BO$$, Def Jam’s First Female Rapper, Dies at 54

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Lichelle Laws, better known as the pioneering gangster rapper BO$$, died Monday (March 11) from kidney failure. She was 54.

Despite being born and raised in Detroit, Laws became best known as a part of the burgeoning West Coast gangster rap scene in the early ’90s. With dreams of launching a rap career, she moved to NYC. But after being unable to make anything happen in the birthplace of rap, she decided to head to Los Angeles.

Laws continued to struggle to make ends meet once in LA, but things began to turn around when she met West Coast rap legend DJ Quik. Quik took Laws under his tutelage and connected her with a bevy of rappers with whom she would later collaborate, including AMG, who put her on a song on his debut album.

In 1993, after the success of Queens-based group Onyx, Def Jam Records co-founder Russell Simmons decided that the historic label needed to take full advantage of the growing popularity of gangster rap. He decided to launch LA-based Def Jam West (DJ West) and look for artists from California who brought the same energy as N.W.A and Death Row’s roster of hitmakers. Laws, under the name BO$$, was Simmons’ first signee to DJ West and was one of the first female rappers ever signed to Def Jam.

An acronym for Bi—es On Some Sh–, BO$$ was actually a duo that consisted of Laws and her DJ, Irene “Dee” Moore. Their debut album Born Gangstaz was released in May 1993 and sold close to 400,000 copies. It featured production by some of Def Jam’s heavy-hitters, including Jam Master Jay and Erick Sermon.

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The Barry White-sampling “Deeper” was a standout track on the album and featured BO$$ talking about the stresses of trying to keep money in her pocket without succumbing to the pull of the streets and falling deeper and deeper into a life of crime.

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Despite the relative success of their debut, BO$$ never had a chance to release a sophomore project. After an album full of gangster and street tales, a Wall Street Journal article called into question the reality of Laws’ claims. The fallout resulted in BO$$ being dropped from DJ West.

In 2017, Laws suffered a stroke after being diagnosed with renal disease. A 2021 GoFundMe raised $18,000 to assist with her medical bills.

Upon news of her death, many rappers paid tribute to Laws with posts on social media.

Hip-hop pioneer Kurtis Blow took to Instagram to pay his respects, writing: “The Hip Hip Alliance is saddened by the passing of our Beloved ‘BO$$.’ First Detroit Female Gangsta rapper signed to Def Jam. She will never be forgotten and will live in our hearts forever. We send our sincere condolences to her family, friends, Detroit, and the entire world. RIP legend.”

Bun B posted a photo of Laws on Instagram and called her “one of the best female MCs and a dear friend.”

DJ Premier also posted on Instagram and revealed that Gang Starr did a remix to “Deeper” that Def Jam never dropped. “Back in 1993 she came to D&D and recut her vocals to my beat. It was so RAW,” he remembers. “We had a good session drinking 40’s, puffin Lah, and vibing.”

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