“Bushwick Bill passed away peacefully this evening at 9:35 p.m. He was surrounded by his immediate family,” the rapper’s publicist Dawn P. tells Rolling Stone. “There were incorrect previous reports that he had passed away this morning. We are looking into doing a public memorial at a later date. His family appreciates all of the prayers and support and are asking for privacy at this time.”
As Shaw recalled in a TMZ interview, doctors told him earlier this year, “‘We see a mass on your pancreas and we can’t understand it. It’s not alcohol, it’s not sugar, it’s not diabetes. They went through all kinds of stuff. And finally, by February 8th, they said it was stage 4 [pancreatic] cancer.”
“I figure keeping it to myself is not really helping nobody, and I’m not really afraid of dying because if anyone knows anything about me from [his 1992 song] ‘Ever So Clear,’ I died and came back already in June 1991, so I know what it’s like on the other side,” the rapper added, referring to the incident where he accidentally shot himself in the eye.
The Jamaica-born Shaw, who was born with dwarfism and first performed under the moniker Little Billy, joined the Geto Boys in 1986 following a stint as the group’s dancer. As Bushwick Bill, the rapper became an important member of the group whose classic lineup – Bushwick Bill, Willie D and Scarface – influenced both southern hip-hop and the horrorcore genre.
Bushwick Bill appeared on seven of the Geto Boys’ eight albums, from their 1988 debut Making Trouble to their 2005 reunion LP The Foundation, and contributed verses to the trio’s hits like “Mind Playing Tricks on Me,” “Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta” (popularized by Office Space) and “The World Is a Ghetto.”
“Name a section in your city where minorities group / And I’m show you prostitutes, dope and hard times / And a murder rate that never declines,” Bushwick Bill raps on the latter track, the Geto Boys’ biggest post-2000 hit. “And little babies sitting on the porch smelling smelly / Crying cause they ain’t got no food in their bellies / They call my neighborhood a jungle / And me an animal like they do the people in Rwanda / Fools fleeing their countries to come here black / But see the same bullshit and head right back.”
In 1991, Shaw accidentally shot himself in the eye during an argument with his girlfriend, with the rapper admitting he was on PCP and everclear alcohol at the time; the aftermath of the incident was immortalized on the cover of Geto Boys’ album We Can’t Be Stopped, and Bushwick Bill later tackled the events with stark lyricism on “Ever So Clear,” from his 1992 solo album Little Big Man. “I ran and got the gun and came back to her / Loaded it up and handed the gat to her,” the rapper rhymed on “Ever So Clear.” “I grabbed her hand and placed the gun to my eye muscle / She screamed, “Stop” and then we broke into another tussle / Yo, during the fight, the gun went off quick / Damn! Aw shit, I’m hit.”
Over the past few decades, Shaw alternated between Geto Boys reunions and solo LPs. However, a planned Geto Boys reunion pinned to the rapper’s cancer diagnosis was canceled at the last minute after Shaw objected to promoters calling the brief tour “The Beginning of a Long Goodbye: The Final Farewell.” At the time of his death, Shaw planned on embarking on a solo trek dubbed the “Phuck Cancer” Tour.
On Sunday morning, the rapper’s longtime groupmate Scarface appeared to confirm Shaw’s death. Later that day, Shaw’s son refuted reports of his father’s death on Instagram, “Contrary to what has been prematurely, insensitively, and inaccurately posted/reported – My dad IS NOT dead, he’s still alive and fighting for his life. He needs your continued prayers and support. Certain people have been so quick to write him off as dead so they can capitalize off it, and it’s messed up because yall really think these people care about him. There is no Geto Boys without Bushwick Bill.”
Insane Clown Posse tweeted, “RIP Bushwick Bill. I can’t even tell you how much your music has meant to me and what being inspired by your music has done for me and my life. I wouldn’t even know where to begin. You will be greatly missed. We’ll rock with you again on the other side. God bless you homie.”