Coming up in a city like Houston, Texas means that you’re used to never being number one. Whether it’s the fact that your football team isn’t a Superbowl contender, or that you had to wait until high school for your basketball team to get a ring, or maybe you had to wait until you were past forty for your baseball team to achieve the same heights. No matter where you’re from, you’ve more than likely heard of Geto Boys. Sunday, Bushwick Bill of the famed hip hop group passed away, and hits hard for anyone who blasted their tunes in the hot Southern heat.
Growing up in the suburbs of Northwest Houston like I did, meant that when you looked up the physical address for Rap A Lot Records you knew they were right up the road. From the age of fourteen, my friend Jason and I rode around blasting Geto Boys tunes, cause that’s what suburban white teens have always done since the genre began. Grip It on That Other Level, Geto Boys and We Can’t Be Stopped were all the soundtrack to my youth. Before streaming was a glimmer in anyone’s eye, rolling around with the windows down in the balmy Houston heat was how most of us heard music. Most of the people I know still have those verses burned in their memory, and can still recite them on command.
His rhymes and his verses were unmistakable due to his original inflection, each passing verse or track he spit was obviously his. Tracks like “Size Ain’t Shit,” “Mind of a Lunatic,” “Fuck a War” and “Chuckie” all come to mind whenever the late rapper’s name is mentioned. His verse in “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” is quite possibly one of the greatest rap verses in the history of hip hop. Those lyrics, that beat and the sample are all legendary, and the way he spits the verse is pure gold. When We Can’t Be Stopped went platinum, it felt like it was ours as a city, even if we didn’t have anything to do with that success. For the first time in most of our lives, Houston wasn’t number four-it was number one. Born in Kingston, Jamaica before his family relocated to Bushwick Brooklyn, NY Bill was a fixture in the Rap A Lot family. Originally known by the moniker Little Billy, Bill was originally a hype man and break dancer under the original lineup of the group.
Bushwick Bill and the Geto Boys were the reason Houston had the nation’s eyes for Southern hip hop. Before DJ Screw, before UGK and before Maxo Kream, Geto Boys were who you hung your hat on when you proudly told people, “fuck you, I’m from Houston.” Being a fat kid from the suburbs who loved music meant that you’re a lot like plenty of people. But when I looked at how the Geto Boys came from one of the roughest parts of Houston, how they made it when no one cared about Southern rap and how they did things their own way while keeping it real meant that anything was possible if you were willing to put in the work. Bushwick Bill is easily a large part of why I started writing about music, and why Southern hip hop is even anything anyone would consider being a subgenre. Over the years, getting to meet each member was as big as meeting any massive star or athlete. Bill was always ready to have a chat and let you snap a pic, and his presence was larger than anyone else in hip hop. Bushwick Bill will be missed. He was Houston, he was hip hop and he is a legend in more ways than one. There is no such thing as Southern hip hop without Bushwick Bill.
All of the Geto Boys music is available to stream wherever you stream music. A memorial for Bushwick Bill is in the planning stages, though we offer our condolences to his family and ask that you do the same during this difficult time.
Image Credits: Photo by Marco Torres.