Stezo, aka Steve Williams, the iconic rapper and dancer, has died. He was 51 years old. His cause of death has not been confirmed. Stezo is best known for his 1989 hit singles, “To the Max” and “It’s My Turn.”
In an email DJ Chuck Chillout confirmed to Heavy that Stezo died on the night of April 29 of a possible heart attack. Stezo’s sad passing was first confirmed on the morning of April 30 by his producer and DJ Chris Lowe on Twitter.
Questlove of The Roots paid tribute to Stezo, writing on Instagram:
This is gonna happen a lot. Before Hammer’s pants, there was #Stezo…before we all abused that #SkullSnaps #ItsANewDay break…there was Stezo. Before #AtomicDog fed an ENTIRE GENRE….there was Stezo. While your favorite rapper was asking so & so & such & such to do some beats for em….Stezo was doing it all himself.
I mean for gods sake this man made #SteveMartin cool to a hip hop generation too young to get King Tut/The Jerk/& a wild & crazy guy references—-he turned Steve Martin into the coolest verb EVER in 1988 (google #EPMD’s #YouGotsToChill video to see dances that defined a generation—-we talk about MCs/producers/videos/movies/icons from 87-92 but rarely give light to the iconic dances that came from that era—Stezo was always my fav dancer from this era (yes I know the Kid N Play dance was iconic too) but when you don’t have a partner to kick it with? Then yknow…lol——this dude is displaying ALL the moves that others will build empires on. Damn this damn virus man. Damn. Thank you @stezodezo.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Stezo Began as a Dancer With Hip-Hop Collective EPMD
Stezo was a native of New Haven, Connecticut. Stezo’s cousin, Dooley-O, is also a renowned Connecticut-based hip-hop figure. He began his career as a dancer with hip-hop collective, EPMD. Stezo appeared in the video for the group’s single, “You Gots to Chill.” The song was featured on EPMD’s album Strictly Business. EPMD stood for “Erick and Parrish Making Dollars.”
Following his departure from EPMD, Stezo’s DJ, Chris Lowe, said that there was bad blood between the two camps. That resulted in Stezo recording a song about the departure. Lowe told Unkut that the beef was squashed by 2008, saying, “We was still friends, that was when we was younger. Stones Throw got a hold of that stuff years after and decided to put it out. We all pretty good now – Erick and Parrish are back on tour right now. I speak to Stezo and I did a record with Parrish on my last album.”
2. Stezo’s Album ‘Crazy Noise’ Peaked at Number 37 on the Billboard Hip-Hop Charts
Stezo broke out from the group in 1989 when he signed his own record deal with Sleeping Bag Records. Stezo’s first single was “To the Max,” which was followed by the album Crazy Noise, recorded at the 1212 studio in Jamaica, Queens, in New York. Paul C. McKasty worked on the album with Stezo. In addition to rapping on the album, Stezo also produced the record. The album peaked at number 37 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Chart.
In a Medium feature, Stezo said of working with McKasty, “When we first went to 1212 we vibed with Paul. He was hanging around Large Professor and couple of other cats like that. We had some beats and Paul was like, ‘Yo, where ya’ll get these beats from!?’” Writer Gino Sorcinelli noted in the article that Stezo had been working on his beats since he was 14 years old.
Stezo told Elemental Magazine that his love of sampling old records began when he and Dooley-O were allowed to go through the record collection in the basement of an elderly neighbor who lived on their street.
3. According to an Interview, the Death of McKasty ‘Derailed’ Stezo’s Career
A few months after the release of Crazy Noise, McKasty was shot dead in Rosedale, Queens. He was 24 years old. The shooting remains unsolved. Sorcinelli wrote that the death of McKasty had a huge effect on Stezo. He wrote:
The psychological aftermath of losing a close friend derailed the careers of Chris Lowe and Stezo for several years, and while Lowe, Dooley-O, and Stezo have all been involved in rap music to varying degrees in the time since Paul’s murder, it’s difficult to not look at their respective careers and wonder what might have been.
4. Stezo’s Final Album, ‘C.T. (The Lost State),’ Was Released in 2005
Stezo didn’t follow up on his debut until 1994 with the release of the single “Bop Ya Headz/Shining Star.” Stezo’s next album was not released until 1997. The record, Where’s the Funk At?, did not enter the Billboard charts. Stezo released his final album in 2005, titled C.T. (The Lost State). A December 2017 retrospective on Stezo’s career wrote that he “was a casualty of a transition period in Hip-Hop and his imprint.”
5. Since Leaving the Music Business, Stezo Had Been Working as a Barber in His Own Shops
According to a post on Stezo’s Instagram page, two weeks prior to the coronavirus pandemic, he opened a barber shop in Charlotte, North Carolina, named S&S Cuts. The barber shop had been operating in West Haven, Connecticut, since 2013.
Stezo’s final Instagram post saw him write about shutting down his shop amid the coronavirus quarantine. Stezo said:
We already ahead of the game, we open up 2 weeks before the pandemic shut us down, but when we open back up, we have a 2 man shop and operate by appointments mostly, me and my partner Spencer didn’t know how important a 2 man shop would be in the future, we started off social distancing and didn’t even know it.
It’s not about how many barbers you got, it’s about how safe you can keep your clients, social distancing at its best, god moved us at the right time and thanks to our loyal customers that keep us in business, see ya soon.