Onyx Interview: Return Of The Madface

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by Alex Shtaerman

If you don’t know about Onyx just ask anyone who was old enough to be in a club in ’93 about what would happen when “Slam” came on. To be brief, the crossover anthem would usually drive the crowd into a bewildered frenzy. If Hip-Hop had its version of moshing, this was definitely it. People would start pushing and jumping into each other, fights (fake and real) would break out, speakers would get knocked over and every so often the DJ would shut off the music in a futile attempt to keep order. While many DJs played the record “at their own risk”, the hit single would propel Onyx, a group of four MCs out of Southside Jamaica Queens, to sell over two million copies of their breakthrough album Bacdafucup. Mentored by Hip-Hop legend Jam Master Jay, Fredro Starr, Sticky Fingaz, Big DS and Sonny Seeza brought their brand of in your face hardcore rap music from the streets of New York to the suburbs of middle America and around the world.

Releasing several more albums through the ‘90’s, Onyx has since maintained a strong global following despite taking a recent semi-hiatus during which Sticky Fingaz and Fredro pursued successful acting careers in Hollywood. In 2008, however, all of that is about to change as Onyx is set to launch a renewed musical onslaught. On August 19th the group will drop the Cold Case Files, an album that features 16 previously unreleased tracks from studio sessions dating back as far as fifteen years! For fans yearning for some classic Onyx flavor, this is the album that is sure to hold you over until the release of the group’s next official LP. Titled Black Rock and set to drop in 2009, the forthcoming album will feature a blend of Hip-Hop and rock ‘n’ roll. Now, if you want to know what’s up with the new Madface invasion, read the interview and get yourself connected. Read up or BACDAFUCUP!

RIOTSOUND.COM: A lot of times when we talk about Hip-Hop’s golden era we reflect back on the mid and late ‘80’s and artists such as Kane, G Rap, LL Cool J and KRS One. But in a way the subsequent period of the early and mid ‘90’s was also a golden era in and of itself, with groups like Onyx, Gangstarr, Black Moon, Das Efx and Lords Of The Underground making a profound impact on Hip-Hop. Can you describe the era that Onyx came up in and give us a taste of the vibe that was in the air in when Onyx first burst onto the scene?

FREDRO STARR: When Onyx came on the scene it was crazy, I think Leaders Of The New School did kinda set off [that whole era] with Busta Rhymes, and that whole vibe continued from there. See, that whole vibe came outta house music. Rap changed in New York when The Jungle Brothers came out with “I’ll House You”, the radio and the fans kinda shifted towards house music. Then the rappers actually started wearing beads, I mean, Queen Latifah had beads on, also A Tribe Called Quest and them. So I think it kinda went to that house era and then Leaders Of The New School came out and they set it off. They brought that young kid rebel music to the streets. It wasn’t just about that Native Tongues sound, it broke out into the streets.

Then you had groups like Naughty By Nature that came out with the whole “stay the fuck outta the ghetto if you ain’t from the ghetto” [message]. And that type of shit brought groups like Das Efx out; and Das Efx came with the whole “coming outta the sewer” thing. Then Cypress Hill came out from the West Coast with this “I’ma kill a man” shit. So it was kinda a situation where everybody was trying to be kinda the same but it was also about who’s style could be more original. Who’s style could be better? Who can be different? Now, it’s like all the styles are the same, you know what I’m saying? Everybody sounds the same, and not to disrespect anybody from Down South, but they’re not really trying to come with different flows or different swaggers. Back when we came out it was all about being different and not trying to sound like the next person.

When Onyx came out we was looking at Das Efx videos and we was, in our minds, like mentally battling them niggas. Like these niggas is HOT right now, so whenever we were writing we be getting at them niggas subliminally. We came out rocking the Timberland boots, the big army jackets, and that’s when New York Hip-Hop was fresh. It was cool to walk outside with a 40 oz. You know what I’m saying? I was still street. Now it’s all about the jewelry and the cars and things of that nature. But when we came up, the classic era is what I call [that period], it was all about being original; hard beats, hot rhymes and big choruses.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Your new album, Cold Case Files, is a collection of tracks that dates back to earlier in your careers; a lot of it being previously unreleased and unheard material. What prompted you to go ahead and release these tracks to the public at this point in time?

FREDRO STARR: I think it was needed. We are also going to be coming out with another album, the Black Rock album, and [in the meantime] we wanted to put something out for the fans, especially the true Onyx fans, we just wanted to give them something. If we grab some new fans along the way with this record that’s cool too; we’re marketing the album and getting things out there so we can take the fans back to the ‘90’s, you know what I’m saying? DJ Infinite, one of my good friends and associates came up with the idea of doing this album and putting out some of these tracks. So my brother Whosane had the cassettes and the DATs saved from back in the days and we just transferred all that into the digital age and now you got the Cold Case album.

RIOTSOUND.COM: I just listened to the “Evil Streets Remix” about half an hour ago with Method Man on it. That song is crazy! When was that track originally recorded and how did Onyx link up with Meth to do that joint?

FREDRO STARR: That’s my favorite record [on the album], that’s the record I want to run with too; the “Evil Streets Remix” is crazy. Meth is our man, we was on tour with the Wu-Tang. Onyx and Wu-Tang, at first it seemed like we wasn’t going to get along and shit ‘cause there was a little situation we had with Ol’ Dirty Bastard and a couple of other things that happened. I mean, Wu-Tang came out right after us and they was hot so it was like our competition and shit. So people never thought Onyx and Wu would ever do a record together but we did things with Method Man and Sticky Fingaz did a record with Raekwon and also we did “The Worst” with the whole Wu-Tang. So I just think [our sounds] worked together.

We did the “Evil Streets Remix” in D&D Studios, right after there was a shootout in the studio like the week before. So we just called Method Man like, come down and do a joint with us. So he came in and stayed there the whole night with us until the song was mixed. That’s one thing I do love about Meth, with some artists they lay down they verse and they out. Meth came and fucked with us the whole night. My whole Gang Green crew was there, the All City niggas was around. So Meth was rockin’ with us and that record in the studio matched the energy in the air that it came from. I did the track when I was doing my beats and we loved [Method Man’s] verse, so it worked together.

RIOTSOUND.COM: These days a lot of people talk about how Hip-Hop has changed and we can obviously see that. But on the flipside of that, have the fans also changed in your view? With Hip-Hop today having such a mainstream fanbase, how do you think that changes the position of the artist in terms of the message you are able to effectively deliver to your audience?

FREDRO STARR: Fans are very opinionated. They can love you one day and hate you the next. So, you can’t really worry about what the fans want, you just gotta worry about what you truly doing and staying true to yourself and really just making music for yourself, ‘cause you are your own best A&R. When you wake up in the morning, you look in the mirror before you leave your house and you say “yo, I’m that nigga!” And you gotta tell yourself that and that applies to music too. You gotta be your best judge of what you wanna put out there and you can’t really listen to what the fans think because they’re fickle. So you just got to make music for yourself, stay true to what you’re doing and hopefully you’ll keep your fans and get new ones.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Just to go back a bit for some of the younger fans who might be reading this, let’s talk about your classic album Bacdafucup. How did that album actually come together and what were you trying to get across with your music when you dropped Bacdafucup?

SONNY SEEZA: That album came together because we was already crew back in high school, me, Fredro and Big DS. Sticky Fingaz was Fredro’s younger cousin, he was a solo artist at the time. This was like late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s and we already had a little reputation in Southside as dudes who rocked parties for DJs and rocked jams around the neighborhood. So that energy alone just led us to the studio work. After we first went into the studio we just found a love of just being able to actually record our music and then everything just fell into place. Sticky joined the group, the sound grew, [Jam Master] Jay came into the picture and the rest is history.

FREDRO STARR: [yelling] The Bacdafucup album we was on a lot of drugs!

SONNY SEEZA: And that too, you know what I’m saying. We was the first young cats doing what we was doing from where was doing it from. We was the first ones shouting out Southside on record. We was the first ones tarring up the town in Southside on some mic shit as a group. So that was just the energy and the force of the people who wanted that, they needed that, so they lifted us up and they pushed us up and at the end of the day we carried the whole Southside and then went and carried the whole Def Jam on our back. So it was just the energy and we kept having that push from the people, so we could never stop. Everything just came together. So anybody that tried to stop the movement, it was like Bacdafucup! And that’s where the name of the album came from.

RIOTSOUND.COM: In 2009 you are also planning to release Black Rock, which will be a studio album that blends Hip-Hop and rock ‘n’ roll. What was the inspiration behind this forthcoming project and also what can the fans expect from Black Rock?

FREDRO STARR: First of all, the Madface got a Mohawk; so that right there alone lets you know we on some other shit. But we’ve been doing it man, we’ve been doing it with the “Judgment Night” record and the “Slam Remix” with Biohazard. So from the start we’ve been going down that lane as far as the rock ‘n’ roll highway. And I feel like we are just going back into that lane that we never really [fully] went down. Because after the first album, you know, we was listening to the fans [saying stuff like] “they screaming, they don’t have lyrical content”. So we said, you know what, let’s go make the All We Got Iz Us album with songs like “Last Dayz” and “Purse Snatchaz’. And when you hear those lyrics you be like, damn, these niggas can really write and spit some crazy lyrics. But we kinda went away from the rock ‘n’ roll lane. We never even did a show with the Beastie Boys before. We never did a show with the Red Hot Chili Peppers; and these are the people that we looked up to making our records. And that’s the lane we had then and that same lane is still open. With all this Down South shit poppin’ off, we’re like, yo, instead of trying to come back with a crazy street album, let’s get in this lane with this rock ‘n’ roll record. Let’s get on tour and show these motherfuckers what we do on stage ‘cause that’s our strong point, our performance. I don’t think no performer or no group our there that really could fuck with us.

SONNY SEEZA: You figure when we first started and tapped into that lane with “Slam” and the “Slam Remix” with Biohazard, there was only a couple other records like that which preceded us. Run DMC with “Walk This Way” [which was a collaboration with Aerosmith] and Ice-T with Body Count. So there wasn’t really too many hard lyricists doing that; young dudes who just had all types of skills, DJ skills, Hip-Hop skills, graffiti skills, producing skills who was doing that type of music.

RIOTSOUND.COM: A lot of fans know that Jam Master Jay played a pivotal role in your careers but some people don’t know very much beyond that. Can you talk about the influence Jay had when it came to Onyx and also speak on the type of person and human being that he was?

FREDRO STARR: We got my boy Phonz, who is Jam Master Jay’s cousin [Stephen Watford]; I helped him produce the Jam Master Jay DVD that’s coming out. It’s called Two Turntables And A Microphone and you’ll really get to see Jam Master Jay on that DVD. He was Jazzy Jay going back to before he was Jam Master Jay and the DVD takes you from [the beginning] all the way to when he was unfortunately murdered in his studio. Go get Two Turntables And A Microphone, check it out and you will get the full story of Jam Master Jay and who he was and the things he did for certain artists that you might not even know he had any involvement with, like Ja Rule, 50 Cent, Onyx and Jayo Felony, and also producing records for Slick Rick. All that is on the DVD. He was a good dude, [he was] my mentor.

SONNY SEEZA: Jay was Hip-Hop. And while he was in the industry, he was also a real street true grit dude with a heart for the streets and loved by the streets. And with that being said, he had total integrity as an artist and he would let you be totally free to not conform to how the labels would like you to conform with your music. So that’s what I loved Jay for, because he let that total DJ [aspect] in him shine upon his artists. And that right there says a lot about him being in the position that he was in, with both feet in the industry and both feet in the street. And also he was a great father and family man. So check that DVD out, Two Turntables And A Microphone, that’s what’s up.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Onyx has a global fanbase, so I want to ask you how you feel about the growth of Hip-Hop internationally? Are you surprised at how rapidly Hip-Hop has grown on a global scale?

FREDRO STARR: We took our first international tour with Run DMC; they took us around the world early in the game. Germany, China, Russia, we did it all with them dudes man. And for the last ten years that’s what we’ve been doing, we’ve been touring around the world making money to feed our families. When you go over the water and you land in Europe, it’s like you’re back in the ‘90’s. You see graffiti everywhere, kids is break dancing at the shows; the energy is like you’re back in time and that’s why I love Europe so much.

We’re going to market the Cold Case album heavy in Europe and actually I was looking into some property in Amsterdam because I want to just cop a base there to do the Onyx Euro, which is a concept I came up with. And we’re just going to be over there gettin’ that Euro Dollar, ‘cause right now the Euro is up! It’s almost double the US Dollar, so we like, yo, if we bigger overseas, why stay in America when they going through their Down South transition over here? Why not just go to fucking Europe and post up for a year or two and knock out shows and put records out overseas. And that’s what I plan to do because I see that vision and I see where it’s going and I see where we can make some real serious paper on the business level. So we definitely going to do the Europe thing more. We’ve been looking into labels and also different groups out there.

RIOTSOUND.COM: You got Cold Case Files dropping August 19th, what else should fans be looking out for as far as Onyx?

FREDRO STARR: We got 100 Mad which is a situation where we’re going through Koch and Ice Man Group under Onyx Records. And 100 Mad is basically a compilation album that we’re putting out with all East Coast niggas, you know what I’m saying. No Down South niggas. No disrespect but this is for my East Coast niggas in the hood who got no distribution and A&Rs is slamming the door in their face ‘cause they ain’t got that Down South swagger. This [album] is for all my niggas in the streets in New York, 100 Mad Niggaz With Gunz. And it’s a compilation album that is going to give artists in the streets an outlet to get their music out there.

Then Sonny Seeza got his Tytaynium Group, he’s doing his thing with artists in Brooklyn. That project is probably going to go through Koch as well and through Ice Man Group. And then Sticky Fingaz has a crazy movie coming out called A Day In The Life. It’s coming out through Lionsgate Pictures; Sticky wrote the movie, produced it and directed it. Mekhi Phifer is in it, also myself, Robert DeNiro’s daughter Drena DeNiro, and everybody is rapping in the movie. And besides that Sticky has a new album coming out called StickyFingaz.com. And then my solo album is called Still Relevant. So everybody got their own solo shit but we all coming back under the Onyx umbrella man. We branding the Madface again with the Onyx clothing and a couple of other ventures that we doing. And we’re just going to keep building our brand and hopefully in ten years one of these big labels will come and buy our catalog and we can just put our feet up.

For more news and info on Onyx, stay tuned to OnyxDomain.com