Columbus, Ohio-based MC Tero Smith, alias Camu Tao, has passed away after a three-year battle with lung cancer, reports his long-time collaborator El-P of Definitive Jux Records. In his press release, he writes:

“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. “

Camu Tao first hit the scene in the mid-1990s as part of the Columbus rap group MHz Crew, along with fellow Ohioans Jakki the Motormouth, Copywrite, Tage Proto, DJ Przm (who died last year), and producer RJD2. Theirs was no-bullshit battle hip hop. While he was not the most technically gifted MC of the crew, he was clearly the most creative and innovative musical thinker. He subsequently hooked up with the Philadelphia-based label Eastern Conference and, a little later, Definitive Jux records in New York where he became part of the Weathermen crew. In 2001 he dropped the showstopping single “Hold the Floor” on Definitive Jux, in 2002 he issued the album Nighthawks in collaboration with Cage and in 2003 he and fellow MC Metro dropped the album Smashy Trashy as part of the spoof-ironic hip hop crew SA Smash, followed in 2004 by Going for de Gold. At the time of his death, heads were still awaiting his long-planned solo debut and further development of his work with El-P under the name Central Services.

I was fortunate enough to hear MHz perform live in Copenhagen back in 1999, but actually found Camu kind of wack. He however grew on me and I totally dug “Hold the Floor”, which I have a fond memory of seeing him performing — aptly — from the floor of the Bowery Ballroom in New York, surrounded by a hyped-up cipher of fans. I found much of his subsequent work, both with Cage, SA Smash, El-P and other Def Jukies, hit or miss, but it was always clear that his musical ambition was quite extraordinary in a field dominated by conservatism. His death is a great loss to hip hop.

Check a selection of his music here and here, as well as his MySpace.