Aging rappers don't really get much love these days. A good many have accepted their Hip Hop fate and have found solace behind-the-scenes as A&R representatives, producers or mentors to up-and-coming talents. Others, refusing to fall quietly into obscurity, have struggled to make strides by immersing themselves in the latest radio gimmicks and enlisting the most sought-after producers in order to appear more relevant then they actually are (read: LL Cool J).
Heavy D (AKA the Overweight Lover and Waterbed Hev) stepped on the scene right around the beginning of New York's mythical Golden Era. In addition to being a member of that particular scene, the sizable emcee brought a distinctively catchy Caribbean rhyme style that slightly predated the rise of other venerable rappers/singers who would also use this particular approach to their advantage (e.g., Shinehead, Poor Righteous Teachers and KRS-One [click to read]), albeit with a decidedly stronger and more aggressive socio-political message. After a slew of mildly successful Hip Hop albums and attempts at crossover via the TV and motion picture industry, Heavy D returns with Vibes, a collection of Dancehall-influenced ballads that hint at his early rise to fame and earnest desire to make positive music for today's generation of fans.
From the beginning track on the album, "Long Distance Girl," it's more than obvious that the veteran rapper will never let go of his image as a heavyset man who consistently charms the ladies with clever words and rhymes - and rightly so. On the aforementioned song, Heavy D elegantly narrates a story of timeless love over a catchy Reggae tune. On two other stellar cuts, "Love Me Like This" and "Private Dancer," the Overweight Lover enlists the vocal talents of his Jamaican brethren (Barrington Levy and Sizzla, respectively) to add a healthy dose of authenticity and sexuality to the his otherwise tenderhearted approach towards Dancehall music. Other tracks worth noting on Vibes include "No Matter What" and "Chasing Windmills," both wonderful odes to all the ladies deserving of a tender man's love.
Nevertheless, Hev's elevated approach towards making love songs can sound a bit dated and somewhat timid compared to the raunchiness that has been made popular by countless other Hip Hop/R&B acts permeating commercial airwaves these days. For example, "My Love is All I Have" is a well-intentioned ditty about a pauper in love that, unfortunately, is pleasing only to the newlywed crowd and no one else. This gleefully saccharine approach is also evident in "Queen Majesty," a fluffy tale of a poor minstrel enamored by a beautiful member of a royal family he is trying hard to serenade. Last but not least, "Hugs and Kisses" is wholehearted attempt at addressing affairs of the heart but ends up sounding overly generic and devoid of sexual tension. If there is any consolation, the song is worthy enough to be added to the soundtrack of a fictitious Disney movie.
There is no denying that Hip Hop is very much a young man's sport. Emcees that have once been popular during the Golden Age have to find new and inventive ways to make moves in order to remain in the public spotlight. On Vibes, Heavy D's eighth full-length release, the veteran wordsmith attempts to do just that by utilizing Dancehall rhythms and his Overweight Lover persona to make soft-spoken love songs. Although his newfound approach to music suffers a bit from a mild case of timidity and sexual conservativism, Heavy D sounds like he's found a good way to age gracefully. Now, that's a good Vibe to be on, no matter how you look at it.