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Rapper Heavy D Dead at 44

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Heavy D, one of the most influential and identifiable rappers from hip-hop's golden age, passed away today at the age of 44. Grandmaster Flash was the first to break the news of Heavy D's death, which TMZ has since confirmed. No cause of death has been reported yet, but the rapper was rushed to a Los Angeles hospital at noon today and was pronounced dead soon after. TMZ writes that Heavy D was seen unconscious outside his Beverly Hills home, but that he was cognizant and speaking in the ambulance. Police are investigating the death, but they don't suspect foul play. Just last night, Heavy D was tweeting tributes to boxer Joe Frazier, who died yesterday.

Born Dwight Arrington Myers, Heavy D, along with his group the Boyz, became mainstream stars in the late 1980's on the strength of 1987's Living Large and 1989's Big Tyme, both of which are now considered hip-hop classics and pioneers in the New Jack Swing genre. 1991's "Now That We Found Love" became the biggest hit for the Overweight Lover -- a self-deprecating moniker that Heavy often called himself -- and the group's most lasting track. Thanks to his smooth delivery and innocuous but clever rhymes, Heavy became a favorite of everyone from Will Smith to Michael Jackson, who recruited D to guest on his single "Jam."

Equipped with a personality that was even bigger than his stature, Heavy also branched off into acting, including roles in The Cider House Rules and Big Trouble. After stepping away from his hip-hop career, Heavy D gave it a go as a reggae singer -- his parents were Jamaican — but his biggest impact remained in the hip-hop world. Once news of Heavy D's death emerged on Twitter, the tributes instantly began pouring in. "R.I.P Rap legend Heavy D One Of The Most Influential Rappers Of The '90s Era... Smh Another Sad Day For Music You Will Def Be Missed Man," Sean Kingston wrote, and Ed Lover added, "I am shocked and hurt over the loss of my friend (real friend) Heavy D! May God accept his soul!"

After a few years out of the spotlight, Heavy D enjoyed a minor comeback in 2011: He appeared in both Tower Heist and an episode of Law & Order: SVU, and he performed at last month's BET Hip-Hop Awards.

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