Like the blues, hip-hop’s ethos is to create something from nothing, makin’ a way outta no way, and it’s not surprising that a lot of hip-hop’s brightest came from the front lines of urban decay.
Take New York City’s E Line to the end and get off at Jamaica in the South Queens borough. In the early nineties rappers threw down hip-hop jams in Baisley Pond Park there. One of the young men who made a name for himself was Raymond Rodgers who called himself by Freaky Tah.
Tah’s high school buddies DJ Spigg Nice, Pretty Lou, and Mr. Cheeks were there too, and the crew began to jam as a unit. The Lost Boyz appropriated its name from The Lost Boys (a teenage vampire movie that featured Echo & the Bunnymen’s version of The Doors‘ “People Are Strange” on the soundtrack).
The Boyz slung drugs to get by but quit after another dealer they knew was shot. The Lost Boyz soon debuted the single “Lifestyles Of the Rich & Shameless,” and it climbed up Billboard’s Hot 100 thanks to its hypnotic creed “some died wit the name, some die nameless, it’s all the same game, all the same pain.” Based on the single and the promise of more party jams, Uptown Records added the Lost Boyz to its roster. “Renee” followed and was included in the spoof movie Don’t Be A Menace To South Central While Drinking Your Juice In the Hood.
“Cheeks and Freaky were the star players on the team,” Pretty Lou says. Freaky Tah’s throaty voice was the response to Mr. Cheek’s call, the story’s chorus, the adlibbing backup—the hype man. “He was that big spark that started the engine,” says his brother Tito. “He loved his fans and loved being on stage.” Like Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav, Tah’s role in the group was irreplaceable. Tahleek’s deep rasp is found all over their ’96 debut Legal Drug Money; he even rocked the mike on “1,2,3.” The record is part contemplation and part celebration of the Queens they emerged from. Even the song titles speak collectively of a greater story with “Get Up,” “Music Makes Me High,” “Jeeps, Lex Coups, Bimaz & Benz,” “All Right,” “Straight From Da Ghetto,” “Da Game,” and so on.
The album commanded the top spot on the rap/hip-hop charts and climbed to number six on the Billboard 200, going gold in the process. Several cuts from Legal Drug Money charged up the singles charts, such as “Music Makes Me High,” which outsold LL Cool J, Outkast, Jay-Z, and Mary J. Blige in November ’96.
The Lost Boyz managed to stay out of the East Coast / West Coast beef that claimed the lives of Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, and many others. In an otherwise bling-filled scene, the Lost Boyz pioneered plain white tees as part of the hip-hop uniform.
Tah never forgot about who he was and where he came from and invested time in prepping kids from his hood in the rap game. His crew was known as the 134 Allstars and included 50 Cent.
When Tah wasn’t hanging with his crew, he might ride the bus so he could sign autographs or pass out CDs and t-shirts. He was in the street all the time, and on his birthday he’d throw a BBQ for the south side of Queens. “That’s why 95 percent of everyone knew who Tah was,” Tito says.
In 1997, the Lost Boyz followed up with Love Peace & Nappiness and Tah stepped up on two of that album’s essential tracks “Why?” and “Get Your Hustle On,” while “My Crew” paid homage to their hood. The album went gold, and the single “Me & My Crazy World” placed in the middle of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.
March 28, 1999, the Lost Boyz entourage celebrated Mr. Cheeks’s birthday at the Sheraton Hotel in Queens. Well after midnight Tah said goodbye and left the party. As he walked through the main doors of the hotel, a man on the street shot him in the head and escaped in a car that sped off.
Freaky Tah was pronounced dead at 4:20 a.m.; the incredible hype man was only 27 years old.
In 2001, Kelvin Jones pleaded guilty to murdering Raymond Rogers and received fifteen years to life, while driver Raheem Fletcher was sentenced to seven years for chauffeuring the getaway car.
The socially conscious Talib Kweli pays his respects in “Good Mourning” off Reflection Eternal’s 2000 album Train of Thought. He raps “Freaky Tah, rock rock on.”