R.I.P. Camu Tao, 1977-2008

According to a statement from Definitive Jux founder and indie-hop superstar Jaime “El-P” Meline, Tero “Camu Tao” Smith passed away after a year-and-a-half long battle with lung cancer.

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A member of the Def Jux crew, who performed on a series of efforts for labelmates like El-P, Aesop Rock and Cage, as well as on his own or with collectives like Weathermen and Central Services, Camu Tao was an immediately recognizable rapper and singer whose unhinged energy brought juice to whichever effort he appeared on. Before his death, he was hard at work putting the finishing touches on King of Hearts, which El-P described as his “breakthrough solo record.”

He was about to celebrate his 31st birthday on June 26.

“He was an almost uncategorizable force of nature,” said El-P. “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.”

Aesop Rock, Cage and others were similarly moved by Smith’s passing. “He had an unprecedented influence on me as a human being, and beyond that as an artist,” explained Rock, whose real name is Ian Bavitz. “I can only hope that when this current fog eventually lifts, I am strong enough to do justice to the things he has given me.”

Tao’s performances were always riveting, but it is his memorable turn at the microphone on El-P’s “Oxycontin” that has stuck with me and never left. It’s equal parts rap, rant, wail and bleeding-heart improvisation.

Rest in peace, Tero.

This article appeared at Wired