Remembering Bo$$, Def Jam’s First Woman Signee

Legendary gangsta rapper and former Def Jam signee, BoSS (Bo$$), has passed away. The Detroit native, born Lichelle Laws, died on March 11th at the age of 54. The cause of death was complications from long-standing health issues. BoSS changed the game when she blew up, becoming the first woman signed to Def Jam. She served to kick down the doors and usher in a wave of female emcees under the label. While she may have flown under the radar in her later years, her indelible mark will forever remain in the history of rap.

Read More: The History Of Russell Simmons & Def Jam

The Formation of BoSS

NEW YORK, NEW YORK–MARCH 12–Rapper Boss (aka Lichelle Laws; Bo$$) appears at a party with DJ Irene ‘Dee’ Moore on March 12, 1993 in New York City. (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives)

Lichelle Marie Laws grew up in a suburban home. Alongside her education at a Catholic private school, she enlisted in extracurriculars like cheerleading. She was also raised by her parents to take jazz and tap dance classes, as well as ballet and piano lessons. Her parents, both devoted church deacons, instilled strong Christian values in her upbringing.

However, despite her middle-class roots, Laws was determined to leap into hip-hop, which was considered a huge taboo. In 1990, Laws, accompanied by her loyal DJ Irene ‘Dee’ Moore, moved from Detroit to the vibrant south side of Los Angeles after a failed stint in NYC. Their path was etched with the harsh realities of low-income living in LA. The two weathered hunger, peddled drugs to make ends meet, slept on park benches and crumbling hotels and weaved through the gang dynamics of the West Coast. Regardless, the two of them became BoSS, fueled by an unwavering determination to make their mark in the music scene. The name BoSS is an acronym, which stood for “Bitches On Some Shit!”

DJ Quik Connection & Def Jam Deal


One of her earlier collaborations was with Sylk Smoov on “One Nation,” which featured on his debut album. She also contributed to the soundtrack of the Detroit film Zebrahead, sharing credits with many notable artists, like MC Serch, and a younger Nas, then known as Nasty Nas. However, none of this would have happened if she had not crossed paths with West Coast rap icon DJ Quik. 

Quik took her under his wing and connected BoSS with a host of rappers for future collaborations. Notably, AMG tapped her for “Mai Sista Izza Bitch,” which was produced by DJ Quik. This helped BoSS catch the attention of none other than Def Jam. As a result, she became one of Russell Simmons’ very first signings to the label and remains one of the pioneering female rappers ever. 

Read More: G-Funk Legend DJ Quik’s Best Hits

Born Gangstaz


BoSS’ debut album, Born Gangstaz, released under Def Jam West, boasted production from Jam Master Jay, Erick Sermon, Chryskillz, among others. The album hit the shelves in May 1993, quickly garnering attention and selling close to 400,000 copies. Furthermore, it stormed to number three on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. It also peaked at No. 22 on the Billboard 200.

Although it didn’t quite meet Def Jam’s lofty expectations, the album boasted notable tracks like “Recipe of a Hoe” and “Progress of Elimination.” Mosh notably, the album also housed “Deeper.” The successful single, featured a sample from Barry White and an interpolation of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under The Bridge.” It served to showcase how her distinctive gritty style could blend with other genres seamlessly.

“Deeper” soared to #65 on the Billboard Hot 100, and dominated Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart for three consecutive weeks. The accompanying music video featured Laws rapping from behind bars and in a straitjacket. Upon release, it became a major television sensation. It was subsequently broadcast on Yo! MTV Raps and BET’s Rap City, helping to cement her presence in the game.

However, it appeared that things between Boss and DJ Dee began to shift behind the scenes after the album dropped. After the release of Born Gangstaz, the partnership between Laws and Moore ended amicably. Nonetheless, Laws would carry on under the BoSS banner throughout her career.

The WSJ Article 


Following the release of her album packed with gritty street narratives, a Wall Street Journal piece cast doubt on the authenticity of Laws’ hardcore, streetwise persona. Published in 1994, the article unveiled Lichelle Laws’ upbringing in a middle-class environment in Detroit. This seemingly contradicted her claims of a rough urban upbringing. However, it overlooked the self-satirical elements within her music, embodied in tracks like “Intro: A Call from Mom.” 

Def Jef, the album’s producer who proposed involving Laws’ parents in the project, was shocked by the misconceptions. He emphasized that there was an intention behind BoSS’ music — a blend of reality and satire that characterized her work. “I can’t believe none of the reviews saw the irony of that,” he said. “No one did!” His defense fell on deaf ears, however, and the backlash from the article heavily impacted the trajectory of her career.

And so, despite the success of Born Gangstaz, BoSS never had the opportunity to drop a sophomore project. The rapper’s second album had been slated for release under Def Jam, but the label unfortunately declined her demos, leading to her departure from the company without a subsequent release. Despite this setback, Laws maintained her ambition to deliver another full-length album for most of her life. She once said, “When my record comes out I’m gonna pack up my kidney pills — the 45 I have to take every day — and go wherever.” 

The Legacy Of Boss

After parting ways with Def Jam, BoSS relocated to Dallas, Texas. She made the move with her partner Ricardo Royal, also known as Cocoa Budda. There, she juggled roles as a radio DJ while raising her son Lamar, and balancing her musical pursuits on the side. She had to focus a little more on her health after she suddenly developed kidney complications in 1999. Since she and Lamar’s father were separated at the time, she returned back to her family in Detroit. BoSS reportedly had to undergo three and a half years of dialysis before she could get back on her feet and continue to produce music.

In May 2011, her family revealed her urgent need for a kidney, reaching out to the Facebook community in search of a potential donor, albeit to no avail. In 2017, she faced yet another significant health setback, experiencing a major stroke and seizure. Subsequently, a GoFundMe campaign was initiated on January 31, 2021, to raise funds for a recommended medical procedure. 

Although the campaign surpassed its $15,000 target, updates on her condition remained sparse until news of her death broke. Following her passing on March 11th, a wave of tributes continue to flood in from fellow rappers who shared her era and fans who cherished her music. Lichelle Laws’ memorial is scheduled for March 23rd at a yet-to-be-disclosed location, where friends, family, and fans will gather to honor her memory.