Boss, Def Jam’s First Female Rapper, Dead At 54

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The Detroit-born rapper Boss, the first woman ever signed to Def Jam Records, has died. As HipHopDX reports, Boss’ ’90s rap peers like Bun B and DJ Premier shared the news on social media last night. No cause of death has been reported, but Boss, whose name was sometimes stylized as Bo$$, suffered a stroke in 2017. In 2021, a GoFundMe campaign raised money to help her get a kidney transplant. Boss was 54.

Boss was born Lichelle Marie Laws in Detroit, and she moved to Los Angeles after a couple of years at Oakland University. In 1991, she rapped on AMG’s DJ Quik-produced track “Mai Sista Izza Bitch,” and it attracted the attention of Def Jam Records, which was struggling to break into the blowing-up West Coast market. In 1993, she released Born Gangstaz, her only solo album, which featured production from people like AMG, Erick Sermon, and Jam Master Jay. Def Jef produced her Barry White-sampling single “Deeper,” which made it to #65 on the Hot 100. I loved that song.

Born Gangstaz sold hundreds of thousands of copies and reached #22 on the Billboard albums chart, but it wasn’t a blockbuster like some of the other West Coast albums that were coming out in the early ’90s. Boss appeared on tracks from Spice 1 and South Central Cartel, but her career was famously hurt by a 1994 Wall Street Journal article that sought to cast doubt on her street credentials. The newspaper noted that she didn’t come from California, grew up middle class, and went to college — all things that Boss mentioned on her album. The news story slowed Boss’ momentum, and she never made another album.

In the mid-’90s, Boss moved to Dallas, where she raised a child and worked as a radio DJ. She continued to record demos, but Def Jam didn’t accept them. By 2000, Boss was already suffering from kidney issues. In the ’00s, she appeared on a Krayzie Bone album and released a couple of mixtapes, but she never got a chance to launch a real comeback. Check out some of Boss’ work below.