 80s, put out his first album in 9 years this past fall, and Vibeswas a successful mix of reggae and hip hop.  That’s not easy to do.  Heavy D was a talented and unique rapper when I worked with him in the 80s, born in Jamaica before moving to New York and would often throw patois in w/his rhymes on songs like “We Got Our Own Thang.”  To return to the scene after so long with a ground-breaking sound is damn impressive!

That he called him self “the overweight lover” in his early days showed confidence and self-knowledge in what he was putting across. He neither hid that he was fat nor thought of it as a negative. This is a difficult thing to do in life, let alone show business!

We all know reggae was part of the original ingredients of Hip Hop, but there are very few legitimate projects that combine the two. (Def Jamaica is a good example of a bad one!) Vibes, however, is the rare album made by a traditionally non-reggae artist where they bring something new and original to the music without being phony or condescending to the Jamaican tradition.  Paul Simon’s “Mother and Child Reunion” comes to mind. He and Heavy have no need to put on a fake accent, take the music and make it their own, for their own purposes.

In Heavy’s case, he is rapping about picking up girls for the most part.  As mentioned, he’s a nice guy, and his pleas don’t wear on you even after after ten songs or so.  Heavy takes a reverent attitude toward women in songs like Queen Majesty, Private Dancer (“girl you’re pretty and wicked from head to toe, can we kick it and take things it nice and slow… and I’ll give you love galore”) and No Matter What.  Barrington Levy appears on one song as well.

Vibes doesn’t hit you over the head, it has a relaxed but varied mood over the course of its 13 songs. It really bears repeated listening and I anticipate taking it on vacation this weekend. I would love to see Heavy D perform this music in front of an audience that represents its geographic, musical and historical context. It would be a diverse audience! Maybe somewhere outdoors next summer?

Heavy D is laid back, not concerned with violence, bling and other recent rap/dancehall topics. Does this music fit? I’d say it does just because it’s different and Heavy has a great flow and a sweet attitude. The single, “Long Distance Girlfriend” and a few other songs have great hooks and flashy beats that can bring a young rap audience. I would give this album 4/5 Stars (****), based on the ambitious concept merging hip hop and reggae and pulling it off with élan.  And he’s overweight.

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