Obituary: Freaky Tah

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The Independent Culture
RAP MUSIC'S Tarantino-style tendency to glamorise violence shows no sign of abating.

In this unsavoury climate, which sees major record labels exploiting street culture without thinking through the consequences, the fatal shooting of Freaky Tah (a.k.a. Raymond Rodgers), a member of the US rap act Lost Boyz, seems to be just another name to add to the sad litany of Tupac Shakur, killed in 1996, Notorious B.I.G., shot in 1997, and the cult rapper Big L (hugely respected in the underground for his tracks "Ebonics" and "Devil's Son"), who was gunned down in February this year.

Yet, until recently, Freaky Tah and the three other member of Lost Boyz looked as if they had managed to escape their origins in the South Jamaica area of Queens, New York, with the success of two gold albums. However, the group didn't bail out of their community and supported local businesses as well as helping kids from their own neighbourhood.

Freaky Tah, along with his friend T. Kelly, who took up the nom de rap Mr Cheeks and cousins who became Pretty Lou and D.J. Spigg Nice, had seen the other side. "We've got family values," stated Freaky Tah in interviews. "We've played together when we were little and I hope to be buried beside these cats."

Raymond Rodgers was born in 1972. After attending high school, with the three other members of the group he began working at Kennedy Airport, but all four decided to quit on the same day. The quartet took their name from Joel Schumacher's 1987 film, the teen blockbuster The Lost Boys, and struggled to find a recording deal. Mr Cheeks penned some rhymes for the hip-hop pioneers Whodini (of "Magic's Wand" fame) and gangsta rapper Father MC.

The Lost Boyz openly admitted that, in the early Nineties, they hustled and sold drugs to make ends meet. However, after seeing another dealer get shot, they decided to go straight, just as they signed to the Universal label in 1995.

By then, rap had gone mainstream, worldwide and ballistic, and several singles, "Jeeps", "Lex Coup", "Bimaz & Benz", "Renee", "Lifestyles of the Rich and Shameless" - with its mantra "some died wit the name, some die nameless, it's all the same game, it's all the same pain" - and "Music Makes Me High" (complete with a mindblowing remix featuring Tha Dogg Pound) as well as the infectious "Get Up", helped establish the Lost Boyz on the hip-hop scene. However, the release of their debut album, Legal Drug Money, which reflected on their transition from a ghetto existence, was delayed until 1996 and, even though the record went gold, the outfit didn't quite emulate the cross-over success of Jay-Z, Busta Rhymes or Bone, Thugs 'N' Harmony.

Love Peace & Nappiness (1997) an uplifting and more mature follow-up, saw Lost Boyz widen their horizons and function in a more democratic manner, with Tah penning "Get Your Hustle On" and "Why?", two of the album's pivotal tracks. According to Pretty Lou, "Cheeks and Freaky were the star players on the team. I was like the amp-man, making the crowd throw their hands up while Spigg kept the music going and did some background vocals."

Featuring guest appearances by upcoming rap stars like Redman and Canibus and the obligatory homage to Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls, Love Peace & Nappiness sold more than 500,000 copies. The Lost Boyz, who pledged allegiance to their background in "My Crew", formed their own production company called LB Family Entertainment and were hoping to issue a compilation featuring some of the finest undiscovered talent from Queens. Freaky Tah's father, Linford Rodgers, said of his son's work: "His dream was to help other kids in the neighbourhood get started in the business. He was an open-hearted person, always willing to help those who were in need."

A third album by the group, provisionally entitled LB For Life, was due for release in June.

Raymond "Freaky Tah" Rodgers, rapper and songwriter: born New York 1972; died New York 29 March 1999.