Of Angst and Onyx
by Michael A. Gonzales
The apocalyptic apostles of Onyx slam back onto the mean streets with a vengeance. Michael A. Gonzales braves a short strange trip into their world.
Prelude to dangerous dreams, images of a lost generation wandering through America’s urban streets of pain. On their latest soundfactory entitledAfficial Nastee, the bald-head wildboyz who call themselves Onyx (Fredro Starr, Sticky Fingaz, and Sonee Seeza) contribute yet another brutal text to America’s culture of violence. Although their first disc, Bacdafucup, introduced these ruffneck anarchists to television screens and boombox speakers throughout the planet rap – with tracks like the fast-sellin’ “Slam” and the ghettocentric blaxploitation epic “Throw Ya Guns” sounding like noisy distress sirens – Afficial Nasteetransports listeners a few hours into the future a near tomorrow where fire, brimstone, and utter chaos have become the answer to as yet unasked questions; a future where the galloping hoofs of the four horsemen are reflected in puddles of spilt gasoline and neon.
“Violence was here before we were born,” barks Sonee Seeza in brief explanation, “and it will be here when we’re gone….”
Bacdafucup, two years past. Trooping over the cracked sidewalks in Times Square, perverts and crack-heads move like zombies without a care in the world. Oily-haired dudes down on their luck distribute flyers for the LIVE SEX SHOW!!! just beyond the glaring touch of neon. Suddenly a loud rumble can be heard emerging from the belly of da beast – a roar from the subway that crows louder and more forceful the closer it gets. “Slam!” screams a crowd of teenagers, young black and Hispanic youth whose mere presence causes other folks to panic: afro-wigged hookers hold purses close to their droopy breasts, porn hawkers stare in amazement, old men drop extra quarters into the sticky-floored peeps. “SLAM!….LET DA BOYZ BE BOYZ!” these kids, a band of urban gypsies, yell. And with sweat dripping from their multi-complexioned bald heads – just like their stereo heroes Onyx – their chant becomes a plea for attention, a crooked sign of da times and a warning to the masses. You might choose to ignore the plight of da ghetto, you may close your eyes to the brown faces of suffering or shut off your ears to our painful cries, but what ya gonna do when we come for you? Steadily chatting their urban anthem, the name of their game is called survival.
Now. Summertime again and the living is still far from easy. New York City is in the middle of its worst heat wave in years: babies cryin’ from their ornate strollers, bums standing in front of small record shops doing the Thunderbird two-step, mini-skirted foxy brown mommas shaking what their mama gave ‘em, and a sweaty writer waiting in the shadows of a local clothing store (Guess jeans and fall jackets are displayed in the window) waiting for Onyx member Fredro Starr to take him to the group’s nearby recording studio. With hiz head bopping to the funk of Biggie Smalls blarring from the speakers of a passin’ Corvette, a think young man dressed entirely in black, lookin’ like a cat burglar in da daytime, comes bopping down the street. With a sinister stare, very serious eyes, the figure comes close & stops. The writer remains silent. “What’sup,” sez Fredro, extending his big brown hand.
Trooping down the busy streets of Jamaica, Queens, Fredro and the writer take a shortcut through a mini-mall that features sportswear and jewelry shops. “I used to cut hair in this mall,” recalls Fredro. As though on cue, a broad shouldered toy-cop walks over and sez “Hey, I remember you from da barber shop.” Big man smiles and Fredro keeps on walking.
The tattered office building that’s hidden on a side street is where 1212 Studios is located. “Jesus,” the writer sez, hiz eyes burning from the strong ammonia that a janitor is using the strip the marble floors. Four flights above the madness of the streets and the funk of the lobby, 1212 Studios is a world of crated records, dirty floors, and the smell of Mickey D.’s drifting through the air. The writing, it’s later revealed, is stashing cold fries and a Big Mac in his bookbag. “Yo, lets do this,” barks Fredro looking for a spot to squat. The writer sez, “right ‘ere?”
Moments later, da duo is sitting on a vast fire escape that overlooks the tar beaches of department store rooftops and gritty sidewalks. “We gonna have to do this interview without Sticky Fingaz or Sonee Seeza,” grunts Fredro. “Them niggas got locked-up in Jersey.”
“Locked –up? What for?”
“Some bullshit,” mumbles Fredro. And then, speaking directly into the tape records: “I want everybody to know I’m now calling myself Nevera. You know…as in, I ain’t nevera had shit.”
Staring from the once-white walls opposite the dirty studio, the graffiti that covers the surface like magic-market symbols of discontent speaks in a voice that’s as loud as Onyx’s record. The writer’s eyes keep returning to the writing there, the blood red “NO FUTURE” that reads like a warning to whomever might bother to look up and notice.
Afficial Nastee, the second album from Onyx, goes further over the hardcore edge than the first. When Sticky Fingaz screams on the bugged track “Better Off Dead” that he’s “suicidal like Nirvana!” one clearly understand the ill-logical sense of dread that these brothers are dealing with. Well, perhaps they got a bit of a respite now, since Marvel Comics has recently released an Onyx comix book and Spike Lee signed both Fredro & Sticky to appear in hiz ghetto operaClockers. In addition, Polygram has given these bald bros their own label deal for Armee Records. Yet, as intellectual boho Roland Barthes might say, the group’s sufferin’ can be heard in the grain of their voices.
Beyond gangsta myths and smart-ass riffs, Onyx has created a soundtrack for the end of the world, a record that might cause Senator Dole and C. Delores Tucker to join hands by candlelight, eyes closed as they silently await the ghost of MLK to arise from the flames.
Two days later and New York is still hot as hell, though not as burning-up as a prison cell. Outta jail and sitting in his publicist’s office, Sticky Fingaz has a look on his face like he’d much rather be elsewhere. Not jail, but not here either.
“We knew from the beginning that we wanted to have more control over the sound of this record,” Sticky sez. “That’s why we’re now doing our own production and producing other artists.”
“Like who?” asks the writer.
“Like the first Armee Records group All City,” he replies, face fixed to scare da weak hearted. “They’re a duo that sounds like no one else in hip-hop.”
Booming through the door like a crazy person, Nevera sits in a chair behind a metal desk and screams, “HIP-HOP GOT MORE FOLLOWERS THAN JESUS CHRIST!”
The writer wonders if this is supposed to shock him.
He turns back to Sticky, who is playing with a pencil, but before he can ask a question, Nevera is bangin’ on the desk like a bad-ass child.
“What’s life like for a you guys like since the first disc?”
“The best way to describe it is hectic,” sez Sonee Seeza. “It’s like a 24-hour-a-day job. Be it giving autographs at one in da afternoon or recording at one in da morning. Our goal is not just be rappers – those three baldies that Jam Master Jay (from Run-DMC) discovered – but to try putting our hands in everything we can.”
Shouting from across the room, Nevera sez “When I first met Run-DMC they guided me in the right direction. Run explained, ‘You gotta have vision, because a man without vision can’t see where he’s going.’ Back in the day I worked in the supermarket, I sold soap chips to crack heads, and I cut hair, but I knew what I really wanted to do.”
Standing up and looking outta da window, he spits to the ground below. Then he turns back around. “But one thing…I’ll never let this bizness kill me. ‘Cause, ya know, the records bizness is like a bunch of vampires. All they want to do is suck your blood and throw ya away.”