The Geto Boys were one of the very first groups out of the south to gain mainstream acceptance beyond the borders of Texas.
When they first hit the radio at Philly’s Power 99 fm, their macabre tales of street knowledge were some of the most unique sounding recordings of hip-hop ever. But lost in the mix was the life of the late Bushwick Bill aka Little Billy.
Bill, born Richard Shaw, passed away on June 10, due to a battle with pancreatic cancer, at the entire hip-hop community is mourning the loss of a spirited individual who made us all laugh, dance or rhyme to the beat of his words.
Little Big Man ©1992 Rap-A-Lot Records
Originally, Bushwick Bill was a dancer known as Little Billy, even making an appearance in a Poor Righteous Teachers video shot in the Donnelly Homes projects back in the day.
In fact, the Geto Boys’ Trenton, New Jersey connects were indisputable if not a bit confusing to the uninitiated. Geto Boys members DJ Ready Red, who recently died, Raheem and Prince Johnny C, all hailed from Trenton. Naturally, the Geto Boys were good in The Garden State
Like bandmates Scarface and Willie D, much of Bill’s offerings dealt with the struggles and ills often associated with substance abuse, poverty and the resulting mental trauma that is associated with trying to grow crops in the lifeless soil of economically marginalized communities.
At one time his life was a collage of mishaps and publicized occurrences that led many of us to believe Bill wouldn’t even survive past the year 2000. Long story short, he was a wild dude back then.
Group member Willie D has recounted getting into multiple incidents with Bill, and how Bill was once shot after threatening to throw a baby out of a window.
In 1991, he shot himself in the eye during an argument with his girlfriend while slammed off of grain alcohol and PCP. A picture of the incident would be used for the cover of Geto Boys’ third album, We Can’t Be Stopped, which went platinum and is considered their signature offering.
But Bill’s profile isn’t attached to his bandmates in perpetuity. Indeed, he’s been doing his thing as a solo artist as well.
Little Big Man (1992), Phantom of the Rapra (1995), and No Surrender…No Retreat (1998) each had a song in the Billboard 200 or R&B/Hip-Hop charts.
His most recently charted song was off the My Testimony of Redemption album, released on March 25, 2010, following his becoming a Born Again Christian.
Later that year, Bill’s demons emerged once again when he was pulled over and arrested for possession of small amounts of cocaine and marijuana for which he faced deportation.
On June 10, Bushwick Bill succumbed to stage 4 pancreatic cancer a little over a month after he originally announced his diagnosis. Though we laughed, danced and marveled at the energy he displayed, as well as the candid imagery he was able to craft with his words, Bill’s life is one that had no crystal stairs.
However, his contributions to hip-hop culture in Texas, and beyond, cannot be forgotten.