Monday, October 16, 2006

ONYX

Onyx's shouting, in-your-face brand of high-volume rapping proved to be more at home in the slam pit than on the dancefloor and brought the rap quartet instant chart success. Originally formed in Queens, NY, during 1990, the members of Onyx (Fredro Starr, Sticky Fingaz, Big DS, and DJ Suave Sonny Ceaser) met while working as barbers. The band honed their rhyming skills and act by performing at local clubs, which eventually gained the attention of Run-D.M.C.'s Jam Master Jay, who signed the group to his label, JMJ Records, and even helped produce Onyx's debut full-length, Bacdafucup, in 1993. The album turned out to be a platinum-certified smash, spurred on by the runaway success of the hit single "Slam," which went on to become one of the year's biggest rap hits. The group confirmed that they were just as content attracting a heavy metal audience by a pair of collaborations with the N.Y.C. hardcore metal outfit Biohazard (a remix of "Slam" credited to Bionyx, and the title track to the motion picture Judgment Night). The album even beat out such stiff competition as Dr.Dre's rap classic The Chronic at the Soul Train Awards for Best Rap Album that year. But Onyx was unable to continue their commercial success as such subsequent albums as 1995's All We Got Iz Us and 1998's Shut 'Em Down came and went without much fanfare. The late '90s saw members Sticky and Fredro try their hand at acting, landing spots on HBO's Strapped, Spike Lee's Clockers, the Rhea Pearlman/Danny De Vito-directed Sunset Park, and Brandy's hit TV show Moesha. The various members tried to launch solo careers, but the records never connected with audiences. With the rap genre's continuous changes and shifts, they decided to try a comeback and reappeared with 2002's Bacdafucup, Pt. II.

Onyx - Bacdafucup (1993: Def Jam)
At the time that Bacdafucup hit the record racks and airwaves, Onyx seemed to be inventing a genre all their own: heavy metal rap. Of course, on closer inspection, it is not at all surprising stylistically, given their link to Def Jam and Run DMC, the record company and crew that introduced heavy guitar riffs into hip-hop. Onyx, though, seemed far more threateningly hardcore than Run DMC ever were, and each song on their debut album seems like a quick-triggered, menacing chip set squarely on the shoulders of MCs Big DS, Suave, Fredro, and Sticky Fingaz. That the entire album from beginning to end circumvents almost any backlash by being so brilliantly catchy as well, is a sterling tribute to how strong a quartet Onyx truly is on this first effort. The group gives the impression that they wanted to spotlight the sort of cartoonish, directionless anger that existed in a lot of hardcore rap, and then funnel that sort of energy into songs full of singalong choruses and joyous, chanted hooks that lend a certain feeling of camaraderie to the whole album. The release is mostly co-produced by Run DMC's Jam Master Jay and newcomer Chyskillz, and its music has a tense, wired edge that amplifies the vividness of the threatening lyrics. Sonically, it has a hardcore East Coast/New York City cast, full of throbbing bass and screeching siren-like effects. The grimy urban vibe is matched by Onyx's narrative thuggery, discharged straight from the streets like pumped-up news dispatches and predating the roughneck rap trend by several years. It's hard to imagine, given the gritty content of the album, that Onyx was aiming for airplay with Bacdafucup; nevertheless, almost in spite of itself, it was so good that it earned just that.

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Onyx - All We Got Iz Us (Nov 1995: Def Jam)
The second offering from Queens' Onyx is another fix of dark and psychotic microphone marauding. Unlike their debut album Bacdafucup, the trio's 1995 sophomore project contains no MTV-friendly cuts like "Slam." Rather, All We Got Iz Us is strictly the dark side, espousing basically one emotion: rage. This is a primal album of raucous wailing over sparse, rumbling beats. It is the sound of what slithers under the streets of New York. Sticky Fingaz asserts himself as the lyricist of the crew, sounding off like a powder keg ready to blow while Fredro Starr provides the solid but simplistic beats. Onyx cares little about solutions to the problems that have riled them up, they're simply reacting to them by letting out a guttural roar of anger and violence. Perhaps the forerunners of hardcore artists such as DMX, they in many ways authored the grimy, lowdown flow. In spite of their talents, without the benefit of airplay All We Got Iz Us fizzled. Regardless, Onyx maintained their "right to remain violent" and for what they do, they do it very well on this album. The standout cuts include: "Last Dayz," "Live Niguz," "Walk In New York," "Shout," and "Geto Mentalitee," featuring All City.

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Onyx - Shut 'Em Down (Jun 2, 1998: Def Jam)
Shut 'Em Down is officially the follow-up to All We Got Iz Us, but since that second album was largely forgotten, the record might as well have been a followup to Bacdafucup, the debut that briefly made Onyx a hip-hop sensation. Onyx haven't changed that much since then; their hardcore rhythms still hit hard, their lyrics are still profane and they still shout their lyrics as often as they rap. In short, they still make the oversized, near-parodic hardcore rap that made "Slam" a smash hit. Unfortunately, there isn't anything on Shut 'Em Down nearly as good as "Slam." There's nothing that's flat-out bad, on the other hand, but there's no denying that the horrorcore schtick wears a bit thin. At first, it sounds good to have Onyx back, but it soon becomes clear that they need to develop a new sonic direction, otherwise they will have shut themselves down.

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Onyx - Bacdafucup, Pt. II (Jun 11, 2002: Koch International)
Onyx burst onto the scene with Bacdafucup, a volatile rap album that embraced everything about thug life and told the world to slam. Unfortunately, later releases failed to live up to the lofty heights of Bacdafucup, and Onyx faded back as members evacuated and/or opted to experiment with acting and solo careers. After four years, a re-formed Onyx returned with Bacdafucup, Pt. II, an album that looks to once again grasp the hardcore rap title they helped invent. Fredro and Sticky Fingaz sound as dirty as ever as they boast grandiose flows concerning the game, the relevance of the bald legacy, and life over the group's tumultuous career. The question is, does Bacdafucup, Pt. II live up to its title? While this is not as revolutionary or edgy as its predecessor, this is surely Onyx's triumphant return. They have conformed to many of the expected trends of hip-hop, including Dr.Dre-like beats and DMX-esque rants, yet there is no mistaking the openly hostile intentions of one of rap's most cutting-edge trios. There is much here to recall Onyx's early days, including two of the album's best tracks, "Bring 'Em out Dead" and "Slam Harder," which may appear to be last-ditch retreads of past hits but are their own entities entirely. The group even treads into waters one wouldn't expect, referring to the 9/11 tragedy with more daring terms then some may like, yet the powerful thoughts delivered on "Feel Me" prove that Onyx is very serious about their terrorist opinions. Onyx may not be as offensive or aggressive as they once were, but Bacdafucup, Pt. II is easily the group's best outing since their hip-hop debut.

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Onyx - Triggernometry (Jul 22, 2003: D3/Riviera)
1 Triggernometry (Intro) 0:58
2 Gun Clap Music 4:08
3 Stick Up 0:27
4 JMJ 4:10
5 Def Scams 0:39
6 Street Is Us 2:52
7 The Source Awards 1:04
8 Wild N Here 3:58
9 '93 Flex 0:39
10 Onyx 3:54
11 Wu da Competition 1:06
12 Over 4:13
13 B.I.G. 1:17
14 Look Dog 3:16
15 Irv da A&R 0:53
16 Da Next Niggas, Pt. 2 3:42
17 Rappers in Flicks 0:31
18 Champions 3:23
19 Holla Back 50 2:30
20 Mama Cryin 4:01
21 Triggernometry (Outra) 0:37
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1 comment:

Vee said...

Peace, check out my post on Onyx - Mad Face

I'm getting the Sticky's solo "Autobiography of Kirk Jones".