Hip-hop artist Camu Tao, known for his membership in acclaimed underground assemblies MHz, S.A. Smash, the Nighthawks, and the Weathermen, passed away Sunday afternoon after a two-year battle with lung cancer. Born Tero Smith, he was two weeks shy of his 31st birthday.
In his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, he got his start as a member of the MHz crew, along with RJD2, Copywrite, Jakki Tha MotaMouth, and Tage Proto. But it was mostly in New York, through his association with various heavyweights from the Definitive Jux record label, that he positioned himself to break out. His 2002 Nighthawks album with pal Cage garnered critical and fan kudos, and S.A. Smash’s debut, 2003’s Smashy Trashy, was a minor underground hit. Since then, while releasing a few solo records with only regional release, he kept himself in the public eye with notable guest spots on tracks by artists like, again, Cage, Slow Suicide Stimulus, and Aesop Rock. In fact it was Aesop Rock who made the first public announcement of Camu’s death, onstage Sunday evening while performing in Minneapolis.
It’s come as an extreme shock to his fans, first, because few knew he had been ill, and second, because the guy was a class act. I met Camu a few times over the years in New York, and one thing that always struck me was his open friendliness. Whereas a lot of MCs in his milieu can be, shall we say, standoffish, Camu was genuinely nice, laid-back, and always ready with a joke.
Possibly the most tragic part about this is that the world at large had not yet gotten acquainted with this singular, but largely unsung, talent. With S.A. Smash more or less on hiatus, Camu had been cooking up a full-length for Definitive Jux, all full of next-shit weirdness unclassifiable by subgenre. It was to be his first solo album to receive major national distribution. One track, “Plot For a Little,” appeared last year on Definitive Swim, the label’s compilation of music for the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. If the world loved, say, Gnarls Barkley, they would have been ready for and loved Camu Tao. With label head El-P’s track record of looking after his own, it’s more or less a safe bet that whatever portion of the record was completed should still see public release. El-P’s statement, from his Myspace blog, follows after the jump. R.I.P. – Arielle Castillo
"TODAY, around 2pm, our dear friend, family member and musical collaborator Tero "CAMU TAO" Smith passed away in his home town of Columbus, Ohio. Tero had been quietly fighting for his life for the last year and a half after being diagnosed with lung cancer.
To those who knew Tero, he was an almost uncategorizable force of nature. Wild, hilarious, proud, loving, tough, outspoken, spontaneous and brilliant. He wore his heart on his sleeve and he dripped creativity, leaving inspiration and awe in the hearts and minds of anyone who was fortunate enough to see him work.
We, his friends and family, have truly had our collective hearts broken by his passing. Not only because of the loss of our friend, but because of the loss of his contribution to those who never knew what we knew about his talent and his potential. He was the secret that no one wanted to keep and we always knew that one day his vision and his heart could change music forever the way he changed all of our lives.
His departure from us all 1 month away from his 31st birthday is nothing less than a tragedy... nothing less than a crime. he was a gift to us all and he is irreplaceable. Rest in peace, Mu. We will love you forever. May god bless you and your family.
Tero "CAMU TAO" Smith
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born 6/26/77, passed 5/25/08
jaime "el-p" meline (on behalf of many, many wonderful and broken hearted friends)"