Sitting in the studio Sunday, taking a break from a new track with M.O.P., Mr. Cheeks couldn't stop thinking about rap's fallen soldiers.
He was thinking of listening to Tupac's music, remembering chillin' with Biggie, recalling when he used to travel from Queens to Harlem with Big L to battle other rappers during his days as an upstart. No loss has had a greater impact on him, however, than Lost Boys member Freaky Tah.
"Right now, I'm making a solo album, and it doesn't feel like nothing without being around [Pretty] Lou, Spigg Nice and Tah. I could do all of this, I got my LB fam with me, but I ain't got Lou, Spigg and Tah here. But it's still a blessing. God didn't take everything away from us. He took his angel back. So we gonna hold it down for him. He's looking over us."
Cheeks' mood isn't all dreary, though, despite his somber words and the sobering, piano-tinged beat for the night's work-in-progress, "Call Me a Hustle" — which features the chorus: "Just call me a hustle/ Grinding pies/ Writing rhymes/ 95/ Pimpin chicks doing sticks/ ... Bottom line dollar signs" — playing in the background. In fact, he'll got downright jolly through most of the night, even doing his trademarked jig, the LB Slide.
But Cheeks wasn't dancing around words. "My new album is titled The Best Damn Rap Album Period," he said unflinchingly. "I got that from 'The Best Damn Sports Show Period,' so I thought I might as well make The Best Damn Rap Album Period.
"It ain't putting no pressure on me," he said of the title. "I'm back at it. It's time to bring the game back to how we do it. N---as is talking about a lot of nonsense now. So bong! I'm coming with The Best Damn Rap Album Period. Real rap artist music, bottom line. We had to take it back. It's a lot of stuff going on right now. N---as told me, 'The game is wack. Come back and represent.' It's more [to hip-hop] than platinum chains and throwbacks. We got skills right here. I got a lot of records for y'all."
Helping him with those records so far are Bink, who produced Cheeks' smash "Lights, Camera, Action," as well as The Best Damn Rap Album Period's first single, "I'm Back Again," which samples "Car Wash." Big Gipp, Glenn Lewis, Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth (Cheeks redoes their "They Reminisce Over You [T.R.O.Y.]") and Alexander O'Neil also joined the fray.
"I brought him out the cracks 'cause I love his song 'Sunshine,' " Cheeks explained about using onetime R&B star O'Neil. "I got a song called 'Sunshine' on my album. As an entertainer, I'm always on the road. There's times you want to be home with your woman. It's times you be on the road so much, when you go home, you don't want to leave. So 'Sunshine' is for my lady.
"I did a lot of lady joints," he added. "I f---ed up in the past. I did a joint called 'I Apologize' that's featuring Glenn Lewis, for all the real n---as who ain't afraid to tell a chick how he feel. Sometimes we f--- up, and I'm the guy that came through to let all [the men] know how we get down. You might lose the best thing we ever had, but you never know till she's gone. This is life."
According to Cheeks, who has been traveling on the road with Rick James, the Isley Brothers and Teena Marie, life outside of music also includes a recurring role on Showtime's "Soul Food" and parts in the big screen flicks "Deliver Us From Eva" and "Honey."