"I'm not old school it's just that years have passed," Mr. Cheeks quipped in August regarding his two-years-plus mic hiatus. "We haven't been on the scene in a while."
If it were up to the Queens, New York, native, we would have heard from him a lot sooner.
"I been beefing with the label," Cheeks said of his woes with Universal Records. "What the hell? I done recorded the album; I recorded three albums already. I need a single out. I need to eat. I'm getting beat in the head with this 'pushed back' bull. But now it's here."
Cheeks is no stranger to label problems. After he and the Lost Boyz (a.k.a. LB Fam) burst onto the scene in 1995 with the classic party anthems "Lifestyles of the Rich and Shameless" and "Jeep, Lex Coups, Bimas and Benz," the foursome would have to wait nearly a year before their gold debut, Legal Drug Money, dropped.
After another gold album, 1997's Love, Peace and Nappiness, the Lost Boyz's dancefloor reign came to an abrupt halt with the murder of bandmember Freaky Tah, arguably rap's greatest hype man. The remaining Boyz Cheeks, Spigg Nice and Pretty Lou dropped LB IV Life soon after. Without Tah, however, the album lacked the luster of their previous efforts.
Cheeks broke his silence this summer to shake up clubs again with "Lights, Camera, Action," the first single off his solo debut, John P. Kelly, which arrives Tuesday (October 16).
"Its about taking it back to how we do it," Cheeks said. "Go to the party, get our little drink on, smoke on, enjoying life. There's enough cats out there going hard at each other. Let's talk about the fruities [girls] and cats who like to party."
Cheeks, who rocked the mic on the vast majority of Lost Boyz songs, said going it alone took some time to get used to.
"It's different because I ain't got my n----s Spigg and Lou and Freaky Tah bouncing with me in the studio," he said of the album, whose title pays homage to a deceased uncle.
"I'm at the point where I wanna do Cheeks for a minute," he continued. "Let the world know what's going on with me personally. LB is still there. We still got our studio in the basement doing joints. Spigg's working on his things. Lou's working with me on this album, holding my campaign down. But right now, I wanna do a solo thing, see how I do."
Besides "Lights, Camera, Action," Cheeks aims to move the crowd with "Friday Night," which features singer Horace Brown. The heavy bass thumps while Cheeks rhymes about popping bottles of champagne in the VIP section while being tempted by fine damsels.
"N----s shut down the party songs for a minute," he said. "I gotta get on my job and bring that funk back. I'm taking it back to the LB essence."
Cheeks sobers up on "Till We Meet Again," which opens with Tah saying he didn't want to "hear that beefing sh-- no more." Caribbean guitars kick in and Cheeks addresses Tah, who was murdered on Cheeks' birthday, noting that he wanted to quit rap after his friend's death.
"When I got in the studio after the tragedy," he said stoically, "I would think Tah was going to come through with the crew. I got real focused, hard and angry. I let my music do the talking for me. I would still love to have my man right there. 'Lights, Camera, Action' would have been iller with him on it."
Another Cheeks friend, Stephen Marley, sings on "Till We Meet Again" and "Mama Say." Marley, who became friends with Cheeks during the 1997 Lollapalooza tour, croons, "And I see you passing by my way again, and I'm wondering if we could be good friends" over a track that combines Southern bounce and reggae.
While he doesn't plan on retiring soon, Cheeks has moved from Queens to Miami.
"I get the same love out there I get up top," he explained. "My boys come down, it's like we home. Everyday we wear shorts and tank tops and chill. It's like a hot New York where you can live freely. The city don't sleep."