heavy_d_web.jpgLos Angeles — It was as if Heavy D knew that it would be his las­­t tweet. The self-proclaimed “overweight lover” of hip hop, who became one of rap's top hitmakers with his charming combination of humor and positivity, enthusiastically told his Twitter followers Tuesday morning to “BE INSPIRED!” He later collapsed outside his home following a shopping trip, unable to breathe, before he was transported to a nearby hospital.

Heavy D died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, according to Lt. Mark Rosen of the Beverly Hills police. He was 44. Rosen said detectives found no signs of foul play and believe his death was medically related. If true, Heavy D would of course not have known that “BE INSPIRED!” would be his last tweet, but it is fitting for the life he lived.

The Jamaica-born rapper, who grew up in New York, became one of the genre's most integral stars in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as it relied on new voices and star power to fuel its phenomenal growth in the mainstream. Heavy D and the Boyz unabashedly burst onto the rap scene in 1987 with their debut album Living Large.

The deep-voiced rapper's earliest hit, The Overweight Lover's in the House, played up his hefty frame. But while that nickname would stick, unlike the Fat Boys his weight did not become his shtick. What drew people to his music was his singular style celebrating an easygoing, party vibe — sometimes humorous, sometimes inspiring and usually positive.

Combined with the fusion of the “New Jack Swing” musical style, Heavy D was a constant presence on the charts, and a go-to figure for several performers. He collaborated with Michael Jackson on the 1991 single Jam, rapped with a young Notorious B.I.G. in 1993 on A Buncha N- – – – – –  and dueted with B.B. King on the 1997 tune Keep It Coming.

Heavy D, who was never afraid to bust a move or perform as a character, also found success on the screen. He created the theme songs for the sketch comedy shows In Living Color and MADtv and acted on such TV shows as Boston Public, The Tracy Morgan Show and Law & Order: SVU, as well as in the films Life, Step Up and most recently Tower Heist.

While switching between acting and performing in the late 1990s, Heavy D wasn't as musically successful with his later Boyz-free albums. He returned to his lyrical roots on his most recent effort, Love Opus, released in September.

A lighter Heavy D  returned to the stage for a pair of energetic performances last month. He delivered a medley of past hits at the 2011 BET Hip Hop Awards in Atlanta, and joined La Toya Jackson on stage for a rendition of Jam at the tribute concert for Michael Jackson in Cardiff, Wales.

The impact of Heavy D's inspiration was omnipresent Tuesday among the hip-hop community on Twitter. His sudden death prompted Law & Order actor and rapper Ice T to remind everyone to “stop for a second, take a breath and realize how lucky you are to be alive,” while reminding that Heavy D was always “part of what’s good about the world.”

AP Music Writer Nekesa Mumbi Moody in Los Angeles and AP Writer Mesfin Fekadu in New York contributed to this report.

Photo: Heavy D