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Rapper Apache (real name Anthony Teaks), a staple of Queen Latifah’s Flavor Unit crew and best known for one of the most controversial hip-hop records of the 1990s, “Gangsta Bitch,” died Friday (January 22). At press time, the cause of the New Jersey MC’s death was unknown.

“I got a call from Shakim [Compere] this morning, Queen Latifah’s manager,” Vin from Naughty by Nature said. “He was really feeling it. He told me, and I spread the word to Kay and Treach and the rest of our camp.”

“I’m at a loss for words,” Apache’s best friend, Trick, said. “I still don’t believe it. I’m numb.”

Trick says Apache was found Friday in his home by his brother. Those close to him said he’d shown no signs of illness.

“They really don’t know yet. It’s so new — it just happened,” Trick said about his friend’s cause of death. “I’m waiting to hear back from his mother. We don’t know if it was a heart attack or what could have happened. We don’t know. We’re waiting to hear how the coroner is gonna rule.”

Trick had just spoken on the phone with Apache late Wednesday night.

“He was his old self,” Trick, who noted that Apache had planned to be married in the near future, said. “We was laughing, joking, talking about Tupac. He said people wouldn’t believe them stories from back in the day. They started out as roadies together — ‘Pac with Digital Underground and him and Treach with Latifah. He’s on ‘Pac’s first album, on Fat Joe’s first album. He’s gonna be missed.”

Apache’s career started in the background, helping Queen Latifah and Shakim get the Flavor Unit off the ground.

“Apache was one of the chief architects of the Flavor Unit,” Vin detailed. “Mark the 45 King held down all the DJing and production. Apache was one of the founding members with Lord Alibaski, Lakim Shabazz, his brother Latee. They were the premier Flavor Unit MCs. Queen Latifah was their female. When we came around, we had to get accepted to the Flavor Unit. The only way you can get accepted was through skills. Apache, he was the first one to call you wack. That brother was a character. Definitely a comedian. Some of our best times was with Apache just clowning.”

After a string of early guest appearances on such records as Naughty by Nature’s classic posse cut “1, 2, 3,” Apache finally came out of the background in 1993 with his debut, … Ain’t Sh–. He was blunt and brutal with his wordplay.

“He was a crazy creative guy,” Vin boasted. “He wrote some of the songs for Latifah. It was time for him to go in. It was a good thing, he was working with 45 King and Kay Gee, who was the new producer. So he got a little of that Naughty flavor [on his album]. People think Apache came after us, [that he] benefited because of Naughty. It was the exact opposite. We were the babies of Flavor Unit.”

The album’s monster hit was the Q-Tip-produced “Gangsta Bitch.” Although it wasn’t a Billboard smash, the record reigned in the streets and in the clubs. But along with adulation from fans came scorn from protesters who said the record was too raw.

“He was a smart, optimistic and buoyant person,” Q-Tip told MTV News on Friday. “Working with him was a great time! He was a strong brotha and will be missed.”

“He loved the success,” Trick said. “It was wonderful. He truly enjoyed it. When [the protesters of gangsta rap music] had the CDs and they was stomping the CDs, his CD was one they was breaking up. The controversy, he knew he was gonna get that. He knew he was gonna get some slack from the song. But it was something he felt needed to be told. He took it in stride.”

Apache, however, never had a big follow-up to his strong debut. His career on the mic basically dissolved. And he didn’t like the limelight.

“Apache always just wanted to be a writer,” Trick justified. “He didn’t want to be an artist. He wrote Latifah’s first album. He helped her out with the show when she was on ‘Living Single.’ He did ghostwriting for a lot of different people. Being pushed out there as an artist, that’s what he didn’t want. When he was working on his second album, we played around, but he didn’t want to be out there. He was like, ‘I’m happy in the studio. That’s my home.’ ”

Over the years, however, Apache found a new home: the church. The onetime notoriously foul-mouth fan favorite gave his life to God when the 1990s closed out. He also went back to school and studied marketing.

“Apache was definitely a renegade back in his day, but he changed his ways, found God,” Vin said. “We even invited him to perform with us. We did BB King’s for Funkmaster Flex last year. We invited him out as our surprise guest. He was coming out. I was concerned. I was like, ‘I know you was concerned, you can come out do your songs. You can edit it however you want. People would love to see you.’ He was like, ‘Alright, I’m down.’ The day of the show, he called and said he couldn’t make it.

“I think it was a life-transitioning thing,” Vin added about Apache’s evolution. “Like how Lauryn Hill, she had that success, but as you go along, you get a different perspective. Maybe what you treasure so much in the beginning and what you fought for, once you get it, you realize there’s others things in life.”

Last year, however, Apache decided to step back into the lab and resurrect his career, at least for one last album run.

“We spoke the day before yesterday. He was on his way up from PA to see me. We was talking for four hours on the phone. He was talking about coming back out. He told me, ‘Listen, next three months, we’re going to be out there.’ He had a whole marketing plan together.”

Apache and 45 King were recently putting together routines for a show. 45 was going to spin at Apache’s concerts.

“We came up with concepts and jokes and everything,” 45 King said about the planned shows. “I would call him every morning and we’d watch YouTube [for ideas]. He was … I hate to say ‘was.’ … Ah man … Apache was hilarious.”

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