Attention, ladies and gentle….(ahem)….ghettomen: In this corner stands another in the long line of emcees estranged from their original group only to find their stock dropping rapidly, one solo album at a time. During the mid to late 1990s, Mr. Cheeks was to his Lost Boyz what Peter Pan was to his Lost Boys – the strong and charismatic voice behind the happy-go-lucky bangers that sounded oh-so-bumptious carrying on through the back speakers of the nearest Jeep. From the addictive “Music Makes Me High” to the playeristic “Me and My Crazy World,” Cheeks and family not only made music for the streets; they made anthems that still persist today.
Flash-forward to the new century and much has changed within the Lost Boyz family (including the murder of original member Freaky Tah), with Cheeks seemingly outgrowing the format that made people recognize him and his entourage by two simple letters: L.B. And after the mild success of his first two solo albums (Back Again and John P. Kelly) comes Ladies and Ghettomen, which tries oh so hard to recreate at least one official L.B. anthem, but instead transforms into a pile of generically-titled tracks that will leave L.B. fans yearning for another “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” or “My Crew.”
Not everything that Cheeks touches on Ghettomen turns to dust, as the lead single “It’s Alright” proves that Cheeks may not be the lyricist he once was (as evidenced by, “Stay crisp, new kicks, Carhart jeans, kid, Rep New York and I stay on that Queens shit”), but his charisma and entertainment value remains handily intact with that same ol’ L.B. flair. Toss in the catchy-as-hell Truth Hurts verse and watch the crowd circle around the “Jeeps, Lex coupes, the Beamers, and the Benzes.”
Pete Rock gets that same knock going on for “All I Know,” a cymbaled-out soulful head-nodder with Cheeks and the Soul Brother himself coming together for another creation that should undoubtedly live long through the subwoofers buried beneath the front seat of any ride. But Cheeks may be at his best on Ghettomen with “What’s Happenin’,” as he rides out the subdued Asianesque production to create yet another ode to his city (“The cars, the bikes, the Jeeps is pretty, I ride and die for my committee, No matter where I step I rep my city”).
And then, Ghettomen turns softer than….well, gentlemen. “The Girl’s Mine” is yet another remake of the Michael Jackson classic, and anyway, can any of us really picture Mr. Cheeks with any other girl than “Renee?” “All Nite Long” captures the simple sentiment of Cheeks chasing after his female and pursuing her from start to finish, but also fails to capture the same sort of success that his past hits brought. The very generic “Keep It Movin’” features an awkward mesh of a quick-paced Pete Rock banger with Cheeks struggling to “keep himself moving” along with it, while the guest appearances of “Turn It Up” spoil the presence of another back-to-soul Pete Rock production.
Much like Back Again or John P. Kelly, Ladies and Ghettomen does not categorically fail just because Cheeks decides to go it alone. Deep within each lies the L.B. in Cheeks that has never disappeared since day one ? the problem for Cheeks is finding out what to do between those “Lost” moments. And, unfortunately, while the music still makes him high at times, it also brings him back to earth all too often.
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