NEW YORK — Bushwick Bill, who helped inject Southern hip-hop storytelling with vivid psychological horror and lightly morbid comedy and became one of the genre’s most recognizable characters in the process, died Sunday at a Colorado hospital. He was 52.
A representative for the rapper confirmed the death to The Associated Press. Last month, Bushwick Bill announced that he had stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
Bushwick Bill — who was born with dwarfism and stood, by one account, approximately 3 feet, 8 inches tall — was a member of Geto Boys, the Houston trio whose work in the late 1980s and early to mid-1990s on the seminal Rap-A-Lot label was among the most formative in Southern rap. The group was known for its incendiary, sometimes grotesque lyrics and also for songs that grappled with morality in stark terms.
It made Geto Boys a flashpoint for cultural conservatives preoccupied with rap lyrics, which Bushwick Bill anticipated on “Talkin’ Loud Ain’t Saying Nothin’,” from the 1989 album “Grip It! On That Other Level”: “You don’t want your kids to hear songs of this nature/But you take ‘em to the movies to watch Schwarzenegger.”
Influential producer Rick Rubin signed Geto Boys to his Def American imprint and rerecorded that album as “The Geto Boys.” Rubin was forced to find a new distributor after his original one declined to release the album over its graphic content.
Geto Boys returned to Rap-A-Lot after that and continued to release strong work, including the outstanding 1991 album “We Can’t Be Stopped,” which featured the group’s biggest single, “Mind Playing Tricks on Me.” Bushwick Bill’s verse, which comes last, described a disturbing hallucination that he was being attacked while out trick-or-treating: “The more I swung, the more blood flew/Then he disappeared and my boys disappeared too/Then I felt just like a fiend/It wasn’t even close to Halloween.”
Bushwick Bill was born Richard Stephen Shaw in Kingston, Jamaica, on Dec. 8, 1966, and spent much of his childhood in the Bushwick section of New York City’s Brooklyn borough. His mother worked as a hotel housekeeper, and his father was in the merchant marine. As a teenager, he immersed himself in New York’s emerging hip-hop culture, writing graffiti and competing in break dancing competitions.
In addition to several albums with Geto Boys, Bushwick Bill released many solo records and appeared on Dr. Dre’s landmark 1992 album, “The Chronic.” In the 1990s, he announced that he was renaming himself Dr. Wolfgang von Bushwickin the Barbarian Mother-Funk Stay High Dollar Billstir. A devoted Christian in his younger days, he became born again in 2006. In the mid-2010s, he was filmed on and off for three years for an as-yet-unreleased documentary about his life.