Mr. Cheeks On Freaky Tah, Heavy D and 'Legal Drug Money'
By Stereo Williams
This year marks the 25-year anniversary of the Lost Boyz debut album Legal Drug Money. The group and the album ushered in a style of Hip-Hop that combined gritty storytelling with music that made you want to dance. The Lost Boyz fit in amongst the legendary Hip-Hop and R&B label roster at Uptown Records, which had seen success with stars like Mary J. Blige and Heavy D. With Mr. Cheeks’ remarkable rap flow and hypeman Freaky Tah’s voice/ad libs, the Lost Boyz created street party anthems that matched the energy of Uptown Records. Rock The Bells talked to Mr. Cheeks about that debut, Uptown Records, Andre Harrell, Freaky Tah, and the Lost Boyz legacy.
B: How did you guys get started?
Mr. Cheeks: We came together back in like '88. I met Freaky Tah in my grandmother’s crib when he came with his pops to fix the refrigerator and we just bumped heads from there. I knew Lou from school. I met Spigg Nice in summer school and we just tagged along. Spigg was the DJ, I was the Emcee and Tahliq (Freaky Tah) used to rock with me, and Pretty Lou used to spread the noise and let them know we was moving around. Doing what we do. We just connected, you know? After I connected with Spigg Nice at summer school, we just connected from that day, we built a bond and we became family. And next thing you know we out there making music together and rocking out.
B: You guys were very unique in the way you rapped and the type of music you made. Were there any groups you guys patterned yourselves after?
MC: My early influences was like MC Shan, LL COOL J, Run-D.M.C., all of Queens was my influence, you know what I mean? Once I seen that Christmas joint from Run-D.M.C. it was a done deal. So that’s really what it was though, that influenced me a lot. I mean you know, Marvin Gaye, The Spinners, from Aretha Franklin to Anita Baker. All of it influenced me to make music, you know?
B: How did you guys end up on Uptown records?
MC: We was running around the streets of Virginia for a while, doing some things and hanging out you know, just doing some business in Virginia and we bumped into this cat named Tim Dogg from the Butt Naked Crew. He was like “I got some people y’all might be interested in taking with." We didn’t understand it at that time, but we went up to New York to make some demos and things like that. Well, I did - and my crew is still down there out in Virginia and shit. I stayed up there for about a month and did some work, but that’s how we got found. We was out in Virginia, just running around the city and doing a few things out there, hitting those spots and making music with a couple of cats out there and we bumped into Teddy Riley.
B: What was that like bumping into Teddy Riley?
MC: It was crazy because we came down there cause of [the Wreckx-N-Effect hit] "Rump Shaker," you know what I’m saying? We was like "it’s popping in Virginia so let’s go down there."
B: So this is basically ’92?
MC: Yeah, we took a chance down there -- like "fuck it, let’s go see what it is about down there." Next thing you know, we got in the mix and it was all like a crazy blessing. We going over to Teddy Riley studios and all that. That shit was like a dream come true.
B: And when you guys got signed to Uptown that was like ’94, ’95 right?
MC: ’94, ’95 yup.
B: OK, so let me get this straight, before you guys were signed to Uptown you guys had already did “Lifestyles Rich and Shameless” and “Jeeps, Lex Coups, Bimaz and Benz” right?
MC: We did that with Uptown.
B: So y’all went to Uptown and then put those singles out first?
MC: Yes, sir. We had an album out in the hood. You know, we had this red tape in the hood circulating through the hood and we had a few joints that was popping on that tape. We took some of them records from that and put it on the album too.
B: And when you guys got to Uptown, the first artist you worked with was Mary J. Blige. It was for the “I'm Going Down” remix, right?
MC: Yeah, but I ain’t work with Mary J. that day. I went in the studio later and they asked me “do you want to get on this?” and I was like "yeah, it’s Mary J." I mean after that, me and Mary J. is peoples now so it’s all good. I was coming up in the game when they gave me that.
B: What was it like being on Uptown Records? What was it like to be on a label with artists such as Jodeci, Mary J Blige and Heavy D?
MC: It was a mix. It was street and class, you know what I’m saying? Shoutouts to Andre Harrell, RIP, the boss man who gave me the shot. I used to go up there just to be around the office. Going up to the office, you don’t really catch all the artists, you think you gonna catch them all up in there running around but it wasn’t like that when I got in the game. I’m bumping into Heavy D, bumping into Father MC and all of that. I was just hyped man. We was all hype coming out of what we was coming out from, it was just different. We was hype to be there but we was held up from our street ways and all that but inside I was still hyped to be down with such an incredible label. And then they took it up to Universal records and all of that.
B: And you guys felt like you fit in when you first got there?
MC: Hell yeah, it felt like we fit in! No questions about it. It felt good. It’s what we wanted it to be like. We wasn’t really looking for a deal or nothing. We was just running around being LB Fam and making music, just rapping off of beats in the park jams and shit like that.
B: You mentioned Andre Harrell earlier, what was he like and what was your relationship with him like?
MC: He was like a regular dude, he just knew his business. So when we got a chance to meet the God it was bananas you know? We was hanging out with him at award shows in the early 90’s. We might go to awards shows out to Miami and LA. Just being around him was smooth, learned some shit. I learned a lot from him, Mark, Diddy a bunch of them niggas.
B: What will you miss most about him?
MC: His presence, his love, his vibe. I remember it was one night I was out Miami and I bumped into him and Uncle Russ at a Jay-Z beach party. They asked me to run down because at the time I was in Miami doing what I do - making music - and they was like “Yo, Cheeks can you find that fire for us?” So I went out there and got them some fire and it was like that man, just like your big brother and that’s what it was. I miss Andre Harrell, man, I wish I had more time with him and [could] do more things together.
B: What inspired you guys to make "Jeeps, Lex Coups, Bimaz and Benz?"
MC: Just being in the hood and just seeing what the world was you know. All the dudes was rocking Lexuses and all that, you had the bad bitch in your passenger seat, dudes had the big rope chain, we wanted to be that. So the album is Legal Drug Money, we wanted to be drug dealers without selling drugs. So how you do that? How you go about doing that? Make music maybe, get your fresh on and bump with some shorties. That’s what it was all about when we was coming up. We just wanted to have a good time. So "Jeeps, Lex Coups, Bimaz and Benz" was just a dedication to what we seen sitting on the park bench. We would be like “I gotta get one of those joints” and that’s what it really was.
B: In the song you say “I’m representing putting Queens on the map”. Prior to you guys, Nas came out with Illmatic the year before and Mobb Deep came out with The Infamous earlier that year. Did you and the group feel any pressure to match that level of work and represent for Queens?
MC: Nah, we was just Queens niggas. They was on the other side of the town and we was on our side of town. They was in The Bridge [Queensbridge Projects] and we was on Rockaway Boulevard 132 rocking out. We just represented Queens cause that’s just what it was. Back in the days it was “Is Brooklyn in the house”, “Uptown, Uptown," “Boogie Down Bronx” and they be like "quiet Queens" and shit but we liver than a motherfucker in Queens, you know what I’m saying? Then KRS-ONE was coming at MC Shan so all of that meant something to us. Like "let's go, Queens in the motherfucking building, hard body!" But everybody know what it is. Queens got those superstar crack stars: Supreme, Pappy Mason, Fat Cat. We got a long list of ghetto superstars.
B: Easy Mo Bee produced "Jeeps, Lex Coups, Bimaz and Benz" and the first single "Lifestyles of the Rich and Shameless."
MC: Easy Mo Bee is my boy man, my brother, my friend. It was good working with him. I was a fan of him from his Jazz album. At the time producers would submit beats to labels and shit like that or send them in and see if the artists would feel it. When we heard those Easy Mo Bee joints we was in Quad studios like bang, let’s go and just started recording. I learned from my man Tim Dog, I learned a lot from him on how to write and put my stories in place because I was just rapping about the streets, hood shit, the parties and what we go through but he taught me how to line it up and make into a song. I gotta give my man that and just want to shout him out real quick but that’s how that happened right there.
B: How important was it to shoot the music video in Jamaica, Queens where you guys grew up?
MC: That’s everything you dream of doing when you make music you know. You want to be in your neighborhood and feel good around your surrounding and where you doing it at. It’s just a way to show your neighborhood the love you know what I’m saying, where you came from. We did "Jeeps, Lex Coups, Bimaz and Benz" around Lincoln Park. Everybody knows that’s where Lamar Odom was raised up in there balling out. We was all around each other those days so it was good to do that. When I get a chance to shoot in my hood I always go back to my hood. Most of my videos be in my hood but once in a while they to tell you to span out and I definitely do that. Ain’t nothing like rocking in your own neighborhood man and putting your word down. Having the people from your neighborhood in your videos and all that shit. I love that shit.
B: You guys spent all of 1995 pushing the first two singles and then the album comes out in 1996. When do you guys decide to go and record the rest of the album? Or was it already done by the time the "Lex, Coups, Bimaz and Benz" blew up?
MC: We was recording while those records was out. We was recording different records doing the album. Like “Lifestyles Of The Rich and Shameless” and “Jeeps, Lex Coups, Bimaz and Benz” we had to let that go cause we was holding on to them too long.
B: Oh you guys had those songs done by ’94 then?
MC: Yeah, we was rocking, we was just waiting and they wanted us to do a whole new album. We was like nah we can’t do it, we don’t even wanna do it. Let’s go and win or lose with this right now, and they believed in us. Heavy D was like “Let’s go man." Heavy D was the man that signed us to the bill. He told Andre Harrell “Let’s make this happen, these niggas is ready." They trusted in us and we put those records out and we ran. We got some things right.
B: What was like working with Heavy D and having a relationship with him?
MC: It’s not even like working with him. It was like bong, he would be LB handshaking and all of that. That’s how real he was. Heavy D was deep, man. I miss that nigga, word up. We was good peoples.
B: Along with Easy Mo Bee and Tim Dogg you guys worked with Pete Rock and Mr. Sexxx to make Legal Drug Money. They’re all great producers with different styles, what’s the commonality between all those producers?
MC: Yo the commonality is just good music man. The beats and arrangement of their tracks, the lyrics perfectly go with their tracks. You got to understand when I started working with Pete Rock it was like I’m still a fan of him and CL Smooth.
B: That must’ve been really cool to work with someone who you’ve been a fan of. It’s like I’ve been a fan of yours before I got in this game now I’m here work with you, oh my God, what do I do?
MC: It’s like a young NBA player playing with LeBron. It’s like “Yo, I’m with this nigga” but Pete Rock is a down to earth cool out nigga like most of us are. I was on a tour bus with him. I went on tour doing my album and it was me, Pete Rock, Truth Hurts, my man Dwayne [Wiggins] from Tony! Toni! Tone! and we was out on the road for like eight weeks. Getting it in and vibing with my man Pete Rock. We was in the back making beats and coming up with different ideas and we created a record on the bus. Mr. Sexxx, man I met him through a mutual friend and we just clicked from there. We lit one up, listen to some tracks next thing you know I’m coming to his house or he coming to my crib and we just building and shit. I miss Mr. Sexxx, he gone too. He up there with Freaky Tah and he’s burning it down with all the boys and all that. So it was a good run with all of my boys.
B: It’s funny we’re talking about Pete Rock because “The Yearn” is one of my favorite songs off the album and there’s another version with him rapping on it, which is dope too.
MC: He did the beat, he did the remix and then we did the video with Pete Rock where we sit down on the table. That’s one of the nights where we had a brawl somewhere and we all have on band aids and shit (laughs). It’s fun working with Pete Rock and he always hardbody. Matter of fact as you bring up Pete Rock we working on the 25th anniversary of the Lost Boys with Universal and Uptown Records right now. I don’t know if I should blow it up but fuck it, it’s coming out in June and we gonna hit y’all with some new joints.
B: It’s gonna be like a new edition of Legal Drug Money with new songs on it?
MC: Right, it’s gonna be the same album just adding three or four more joints. It’s gonna be on some collector’s item type shit.
B: On the song "Channel Zero," you say “Four cops dismissed down in LA?, Now what the fuck are y’all telling me?” That was a reference to the Rodney King trial in 1992. It’s been nearly 30 years and black people are still being abused and killed by police. How painful is it that its 2021 and we’re still having to deal with the same issues?
MC: Same fucking issues. You know a great friend of mine, Ed OG says, they love Black culture but they don’t love Black culture. That’s just what it always is. They take everything from what we are, the dances and everything. I mean they want to give these motherfuckers all the credit like these motherfuckers is us, but nah that shit is always going to be what it is. We’ve been lied to since we got here. The shit we did on “Channel Zero” was like 1995, ’96. It’s 2021 and that shit still applies to today. Like that shit is definitely real, it’s like when they gonna see it, we ain’t gotta wake up. They call us threats cause we so fly, pure and beautiful and shit like that. It’s just is what it is. A lot of people don’t pay attention to that record though.
B: I’m glad you said that cause a lot of people view you guys as a group that makes dope party records, but they don’t realize that you guys get serious and really talk about real shit that affects the everyday world. One of the reasons why I love that record is because we have a vital situation that affects us as Black people and you really addressed it in a very articulate way. Not only that but you talked about Black people going up against other Black people.
MC: Only time we came together is when the white man rushed us and all types of shit.
B: And you even got at Mark Wahlberg a little bit too
MC: (Laughs) he’s definitely a hard body dude. At the time I didn’t know about his vibe but his vibe is smooth too.
B: Going into the second album Andre Harrell left Uptown to go work for Motown and Heavy D became the president in 1997. Did that change affect you guys in any way?
MC: I mean at the time we ain’t know what was going on. So you know we young niggas just rocking. We was like “What happened?” “What’s going on?” After Andre Harrell, everything was different.
B: Would you say Heavy D could’ve done a better job as president or was it a matter of no one can replace the main guy that brought you here?
MC: It was like "damn, what we do now," right? Then we out to Universal and they did us good. We was just mad they didn’t give us that check we needed to put our artists on like A-Plus and Canibus. We brought niggas to the game but they didn’t give us that financial backing so we can put our little Lost Boyz family shit the strong way. We wanted to be like Bad Boy and Cash Money. It is what it is. We just went through the shit. After Andre Harrell left we just continued to make music and see where it would take us.
B: Why do you think Love Peace and Nappiness doesn’t get the same respect as Legal Drug Money?
MC: I don’t know. I mean we took a different route. I definitely took a different route on the Love, Peace and Nappiness album. They ain’t really get it cause they didn’t promote that shit the way they was supposed to. It was only one tour we did with Universal and it was Lollapalooza, that was like ’97. They ain’t really put us on tour multiple times. You see an artist come out with an album they put you on tour and let you run through the cities. We really didn’t get that. I really think that’s what touched it because us going out there and doing shows is how they’re gonna see it more. A lot of videos they ain’t shoot for this album so that fucked up a lot of shit too.
B: Some people may not know this but your contract with Uptown was interesting because you and Freaky Tah got paid more than Spigg Nice and Pretty Lou. Could you explain how that contract broke down amongst you guys?
MC: Oh man listen the contract was crazy. The beginning of the whole thing was this, they was like Cheeks you wanna bring the whole Lost Boyz with you then it’s gonna be Mr. Cheeks and the Lost Boyz. I just wanted it to be Lost Boyz but they wasn’t signing Lou and Spigg cause they wasn’t writing music. We fought hard for that shit, trust me. So, me and Tahliq ended up doing the contract and payed Spigg and Lou for road trip shows and whatever else they can do. That’s what happened with the label. I had to fight to bring all three of my boys with me because that’s how I felt, I’m not even signing the deal until I can bring my team with me. That’s how that happened.
B: I know you said Spigg Nice is the DJ but did he ever rap and did Pretty Lou ever rap?
MC: Nah, they never rapped. My niggas will be my boys in the background. You know the people that you get with are the people you gonna take with you. Lou is the model nigga so he would bag up the bitches and he got the mad business mind. He always had an idea on how to get money and that’s what it was.
B: So when Freaky Tah passed away Uptown records had folded and you guys were in the process of making LB IV Life. Can you talk about how difficult that time was?
MC: What? That was mad difficult man. After that situation happened with Tahliq it was real hard to make that album, but we had to make that album. We made the album on some no failure type shit. Tahliq got killed, we didn’t want niggas to see us like we ain’t still active. We had problems with the family members and shit. It was a situation that went down and nobody knew what the fuck was going on. So there was a lot of confusion between the family and the camp but time went on and we got better and we mended our ways. Certain niggas we had to talk to. Listen we didn’t kill Tahliq you have to understand that. We don’t know what’s going on so we all in the mix and we blinded to the fact that this situation happened. Overall we back to family business and things like that. We just waiting for Spigg Nice to come home, we still doing Freaky Tah Day every May 14th in the park and keeping his name here and keeping the LB’s up.
B: Before Freaky Tah’s death did you think about going solo or was that something you thought about after his death?
MC: I was definitely gonna go solo and do my own Mr. Cheeks thing no question, before Tahliq passed. That’s just what it was though. Everybody was gonna do they thing.
B: When you look back 25 years ago, what was your fondest memory of that time?
MC: Oh man. Rocking out with Diddy. Rocking out with Mark Curry. Rocking out with Ben Stiller. Snoop Dogg at the American Music Awards. That was bananas. That was a good time. I rolled around L.A. with Snoop and my man Don “Magic” Juan the whole day. That shit was fun. Riding through L.A. with your man Snoop going to the honeycomb hide out. Yea, that was one of the good days right there, no doubt.
B: Who can out smoke who? You or Snoop?
MC: Ohhhh. I can’t call it. I’m the east coast Snoop Dogg. I’m smoking all day everyday (laughs).
B: What do you think is the Lost Boyz legacy?
MC: Lost Boyz legacy, just some good music making niggas. We made some good joints you know. We get the party popping and that’s what we do. I mean that’s what they gave us. When we came in the game we was on a different run. Now we on some old clap your hands shit and we just rocking man. When they call me they call me to party, they don’t even call me to do nothing else “nah we don’t want the new joints, just give us the classics." And I just bang out.
*HEADER CREDIT: Mr. Cheeks attends the Hip Hop 4 Flint benefit concert at S.O.B.'s on March 22, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage)