(AllHipHop Opinion) There is almost one reason why I don’t judge the current generation: Geto Boys (The Album) . The ground-breaking opus dropped during a time when my dad was dying. He would go on to pass away two months after that seminal, game-changing LP would be released as a partnership between Rap-a-Lot Records, Rick Rubin’s Def American and an ever-changing cast of companies due to the controversial, explicit content. The album was not something I was going to share with my mother, but it was the best album for me at the time. I was losing my mind over the death of my dad and this album was my companion piece to get through it. DJ Ready Red (RIP), Scarface (Akshen), Willie D and Bushwick Bill formed like a hood Voltron from the very bottom in Houston, where I felt mentally.
But - let me back up a moment before the Geto Boy were this repugnant, rebellious group to America, but a life saver to a kid seemingly on the brink of insanity. Let’s talk bout Bushwick Bill.
I’ll never forget when I first saw Bushwick Bill (born Richard Shaw) in the year 1988. It was the video for Raheem The Vigilante, one of the original Ghetto Boys (before the name change) and Rap-A-Lot Records was at its infancy. Back in those days, dancing was indelibly woven into rap music visuals and you could only see Hip-Hop on specialized shows like YO! MTV Raps or Rap City. Hip-Hop was also - for the most part - rooted in having fun even though so-called gangsta rap was gaining in popularity. Bushwick was a “star” of the video even though Raheem was more than dope as a lyricist. Bushwick stood taller than everybody, despite his shorter stature.
Bushwick’s size - 3′ 8″ due to dwarfism - was a leading difference between Geto Boys another realty rap acts and a critical component to their ultimate iconic status in both Hip-Hop and pop infamy. Their lethal combination proved to be the perfect storm of pure lyricism, muscle, shock, charisma and authenticity.The Geto Boys rose to prominence during one of the most fiercely competitive periods in Rap Music. The playing field also leaned heavily towards New York and other East Coast-based areas, even though the West Coast had emerging stars in Ice-T, NWA and Too Short. Richard Shaw made Todd Shaw (Too Short’s birth name) look like a tall man others like KRS-One, LL Cool J and EPMD, like giants. But, Bushwick was exclusively regarded as “the little big man.”
Bushwick Bill turned a disqualifier like dwarfism into an essential trait that made him an asset visually. He was also an asset musically as well. His voice was unique, how he spit lines was special and his ability to narrate and write the most hardcore, gruesome - oftentimes disgusting - aspects of life made him unforgettable. Much was made of the Geto Boys’ propensity for absurdity and deviance, most notably on the lyrical trio’s debut Grip It! On that Other Level (1989), when remixed by a musical maverick Rick Rubin in 1990, made the Geto Boys and Bushwick larger and more controversial than ever. The underdog plight became the unspoken cornerstone Bushwick Bill’s legacy.
He wasn’t even supposed to have made it this far. On “Every So Clear,” the song he wrote after his eye was infamously shot out, he gave fans a glimpse inside his real life.
See, most of my life I never had shit
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 kinda hard to swallow
See, it's rough bein a loner
Not knowin any given day and time I could wind up a goner
See, people got it bad from jump street
And bein short is just another strike against me
I used to get funny looks 'cause I was small
And tryin to make it was like runnin through a brick wall
Given the odds I was up against, bro
The average nigga woulda quit a long time ago
His size was not an indication of his heart. J. Prince, the man responsible for putting Bushwick in our faces via Rap-A-Lot Records, spoke to his heart. “On J. Prince Day, January 30, 2019 he showed up to help feed the homeless and hungry with me, this was the type of heart Bushwick possessed. He never forgot where he came from, with that being said, I will never forget him. We had an exciting ride, never a boring moment.”
When the Geto Boys announced their final tour, “The Beginning of a Long Goodbye: The Final Farewell,” a nod to Bill’s dire medical condition, I wanted to see Bill in his glory performing in New York City, the very town that didn’t accept the group when it began. It was not meant to be, but I immediately had flashbacks of how he impacted me.
First of all, after my dad died, I suffered from deep depression and anguish that I didn’t know how to process. Now, I didn’t quite recognize it as such, because I was constantly on the move trying to push my life forward. I also kept a journal religiously, along with writing my own raps, that reflected how troubled I was. Rappers like Bushwick, that were honest about their struggles, kept me honest to myself. I was not an extroverted person and, unlike Bushwick, I didn’t drink or do drugs at all. I am certain I understood that what was going on inside did not need any fuel.
Often wonder how Bushwick Bill made it as long as he did.
I don’t claim to know his state of mind towards the end, but I do know at one point he turned his life over to God. He crafted a gospel album, some of his best work. (That album is currently for sale on Amazon for over $1,300.) I also know, through his own words, that he didn’t fear death. "I died and came back already on June 19, 1991 so I know what it's like on the other side," he said in an interview with TMZ. He really lived a life worth living, with all of the highs and lows associated with it. Honestly, he helped me get past the crazy moments I have experienced and realize that it ain’t so bad when its bad.
Lastly, Bushwick had kids. In his final days, he recorded music in an effort to take care of them financially through album sales. The family has also set up a GoFundMe page to allow people to aid them as well.
It is hard to really quantify all that Bushwick has done for Hip-Hop, I feel it is safe to say that he kicked down doors, broke constraints and defied the physical laws of rap. He and the Geto Boys were formidable opponents to censorship, racism and they challenged just about everything everybody thought about music, misogyny, gangsta rap, tales from the hood, mental health, limitations and so much more. Bushwick Bill was more than a short rapper that shot his eye out, as some publications have indicated.
For me, it was simple. Bushwick Bill and the Geto Boys helped me embrace the craziness of my mind and life, getting me through one of the worst periods of my life. It was the more delicate balance, my life could have gone either way - positive or negative. Oddly, my dad’s birthday is the same day Bushwick shot himself in the eye, which was also Juneteenth. I don’t know what it all means, but it’s gotta mean something.
Until I find out, rest in peace, Chuckwick. And thank you.
Epilogue: I took a little longer to write this, because I wanted to really ponder and process what Bushwick Bill meant to me - to Hip-Hop. After his tragic passing, so many publications pumped out thought pieces and content for clicks, but when you read them, you know they didn’t know a lot about the Jamaican-born artist, regardless of how well researched. (Just so you know, most publications write these when they realize death eminent, not after.) Some of us remember Lil’ Billy on the cover of Makin’ Trouble, the Ghetto Boys ‘88 debut, or partying in that Raheem video. I did and he changed my life for the better somehow.