Things got bad for Queens rapper Mr. Cheeks. Starting with the death of fellow Lost Boyz member Freaky Tah in 1999, Cheeks started on a downward spiral. Then, came the 37-year prison sentence handed down to the group’s DJ, Spigg Nice, in 2003 for multiple bank robberies. Through it all, though, Cheeks kept on his grind releasing three solo albums, all while battling alcoholism. The rapper’s last release came in 2004 with Ladies and Ghettomen. Since then, things have been relatively quiet.
Fortunately, Cheeks started to make a turn for the better about a year ago after his alcohol abuse threatened to forever diminish his musical feats, personal relationships and financial stability. Now the LB Fam figurehead is opening up about his battle with the bottle as he embarks on a dual comeback with his forthcoming solo release, And the Winner Is, and a new Lost Boyz album in the works. In this exclusive interview with XXLMag.com, Mr. Cheeks speaks on how the passing of Freaky Tah drove him to drink and fighting for Spigg’s appeal to be released from jail.
XXLMag.com: You were off the scene for a little while. Why the hiatus?
Mr. Cheeks: It was personal. I had a new boy and I took time to let my son get to know who I am. I been working and doing shows but not going into it. Personally, when I lost Tah it was a difficult time and I didn’t know who to trust and fuck with. He got killed in the ‘hood so I abandoned the ‘hood for a minute. I didn’t know what was going on in the ‘hood. When he left I lost some of my mojo as far as going hard. I also had bullshit management at the time with my aunt and she turned out not to do the right job. I had to rebuild myself.
After Tah’s death did you feel a need to retaliate at all?
Through my good friends and family, I stayed above. I could have did a lot of shit as far as retaliation [goes] but I know he wanted me to do this [music] thing. I was like, Let me get back on my thing. We are a heavy crew out here in the streets. So all the good niggas told me, “You got a career” and to “do you” and “the best revenge is looking well.” We gonna make that music for him and show them how we do.
Tah passed 11 years ago, how do you deal with his death now?
Every year I deal with it. Now it’s a celebration and the death of my man. After I lost him I started to hit the bottle too much and wilding out. Now on his birthday we throw it up and support his family and do what we do for each other.
How bad did your drinking get? Did you become an alcoholic?
Yeah, I was an alcoholic. Nigga was going crazy with it. I was going in. I would just spaz out and talk to people crazy. I was spitting on niggas that talked the wrong way to me. I had to regain myself. I was losing myself and wasn’t nobody there to tell me to chill. I had to figure that out for myself. Plus, I’m the general of this LB shit so I can’t be looking wild and doing wild shit. I had to rehab myself on that.
What was your lowest point when it comes to the alcohol abuse?
Not being on my business and watching what people were doing with my money. I was drinking and doing what I got to do and making records. That’s the lowest because I ain’t take care of my business like I was supposed to. So I had to leave the bottle alone after that.
How did you tackle your addiction?
My family made me do it. I would come in at night and the next morning not know what I did. At that point you know you need to leave it alone. I ain’t trying to embarrass myself and do dumb shit all day. I didn’t do no rehab. It was just self-construction and I had to construct myself the right way again.
Looking back, was Tah’s passing the main cause of your abuse or were there other contributing factors?
Yeah, Tah and shit my people were doing that I’m finding out. I do a lot for people and extend my hand heavy but when niggas do me wrong I spaz out. I was drinking ’cause I thought it was me but it wasn’t me so I turned to pot.
How long have you been sober?
About a good year.
What have you learned about yourself after such experiences?
I know I am strong ‘cause I went through it. I know that I’m a good muthafuckin’ performer, father and cousin. I got to stay focused and help guide my people where they got to be. I don’t go to church or nothing. I am just me. I’m just playing my part while I am here. My part is to make good music, put on them shows and that’s what I will do.
You signed with Stephen Marley’s Ghetto Youths International label. How did that relationship come about?
We met back in 1997 at Lollapalooza and went down there to Miami one day. From meeting him I felt that coolness and vibe like to burn trees and make music. I learned positive good things of how to be patient, take care of your family, try to do your best and be a good man to your woman. The music we make is a different ball game. When they hear my new album they gonna think we grew up but the music is still Mr. Cheeks.
Is the direction of this album more reggae?
No, it’s straight hip-hop. I’m still hard body. It’s got a whole bunch of ingredients. It’s gonna be a good meal. You will have it all on your plate in that album.
You’re not only releasing a solo album but you’re also back with the Lost Boyz working on a new project. Why did you all decide to resurrect the group?
It’s a fan album and that’s really what it is. It’s all Lost Boyz but it’s the fam bringing our artist under us out. It’s not just for the Lost Boyz. It’s for Spigg since he said go get that. It’s what the people want and you got to give them what they want. We are independent so let’s get it.
How is Spigg holding up in jail?
He’s in good spirits and is chilling. We’re fighting for an appeal for my man to get some time reduced and get him out of there. We want him back with us. It’s looking good. The lawyer is on his job but I can’t talk about that but you will find out soon. That’s why we putting out the album and doing our thing for that family support. Whatever we can do, we are doing. This makes us want to get it even more. We ain’t getting no younger and we ain’t corny rap niggas. We trendsetters and put a dent in the game so let me go in there and get some money, too. —Souleo