Bushwick Bill Of Geto Boys Dead At 52 The Houston-based dancer-turned-rapper, part of the successful trio Geto Boys, was one of the first to bring cinematically macabre imagery to rap lyricism.
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Bushwick Bill, Of Houston Rap Group Geto Boys, Dead At 52

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Bushwick Bill, Of Houston Rap Group Geto Boys, Dead At 52

Bushwick Bill, Of Houston Rap Group Geto Boys, Dead At 52

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Bushwick Bill of the Houston rap group Geto Boys has died at age 52.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MIND PLAYING TRICKS ON ME")

BUSHWICK BILL: (Rapping) This year Halloween fell on a weekend. Me and Geto Boys are trick-or-treating, robbing little kids for bags.

CORNISH: Bushwick Bill was born Richard Shaw in Kingston, Jamaica. His family moved to the Bushwick section of Brooklyn when he was a kid, but Houston, Texas, is where he became a Geto Boy, joining Willie D and Scarface to become pioneers of gangster rap. He told his fans that he had pancreatic cancer just last month.

Now to talk about Bushwick Bill and his legacy is NPR's Rodney Carmichael. Welcome back to the program.

RODNEY CARMICHAEL, BYLINE: Thanks, Audie.

CORNISH: Tell us about Bushwick Bill as a rapper.

CARMICHAEL: Well, Bushwick Bill - he was a vivid storyteller and really one of the most charismatic figures in hip-hop. He ended up getting into rap almost by accident, and really now he deserves probably more credit than just about anybody for popularizing Southern rap and especially horrorcore.

CORNISH: Horrorcore - OK, tell me a little bit about that 'cause that came around - what? - the late '80s.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, so horrorcore was basically, like, this offshoot of gangster rap - you know, these really graphic descriptions of murder and mutilation often of women. But Bushwick was also a guy who'd actually been studying to become a missionary and a minister before all of this. Then there's the fact that he was a little person with a disability that really made him an outcast and made his own life pretty horrific in some ways.

CORNISH: You can hear that in some of his classic verses - right? - from the Geto Boys song "Mind Playing Tricks On Me."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MIND PLAYING TRICKS ON ME")

BUSHWICK BILL: (Rapping) But this wasn't no ordinary man. He stood about 6 or 7 feet. Now, that's the creep I be seeing in my sleep.

CORNISH: Rodney, you know, people look back at this song now, and they talk about it as one that tells the story of someone suffering from trauma - right? - someone who lives a violent life. Can you talk about how this played out in his music?

CARMICHAEL: Well, you know, Violence and trauma was a world that Bushwick was not afraid to deal with, and it wasn't always fictional, you know? One of the heaviest songs on his debut album, "Little Big Man" - it basically lays out a real-life event where Bushwick lost his eye to a gunshot during an argument with his girlfriend. He even ends up being declared dead before coming back to life when this happens. He was drunk on Everclear at the time, he says in the song, and that inspired the song's title, which was "Ever So Clear," which really ends up being this clear-eyed, really confessional song of enlightenment for Bushwick.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVER SO CLEAR")

BUSHWICK BILL: (Rapping) See; most of my life, I never had this. I felt like an outcast, treated like a misfit, damn near didn't make it on my day of birth, thinking, was I really supposed to be on this planet Earth? I take a deep breath, and then another follows 'cause hardship is kind of hard to swallow. See; it's rough being...

CORNISH: I know it's a long way from his early days of studying religion, but toward the end of his life and career, what kind of music was he doing?

CARMICHAEL: Well, you know, Bushwick made the classic 360-degree circle in his life and time. And he really ended up returning back to his roots to Christianity. He got born again, and he was really making music that was a lot closer to gospel in his later years - very uplifting music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOD'S SIDE IS DA BEST SIDE")

BUSHWICK BILL: (Rapping) This is real talk. I'm on a righteous walk, left the dark. Now I'm shining my light like two lightning bugs. You could call me a thug, a true homie under God. Until the rapture comes, I'm back to psalm.

CARMICHAEL: But it wasn't the type of thing where he totally disowned what he had done in the past. He had unique ways of being able to mesh together all of the routes his life had taken into one big story that he felt like was - made him a witness and an inspiration for a lot of people.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Rodney Carmichael talking to us about the legacy of Bushwick Bill of the Geto Boys. Bill died at the age of 52.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOD'S SIDE IS DA BEST SIDE")

BUSHWICK BILL: (Rapping) Ain't no prince, no blood where I'm from, just the blood of Jesus. Believe it, son. Believe it's on.

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