Bushwick Bill Has Passed Away At The Age Of 52. His Family Confirms.
The Hip-Hop community is mourning the loss of Geto Boys member Bushwick Bill (aka Richard Shaw). Earlier this year, the Jamaican-born, Bushwick, Brooklyn, New York-raised MC was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Although a premature announcement was widely circulated this morning (June 9), according to TMZ, the veteran dancer-turned-rapping member of Geto Boys has officially passed this evening in Houston, Texas. The father of five spent his final hours with family members reportedly at his side Sunday.
Bill made public aware of his diagnosis early last month with a video. Days later, a small Geto Boys reunion tour was announced with four dates across the United States. Proceeds were said to be going to Bill’s treatment and care. Just hours before the first show, the tour was canceled, reportedly at Bill’s command. The former Rap-A-Lot Records artist withdrew plans after feeling as though his terminal condition was being exploited. Last night (June 8), Bill was scheduled to perform a show in Dallas, Texas, sharing the bill with peers including The Beatnuts and Rob Swift. According to TMZ, Bushwick Bill was unable to appear.
Bill’s tenure with the Geto Boys predates Scarface and Willie’s entrance. The artist who lived with dwarfism was part of the group assembled by Rap-A-Lot founder J. Prince. Bill met Prince at a Houston club after moving to Texas in pursuit of an entertainment career. First as a dancer, then a rapper in the group, he appeared on full-length group debut Making Trouble. By the late ’80s, the lineup was revamped. Bill and producer DJ Ready Red remained while burgeoning solo artists Scarface (tka Akshen) and Willie D were added. With this lineup, the Geto Boys found their greatest commercial and critical success.
1989’s Grip It! On That Other Level showcased a distinctly Southern brand of Gangsta Rap. Following in the paths created by 2 Live Crew, N.W.A., and Schoolly D, the quartet presented a world of sex, violence, and social politics over break-beat samples and studio instrumentation. Following his exit from Def Jam, producer Rick Rubin and others revamped the album as a 1990 eponymous LP. Bill was often the most flamboyant member of the group. While Scarface and Willie D have admitted to writing some of Bushwick’s lyrics, the artist regularly compared himself to Child’s Play franchise character “Chuckie,” and frequently appeared with the doll. He addressed living with dwarfism on songs such as “Size Ain’t Sh*t.”
Despite early recognition, the Geto Boys may be best remembered for 1991’s We Can’t Be Stopped and its hit, “Mind Playin’ Tricks On Me.” Famously, Bill appeared on the album cover in a gurney, following a self-inflicted gunshot wound resulting in the loss of an eye following an argument with a girlfriend. The provocative wound-revealing artwork complemented the collective to its first and only platinum plaque. With a complicated dynamic, the Geto Boys released four more albums, as recently as 2005’s The Foundation. Following a lengthy hiatus, that LP was reportedly made without the three men in the studio at the same time. Although the group failed to crowd-fund the goal for a 2015 album, ‘Face, Willie, and Bill performed and toured sporadically throughout the last decade, including at The Gathering. Last August, DJ Ready Red, who had left Rap-A-Lot and the group during the early 1990s, died from a heart attack.
Apart from his crew, Bill also maintained a solo career. In 1992, he released Little Big Man on Rap-A-Lot, including the autobiographical “Ever So Clear.” The song took its name from the grain alcohol that Bill was reportedly drinking at the time of the 1991 suic*de attempt. The LP includes early contributions from Mike Dean. That same year Bill appeared on Dr. Dre’s “Stranded On Death Row” from The Chronic, adding some memorable vocals to the label posse cut. Outside of the Rap-A-Lot family, Bill also worked with Kool G Rap & DJ Polo and Spice 1. In total, Bill released a half dozen LPs, including a foray into Christian Rap.
Beyond music, Bill experienced a complicated life that may have been as colorful as his public persona. In 1998, during an exit from the Geto Boys, Bill sued Rap-A-Lot Records and its distributor for $20 million, alleging that employees of J. Prince’s label physically assaulted him at a Houston comedy club. By the mid-2000s, he had returned to working with Prince and the imprint. He was convicted of several crimes during his career, including drug possession. A 2010 arrest in Atlanta, Georgia, where Bill lived part-time, had the veteran facing possible deportation. According to a Creative Loafing report by Dirty South author Ben Westhoff, Bill attended a Minnesota Bible college in 2000s, and eventually worked with at-risk youth in Mississippi. In 2015, a documentary was in pre-production on the life and career of Bill. In recent years, one of Bill’s sons, 23-year-old Yung Knxw, has also pursued a Rap career.
The news comes one day after Scarface announced his campaign to run for City Council in Houston.
Ambrosia For Heads extends condolences to Bill’s family, the Geto Boys, and his many friends and fans.
#BonusBeat: The Unsung episode on the Geto Boys: