by Yoji Cole
Onyx May Be Dead But Sticky Fingaz Lives On In The Form of Kirk Jones – Hip-Hop’s Elusive Toy Soldier
Open up the register right now, or I’m gonna kill you!” Blat!..Blat!..Bla-Bla-Blat! BAM! The store’s front door flies open and two African American men rush into the street. One, Kirk Jones, the tips of his cornrows stretching from underneath his wave-cap, nervously darts for cover, for freedom. He and his partner vanish into New York air… .
“Cut! Print! That’s a wrap,” the video director shouts. Sticky Fingaz, complete with trademark scowl, reappears, still in the character of Kirk Jones – the personality he portrays in his first video, “Get It Up,” from his solo LP, Black Trash: The Autobiography of Kirk Jones. Kirk Jones is Sticky’s actual name. Still, the gruff-voiced rapper insists the character is not based on his own persona – which can make for a confusing situation for anyone unfamiliar with Sticky’s mental oddities.
As the crew packs up the set, Stick shoots a wry smile at his co-star, Omar Epps (who plays Jones’s conscience in both video and wax versions), flips a cigarette in his mouth and makes his way, calmly, to the champagne Mercedes 400 SEL that will take him and Omar to the next scene’s location.
Here, at Howard Beach Dairy Mill in late September, a more introspective Stick – unknown to most – finds his footing. His audience is used to seeing him as the cockeyed, bald-headed, raspy-voiced front man of Onyx – the grimy headbangers who slammed and yelled their way to platinum success in the early 90’s with a gritty LP, Bacdafucup. The same crew who ushered in a no-holds-barred pit mentality to the hip-hop scene with riot-inducing cuts like “Throw Ya Gunz,” “Blac Vagina Finda” and “Getdafucout.”
But today, if you sit Sticky down and ask him what keeps him going, a diatribe of existential philosophy flows forth. When asked what he’s about in the present, he responds, “[I’m] finding my own truths and getting everybody else’s truths out of my head. Everything in the world is made up: religion, politics, the government, the laws, time. Everything was once a thought that somebody else created, and you follow it like it’s your own thought, like it’s your own truth.”
And truth for Sticky is not an absolute created by the world, but an understanding he has earned. From killing to swearing to fornicating to loving, truth is all vices and virtues is whatever he feels is truth. Presently, he’s a brotha who can spit rhymes in corner ciphers, lounge Lotus-style, slang rock in the street or wax philosophic on his spirit’s connection to the sun. He sees himself as everything and nothing, bass and treble. And yes, he’s not only a contradiction, but he’s confusing as hell. Oh yeah, he is also Kirk Jones. But finding Kirk requires a twisting journey through the maze of Sticky’s mind.
“The last time I met my father, my moms was taking that nigga to court,” Fingaz remembers while nursing a broken foot (which he wouldn’t say how he broke) in a recording studio. Getting Sticky to recall his childhood is a tricky task, as his firs seven years “are a blank”. One memory still etched in his psyche is the last time he actually spoke to his father, when he was 11. “I was standing outside, smoking a cigarette, and he said, ‘You know those things will stunt your growth.’ And that’s the last word I heard from him. I had to teach myself to be a man.”
The lessons for a young Kirk Jones started in Queens and weaved their way through New York City’s hardened streets. He mainly remembers running and robbing with the Decepticons, a notorious New York gang. “Either you was running with the Deceps or was getting robbed by the Deceps,” Fingaz says. “When I was young, I didn’t care about nothing. I was living in the moment. The only reason I was going to high school was to appease my moms.”
When his mother moved the family to Bloomfield, New Jersey, after a brief stay in Georgia, she enrolled him in Manhattan’s Art and Design High School. She hoped Kirk, who had a gift for drawing, would focus his talents. But other interests tugged at the anxious adolescent. His cousin Fred, a.k.a. Fredro Starr, was a barber in Brooklyn while he was attending high school. Fred had a portfolio of cuts with different designs. Kirk, who loved kicking it with the barbers, playing with the girls and selling a little dope, began concocting a scheme. “The barber shop was where it was at,” Fingaz recalls. “Jersey was far as hell. I’m from New York. It was an hour commute just to go to school. I said ‘Fuck that. I want to go live with my peoples.’ And I did.”
At 15 years old, Kirk moved out of his mother’s house to live with family in Brooklyn. But he also wanted to work as a barber. Back then, head designs ruled the day, and Kirk was not only ill with the pen but also eager to transfer his talents to faded-up dome pieces. But without a portfolio, he was ass-out. So Stick photocopied Fred’s portfolio, took the train to a Queens barber shop, claimed the cuts were his own creations and started buzzing his own designs – all while selling weed from behind the chair.
Even then, Sticky was challenging society’s constraints. He didn’t have to apprentice. He wasn’t going to let “their” laws determine how he was going to make his living. “I understand the laws of the world,” he says, “but that doesn’t mean I believe in them, and that doesn’t mean I always follow them.”
It wasn’t long before Kirk and Fred were discovered by Jam Master Jay and morphed into Sticky Fingaz and Fredro Starr. As the story goes, Jay heard a demo tape by Onyx’s original members, Fredro, Sonee Seeza and DS, but wanted to hear more. Sonee and DS were stranded in Connecticut, so Fingaz – who had always been rhyming with the boys at the barber shop up to that point – lent his vocals to two cuts, which Jay loved.
Fingaz’s signature lazy eye, raspy voice and boundless grit brought power to the group, and he became the front man. Still, ever the rebel, Sticky wanted more freedom to focus on his own projects, so he quit the group in 1998. That’s when he began producing beats and acting in movies like Clockers, Next Friday, Strapped, Ride and Dread Presidents and will have a feature role in an upcoming Master P production titled Lockdown. He’s also kept busy as a featured artist on compilation albums like The Kings of Comedy soundtrack. And while he has grown as a person, the public hasn’t detected much of a change in the shock-rapper who peeled off wildly disturbing lyrics before Eminem ever made headlines with his demented flow.
Before Sticky could introduce the character of Kirk Jones to the world, he needed a new label that shared his vision. Opting for money and control, Stick sidestepped Left Coast producer extraordinaire Dr. Dre, whom he had worked with on “Remember Me?” from Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP. “I love Dre,” he says, negating any rumors of beef between the two. “His shit is hot, but money talk. And besides, I would’ve been under his wing. I’m a leader not a follower.”
Then he denied Def Jam, home to Onyx’s double-platinum Bacdafucup album as well as All We Got Iz Us and Shut ‘Em Down. It was Universal that gave him his 40 acres and several mules. “Universal put up double the money that Dre offered and gave a nigga the Michael Jackson deal,” Fingaz says. “Universal is the same shit as Def Jam; it’s just a different machine. At Def Jam, we smoked blunts in the hallway. At Universal, we smoke blunts in the office.”
With the bidding over and the LP completed, Sticky is proud of Black Trash, but he insists that it’s not about him. It’s definitely his voice, undoubtedly his ideas on wax, but it’s not his autobiography; it’s Kirk Jones’s autobiography, who, according to Fingaz, is a character. “That’s not my autobiography,” Fingaz says indignantly. “That’s the autobiography of Kirk Jones, played by Sticky Fingaz,” he continues.
The album represents a coming-of-age for Fingaz. It’s a work that is all his own, that he believes comes from a person who is more aware now than he was a few years ago. “I turned my senses inward,” he says. “Instead of looking at that or hearing this or touching that, I smelled myself, I looked at myself, I heard myself, I touched myself.”
Black Trash is also a precursor to a movie starring the Kirk Jones character. The album is structured as a story – with a beginning, middle and end – including characters and breaks between songs that keep the narrative moving. Apparently, Stick wants to force his audience to question reality and the appearance of truth – one of the reasons why he chose to use his birth name in the title. Kirk Jones is an Everyman who represents all street-reared cats. “Kirk Jones could be anybody,” Sticky says. “Kirk Jones had a fucked-up life. He lost his girl and his whole family. He committed suicide. He could be anybody ‘cause we’ve all thought about suicide. The stories are based on experiences that’s in my brain.”
Sticky’s creativity was in part juiced by The Alchemist, a book by Paulo Coelho based on the belief that in order to find one’s soul, one must be stripped of all of one’s own beliefs and assumptions.
“So far in my career, niggas seen the gun side,” Fingaz says of his days bouncin’ alongside Fredro, Sonee and Big DS. “Now I’m showing them me and what I think or don’t think about shit.”
This evolution is manifested on “Oh My God,” where the Almighty supposedly answers Kirk Jones’s plea for an understanding of life’s futility. God (played by Fingaz) commands: “The soul is eternal, you just change form/ Then you come back with a new face on.”
Back in our world, Sticky re-enters the trailer, very much alive, wearing jean shorts cut off mid-though, amid a throng of brothas outfitted with wife-beaters, head bands, baggy jeans and Timbs. He quickly settles into a game of chess with Epps.
The makeup artist, a gaunt, wiry white man, works diligently to transform Fingaz into Kirk Jones, the bald, tight-jawed character we see pictured on theBlack Trash posters. Stick sits back in the trailer, which is more like a hot box. Smoke envelopes the room in thick, floating wafts, and someone in the crew pops the Hennessy.
A dozen heads bob to a thump-heavy instrumental. A staccato freestyle flow starts weaving its way from mouth to mouth: Dirty Begets, X1, Fredro spit their rhymes as blunts pass from hand to mouth to hand, chased by Henny swigs.
Through it all, Fingaz and Epps play their second game of chess. The two are a synergy of second-natured movements as they check their cell phones, watch the other’s moves, eye the blunt being passed around, feel for their packs of cigarettes and answer questions.
And this is where Kirk Jones discovers “the real,” turning his focus inward and casting aside all instruction given to him from birth to be accepted as “the truth.” Name, age, religious belief, mathematical equations, according to Sticky, are all truths that are not our own because we did not create them ourselves. “Knowledge is knowledge, but it’s not you. It’s other people’s knowledge,” Kirk says, freshly shaved dome gleaming. “Your mind is cluttered. Find your own.”
Still, you may never truly find Kirk Jones. Ask him who he really is and he’ll reply, “I am!”
“You are…,” you’ll respond, cueing him to elaborate.
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