Rapper Boss, One of the First Women Signed to Def Jam Recordings, Dies at 54


Boss, the Detroit rapper who became one of the first women to sign to Def Jam Recordings, has died of kidney failure, The Detroit News reports, citing a family spokesperson. The musician had been crowdfunding treatment for renal disease after a major stroke and seizure in 2017, according to a GoFundMe page. Boss was 54 years old.

Born Lichelle Marie Laws, Boss grew up in Detroit, where she earned a reputation for dominating rap battles, before studying at Michigan’s Oakland University. She moved to Los Angeles to seek a record deal, rapping alongside DJ partner Irene “Dee” Moore and eventually persuading Jeffrey “Def Jef” Fortson to drive to Compton and hear her rap. Impressed, he put the duo up in his own home to work on music, but, unhappy with his beats, they walked out a few days later.

Boss’ break came when DJ Quik’s team scouted her to guest on AMG’s “Mai Sista Izza Bitch.” Def Jam signed her to its West Coast division, making her the sublabel’s first woman rapper and, after Nikki D, the second-ever on the label. Styling her name as BO$$, she released her debut and sole studio album, Born Gangstaz, on the label, in 1993, topping the Billboard Hot Rap Tracks chart with the singles “Deeper” and “Recipe of a Hoe.”

The record also received rave reviews, but a 1994 Wall Street Journal article called her credentials into question, despite Boss’ self-satirizing interludes on record in which her parents addressed the relative privilege of her Catholic-school upbringing. “Critics started fucking with me, sayin’ ‘She’s from a middle-class neighborhood, how can she be gangsta?’” she told Detroit Metro Times in 2004. “They weren’t getting it. There’s gangsters all over the place—ones that went to Harvard in the business world.”

Boss toured with Dr. Dre, Onyx, and Run-D.M.C. in 1993, but, when Def Jam rejected her second album demos, she struggled to launch a second phase. Instead, she pivoted to a career in radio, settling down in Texas and hosting on KKDA-FM.

In interviews she had long described periods of ill health, saying her kidney troubles had started when she was living between homes. “I didn’t get a chance to recover from sleeping on benches and concrete,” she told Detroit Metro Times. Despite living for several years on dialysis, and receiving a kidney transplant, she continued to rap, recording with artists including Krayzie Bone, on “Rollin’ Up Some Mo.” “She had an IV with her in the studio and it didn’t matter who was there,” said Forston. She released The Six Million Dollar Mixtape in 2004, but never recorded another album.

Eulogizing Boss on Instagram, Bun B wrote, “Rest in peace to my big sis Lichelle Laws AKA Boss. One of the best female MCs and a dear friend. Give Rick Royal a hug for me. Long Live The Org!”

In her own tribute, Nikki D shared, “Lachelle a.k.a. BO$$, wasn’t a people person.. only cool once she lets you in.” She continued, “BO$$ is one of most intelligent, genuine and fun people I’ve met in this industry.. not easily impressed or moved by society’s rules, I love that about her.”

Nikki D concluded, “BO$$ there’s no one else I’d would’ve wanted to share our brand DEF JAM with, you are a trill one, and real one and I love you and will miss your gangsta and your good spirit!! Forever my sister.”