Lost Boyz were an iconic crew who arose out of New York in the early 1990s. Assembling before the East Coast vs West Coast war that plagued the ’90s, the Lost Boyz, akin to the Wu-Tang Clan, were edgy, raw and unapologetically coarse in their music. Lost Boyz made significant contributions to the evolution of East Coast hip-hop as it began to diversify. The Queens act are often unjustly omitted from New York hip-hop history books but produced amazing music nonetheless.
Lost Boyz began to take shape in the early ’90s and comprised neighbourhood friends. Emerging from the notorious Jamaica neighbourhood of South Queens in 1993, the ensemble started to work the underground rap scene of the New York tri-state region. Possessing a distinctively East Coast sound and with lyrics pertaining to upliftment, love and the strife of city life, the group slowly rose up the ranks.
The four-piece were all too similar to Wu-Tang, yet conveyed a different message with their records. Under the stage names Freaky Tah, Mr Cheeks, Pretty Lou, and Spigg Nice, Lost Boyz had an organic come-up with the same appeal as figures such as Talib Kweli, Nas and Mos Def. Lost Boyz flooded the five boroughs and beyond with music. Due to the success of the outfit’s 1995 single, ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Shameless,’ the neighbourhood friends landed a deal with Uptown Records and, from there, began preparations for their debut project.
Released in 1996, Legal Drug Money spawned several hits for the group, such as ‘Jeeps, Lex Coups, Bimaz and Benz’ and the iconic ‘Renee.’ Recorded at D&D Recording Studios on 37th Street in Manhattan. D&D was home to the legendary producer DJ Premier who was an in-house producer at the studio. The entirety of Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt was recorded there, as well as other well-known projects.
‘Renee’ is one of those all too rare hip-hop songs about love. Produced by Mr Sexxx alongside Tim dawg, the track samples the Janet Jackson song ‘Funny How Time Flies (When You’re Having Fun)’. The album cut feels more like a story than a song and is a genuinely immersive experience. Although a New York collective released the single, it was selected to feature in the LA-based film, Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood.
Featuring only one crew member, ‘Renee’ tells the story of two lovers who struggle to cultivate their relationship while living in the poverty-stricken streets of New York. The female figure, Renee, is described as an African-American woman struggling to climb the cutthroat corporate ladder. Fresh out of law school, the neighbourhood romance blossoms as the two figures tell each other their dreams. Renee lets the male in on her dreams of becoming a lawyer. In contrast, the male figure speaks about his love of ‘Philly’ blunts.
The track is said to have the overarching message that opposites attract as Mr Cheeks (in the story) is an unemployed, weed-smoking thug while Renee is career-driven, classy, aspirational woman. However, it is the love that prevails. It’s also said to explore the concept of “ghetto love” as the pair bond over sex, life goals and cannabis. However, the track sadly ends with Renee getting killed in a drive-by shooting. The song was made with the intention to lean into stereotypes yet shatter them at the same time.
However, despite the fictional nature of the creation, in an interview on Hot 107.9 with B High, Mr Cheeks revealed, “It was made over a fatal incident that happened, a homegirl called Ebony got killed. Was a married family they had just got off the wedding, lady got shot but the baby survived and that time there wasn’t no music touching ’em like that apart from my man 2pac who was really giving them things to bang on and listen to!” The emcee elaborated even more in an interview on VLADTV during which he disclosed, “It was a story about a shawty that got killed in our neighbourhood, I dedicate to the shawty Ebony out there in Queens.”
So although the song may sound fictional, it was partially based on truth. ‘Renee’ was the Lost Boyz’ most successful single, and reached number 33 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was later certified Gold by the RIAA. Watch the interview with DJ Vlad as well as the music video below.