The Lost Boyz, a four-piece Rap group from Jamaica Queens dropped their impressive debut album “Legal Drug Money” in 1996. The album was released during a time when the Hip-Hop genre was slowly becoming mainstream, but alongside a few Artists who were blending Rap with R&B in order to crossover, the Lost Boyz’ album was an example of accessible Hip-Hop done properly; hard beats, a rugged style, with just the right amount of catchy choruses.
The album began with an intro which introduced the members of the Lost Boyz; Mr. Cheeks, Freaky Tah, DJ Spigg Nice, and Pretty Lou, and then the first song kicked in. “The Yearn” sported a style which would become the Lost Boyz’ trademark; great rock-solid, bass thumping production, Mr. Cheeks’ croaky yet urbane flow, Freaky Tah’s hoarse and nonchalant vocals, and a strong chorus that stuck in the brain of the listener. With production courtesy of Pete Rock, the track was a potent start to this LP and anybody listening to it found themselves either nodding to the beat or repeating the chorus… “It’s the cheebas, the liquors, the condoms, hit that ass”.
The next joint “Music Makes Me High” was an example of the group trying to make a chart hit, and in March 1996 the song reached number 51 in the US Hot 100. With a female vocal in the background and an upbeat march-like rhythm, I guess it was an attempt at making an almost radio-friendly track without feeling like the Boyz were selling out. However with the group’s earlier and much harder single “Renee” beating it (with its number 33 position) it proved that club-friendly songs weren’t necessary to attain success in the mid-nineties.
“Jeeps, Lex Coups, Bimaz & Benz” brought the album back to the group’s characteristic rugged sound thanks to Easy Mo Bee’s production. Although the lyrics mentioned cars (which is nothing compared to the Maybach’s and Bugatti’s of today) the song still felt credible thanks to the content of the verses and the overall solid sound.
“Lifestyle Of The Rich And Shameless” featured another super-catchy chorus and yet more gritty production by Easy Mo Bee. The song sported a hint of storytelling about various people resorting to crime in order to make money.
“Renee” was without a doubt the stand-out track of the album. With Mr. Sexxx’s production against Mr. Cheeks’ captivating narrative (concerning a short-lived relationship with a girl named Renee who is killed) each segment of the story was inventively interrupted by the chorus which revealed the ending, and this made the unfolding plot seem even more foreboding. “Renee” is without question a classic Hip-Hop track, and should always be mentioned when people ask about the Golden Era. Every time I play this, it brings back memories of mid-nineties winters when wearing untied Timz, baggy jeans, and XXL coats was a must.
“All Right” then followed, which was another excellent track with its rugged and elongated wail in the background and some reverse drum sounds thanks to Producer Big Dex. At this point in the album there were a few uninspired songs including “Legal Drug Money” with its short unneeded interview and mellow feel, and “Get Up” which unfortunately was an obvious Pop-friendly track with Stephanie Mills and Gwen McCrae samples. “Is This Da Part” brought the album back to the streets with its deep-voiced chorus, but this was then followed by two more conventional offerings “Straight From The Ghetto” and “Keep It Real”. Thankfully the album was reigned-in from this stagnation by “Channel Zero”, which was a great, moody track also produced by Big Dex. With Mr. Cheeks lamenting about how hard it is trying to make it in the cutthroat music industry whilst also living in a prejudice white majority world, he even weaved in a diss about Mark “Marky Mark” Wahlberg and fake white music acts. With the current trend for praising faux white “Rappers” like Iggy Azalea and Macklemore (and the various Police brutality cases of late) “Channel Zero” is as relevant today as it was in the nineties, just check out some of the lyrics…
“Motherfuck them police,
Some whites talk about peace,
Others treat us like beasts.
But they ain’t ready for the planet,
Marky Mark be talking that slang,
But he don’t even understand it.
Yeah I said Marky Mark,
Fronting like the buddah is sparked,
I never seen you in the park.
You gets awards for your bullshit skills, G,
A white boy acting black, that shit kills me.
Pants sagging, talking slang kid and all that,
I never seen you in the project’s hall, black.
Ayo, I wants no Grammy,
Ya Whitey’s gave Elvis a stamp,
And what ya plan to give my man, Sammy?”
After the next song “Da Game” (regrettably another forgettable track) the album ended with “1,2,3” which was a nice sombre and slow song. With Mr. Cheeks’ lingering chorus (“Ooone-Twooo-Threee thousand problems”) against Freeky Tah’s gruff verses, it made for a superb final track (aside from the remix of “Lifestyles Of The Rich And Shameless”).
Apart from a few mediocre songs (which strangely included the title track) the album was a satisfying listen back when it was released and it’s still an enjoyable listen today. It may dip from the middle and towards the end, but with a couple of genre classics on there, it’s quite surprising that “Legal Drug Money” never really gets mentioned when people talk about nineties Hip-Hop and nineties music in general. Sadly Freaky Tah was shot and killed in 1999 and a few years later DJ Spigg Nice was sentenced to 37 years for Bank robbery; and the group hasn’t recovered since. Although Gil Scott-Heron’s nephew Mr. Cheeks made a few solo records (including a few uber-radio-friendly songs like “Lights, Camera, Action!”) the Lost Boyz were never able to capture the feeling of “Legal Drug Money” with their next two releases. This Gold-selling album remains the Lost Boyz’ greatest contribution to Hip-Hop music, and it shouldn’t be forgotten.