Clarence Reid, the R&B singer who moonlighted as the innovative, masked and explicit rapper Blowfly, passed away Sunday. He was 76. Reid’s death comes just days after it was revealed that he was admitted into a South Florida hospice care facility as he suffered from terminal liver cancer and multiple organ failure. A spokesperson for Reid confirmed the singer’s death to Rolling Stone.
“Clarence Reid, the genius known both by his given name and as Blowfly, the Master of Class, passed peacefully today, January 17th, in his hospice room,” Reid’s longtime collaborator and drummer “Uncle” Tom Bowker wrote on Facebook. “His sister Virginia and I thank you for all the love you have shown this week. We also thank you for supporting Clarence’s 50+ year music career – especially these last few years. We love you and will keep you informed on services and tribute performances in Clarence’s honor.”
Artists like Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea, Ice-T, Flying Lotus, DJ Quik, Pete Rock, Run the Jewels’ El-P and many more have turned to social media to pay tribute to the one-of-a-kind artist who had an unforgettable impact on many in the soul and hip-hop community. “I had the great privilege of playing with BLOWFLY. So much joy. R.I.P. Clarence Reid,” Flea tweeted, while Ice T wrote, “RIP and respect to the ORIGINAL.” (Flea appeared on Reid’s “Shake Your Ass” in 1991 and riotous “Funky Party” video two years later.) Flying Lotus also posted a photo of one of the iconic masks worn by Blowfly, which he gifted to the Los Angeles producer.
In a 2014 interview with Rolling Stone, Public Enemy frontman Chuck D spoke to Reid’s influence on the group’s landmark 1989 hit “Fight the Power,” specifically the verse calling Elvis Presley and John Wayne racists. “Blowfly had a record called ‘Blowfly’s Rapp’ [aka “Rap Dirty”] in 1980,” Chuck D recalled. “And there was a line in there where one of the characters in the song was a grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and basically he had a lyric, ‘Well, I don’t care who you are, motherfuck you and Muhammad Ali.'”
As one of the main songwriters for Miami label TK Records, Reid penned a string of songs in the Sixties and Seventies for numerous soul and funk artists, including Gwen McCrae’s “Rocking Chair” and Betty Wright’s “Clean Up Woman.” He also wrote tracks for KC & The Sunshine Band, Sam & Dave and Bobby Byrd before giving birth to Blowfly, his outlet for performing comedic, explicit songs that over the years traversed the genres of soul, R&B and hip-hop; Blowfly is considered one of the earliest rappers. “He laid the foundation for hip-hop with ‘Shake Your Ass’ and ‘Rap Dirty’ and taught everyone that their dick could fly,” Bowker tells Rolling Stone.
His debut The Weird Wild World of Blowfly was released in 1971, with Reid’s alter ego releasing upwards of 25 albums since then, bearing titles like Porno Freak, Blowfly’s Party, Blowfly and the Temple of Doom and Fahrenheit 69.
His life was chronicled in Jonathan Furmanski’s 2011 documentary The Weird World of Blowfly, which found the singer touring the United States and attempting to reclaim and augment his legacy as both a jovial parodist and serious R&B vocalist (though mostly the former). In the film, Reid explains how as a child, he would pass the time working on a Georgia farm by creating dirty lyrics to popular songs to anger his white bosses. They ended up loving his X-rated renditions.
While the explicit nature of his music ensured that he never broke into the mainstream, Blowfly influenced many hip-hop stars (“Blowfly is a legend,” Snoop Dogg told Nardwuar) and, thanks to his crazed live performances, he maintained a fervent fan base, one that helped raise the necessary funds for the singer when his house was in danger of foreclosure in 2014.
Prior to Blowfly’s death, Bowker promised the rapper would release one last LP this year titled 77 Rusty Trombones.
“While most performers sit on their laurels in their later years, Clarence constantly wrote new material and grinded tour dates like a 20-year-old,” Bowker says. “He treated gigs at Halloween house parties in suburban California the same as arena gigs in Germany and massive Australian festivals. He never refused an autograph, or an opportunity to tell a dirty joke. He was a once-in-a-century talent, and it was an honor to reintroduce him to the world these past 12 years.”