Rapper Bushwick Bill of the Geto Boys Dies at 52

Erik Kantar

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Bushwick Bill, MC of Geto Boys, was a master storyteller, infamous for his rowdy lifestyle and vividly gruesome lyrics that pioneered the horrorcore genre and elevated the southern hip-hop scene to national level notoriety. The 52-year-old rapper, born Richard Stephen Shaw, died Sunday, June 9, of stage 4 pancreatic cancer, according to Bill’s publicist and the Associated Press.

Richard Shaw was born in Kingston, Jamaica, on Dec. 8, 1966, but soon moved to Bushwick as a young child, where he spent his early formative years in the mecca of hip-hop, experimenting as a graffiti artist, DJ, emcee, and a B-boy dancer, only to be sent away by his family to enroll in Bible school in Minnesota.

He eventually joined his family once again, but this time in Houston’s tough Fifth Ward neighborhood, where he soon dropped out of high school, began bussing tables, and found his opening as a dancer for local Geto Boys performances––taking the stage name Little Billy, due to his 3’8” stature. Although physically small, Bill quickly gained a reputation for his electrifying larger-than-life persona, leading him to officially join Willie D and Scarface, in Geto Boys as Bushwick Bill in 1986.

Buhswick Bill at the hospital.

Despite being refused airtime by radio stations due to obscene lyrics, Geto Boys still quickly rose to stardom with classics like “Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta,” as featured in Mike Judge’s workplace comedy film “Office Space,” and “Mind Playing Tricks on Me,” which landed at the top of the rap charts in 1991, and was named the fifth-greatest hip-hop song of all time in a 2017 list by Rolling Stone.

Self-proclaiming themselves as reporters of the ghetto, the three-piece defended their controversial lyrical choices as honest narratives of day-to-day struggles in America’s poor inner cities, whether it be in the graphic exploration of a gangster’s depressive paranoia in “Mind Playing Tricks on Me,” to the controversial stalking and attacking of a naked woman in “Mind of a Lunatic.”

In the hit song, “Ever So Clear,” Bushwick Bill recounts one of his most infamous moments: after a night of drinking Everclear in 1991, he incited an altercation between him and his girlfriend, ending with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the eye. The Geto Boys stirred up more controversy following the incident, using a photo of a bloodied, one-eyed Bushwick Bill in a hospital gurney as the album cover for their classic, “We Can’t Be Stopped” album.

Owing it to the chaotic night captured by “Ever So Clear,” according to an interview with TMZ, Bushwick Bill said he wasn’t afraid of dying, saying, “I died and came back already on June 19, 1991, so I know what it’s like on the other side.”

Bushwick Bill appeared on seven of the Geto Boys’ eight albums, but he thought that wasn’t enough, prompting a return to the studio upon learning of his pancreatic cancer diagnosis: “I notice when most celebrities pass, they really don’t have nothing set up for their children and everything’s in disarray so I figure, old music will sell but if I have new music for them … at least they will have residual income from those things.” Rumors circulated that enough material was recorded for an album, and being finalized for distribution soon.

After a last minute cancellation of the Geto Boys reunion tour––primarily because Bill opposed the tours name as “The Beginning of a Long Goodbye,” Bill tragically passed just after finalizing plans to go on a final “Phuck Cancer” solo tour. Bill’s son Javon told TMZ that his father’s last words were, “I will love you forever.”

In response to numerous fans inquiring about how they can donate to Bill’s family, a Go Fund Me Page was created, as well as to combat the recent fake memorial events being promoted. All donations from this page will be contributed toward his family’s expenses, as well as carry out Bill’s final wish that his four kids are financially taken care of.

All images courtesy of Bushwick Bill’s Instagram.

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