Exclusive: Onyx explain their global view of Hip Hop, working with Snowgoons and beating Dr. Dre's "The Chronic" at the 1993 "Soul Train Awards."
With aggressive tracks such as the iconic “Slam” or their latest track, “Wakedafucup,” it’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming Onyx simply reserves their high energy level for the recording booth. That would be an incorrect assumption. When Fredro Starr and Sticky Fingaz call from Samara, Russia at 7:00 a.m. Pacific Time—due to the 12-hour time difference between Los Angeles and Samara—the pair are just as amped up as they sound on wax.
Sticky Fingaz yells, “Wake the fuck up!” at least twice. Maybe it’s in jest, given the early interview time, or maybe he’s dead serious in regards to how Onyx feel about Hip Hop. Either way, he and Fredro feed off of one another’s energy. This is especially true when discussing their upcoming Wakedafucup album, which was produced entirely by the Snowgoons.
“I think this Wakedafucup album with these niggas from Germany is gonna set the fuse off for the New York sound again,” Fredro explains. “You got other niggas coming out representing that New York sound, and this is gonna be the start of it. That’s why we’re dropping it on March 9, which is the anniversary of Biggie’s death.”
Talk of the late Christopher Wallace is the jumping off point for a list of what Fredro refers to as fallen soldiers. Relationships with the likes of Jam Master Jay, Tupac Shakur and group members X-1 and Big DS pepper the conversation. If Nas’ infamous line about sleep being the cousin of death is any indication, that at least partially explains why Fredro and Sticky have been so charged for the last 20-plus years. In an industry that often caters to and rewards being mentally comatose, sometimes a well-executed scream is the best option…even at 7:00 a.m.
Onyx Explain Embracing International Hip Hop Culture
HipHopDX: So you guys are in Samara, Russia right now. Fredro, the latest thing you tweeted was, “I tell young rappers to get their passport, Hip Hop is worldwide.” Why is a global view of Hip Hop important?
Sticky Fingaz: Get your passports and your PayPal.
Fredro Starr: Word up, man. If you’re a young rapper reading this, get your PayPal and get your muthafuckin’ passports. You gotta get out the hood, man. In Hip Hop culture, if they staying in the hood, they might not realize that it’s other people in the world that breathe the same air and do the same shit as we do.
Sticky Fingaz: And the Internet made the whole shit smaller and closer. It brought the world closer together.
Fredro Starr: A lot of rappers see WorldStar, but they don’t see the world. So they gotta go out there, do those shows and see them kids. The kids love Hip Hop overseas.
DX: What differences are you seeing as far as how Hip Hop is embraced overseas?
Sticky Fingaz: They just want that real shit, man—that struggle, that real from gut, from the heart shit. They don’t want no candy, pop shit.
Fredro Starr: I think the difference between American Hip Hop and Hip Hop everywhere else in the world is that America is where it’s being promoted on the radio more. They’re brainwashing people at radio and in media more, and the kids out here in Europe can’t go to the radio and get Hip Hop. They gotta go to the Internet and find what they want. They’re not getting programmed, so they’re making the decisions of what’s hot. It’s not a programming director like [Hot 97’s] Ebro [Darden] or whoever the case may be. They’re the ones calling the shots and saying, “Yo, this is what we want. Book those niggas, and we want them to come over here.”
DX: Does that play into how you connected with Snowgoons for this project?
Fredro Starr: I connected with them niggas through touring. We tour a lot in Europe, and them niggas are from Germany. So I would see them dudes at a lot of the same festivals, and I also would see Dope D.O.D. too. When I met them on tour, I’d see their shows and hear what they were doing. We’d connect backstage, and their beats sounded kind of like ‘90s Hip Hop. It was some real Hip Hop shit, and they had a big crowd out here in Europe. I did my knowledge on them, they did an album with some other people, and they asked me to be on their album. They sent me a beat, it was cool, and I asked them to send me some more joints. They just kept sending them, and at that point, it was like, “Let’s just do an album, man.”
Sticky Fingaz: It just materialized. And now it’s time to wake your ass the fuck up! I can’t front, Fredro spearheaded a lot of that.
DX: Interesting. Sticky, your thoughts about candy pop music tie in with the new single “Wakedafucup.” You say, “You colorful like a bitch / La la, you singing and dancing you bitch / You need to loosen up your clothes nigga / And leave the dancing to them hoes nigga…” You don’t sound too impressed with Hip Hop right now…
Sticky Fingaz: Let me tell you something, alright? Boom. It’s not about being impressed, because to me Hip Hop’s been the same and never changed. We are and I am Hip Hop. We do what we do. It’s always been colorful, dancing shit in Hip Hop. It always will be. People gotta pick their battles and wars and choose which side they on. It’s that simple.
Fredro Starr: I just think the fashion in Hip Hop and the way it’s being portrayed is definitely colorful. We’re about to bring it back to the dark side. We’re bringing back the Timberlands, Carhartt jackets and the rugged jeans. That’s the Hip Hop we know about—that street shit. That’s that South Jamaica Queens Hip Hop, and that’s the only thing we know about.
Sticky Fingaz: Yeah, niggas wearing mascara can’t really get with that.
DX: As far as the dark stuff, let’s get into some earlier lyrics: “Government tapping on my cell and my home phone / Walkin’ over shell cases, Illuminati pale faces / Seeing symbols out of Freemansons…”
Fredro Starr: Yeah, that’s “2012.” You know what it is; they said the world was gonna end. We’re dealing with that now, and that’s always gonna be in Hip Hop and just the world in general…just dealing with these secret societies and corporate propaganda. It’s bigger than us. This whole shit is bigger than you, bigger than me and bigger than everybody. You just gotta figure out where you fit in and claim your stake in society.
DX: That was an interesting line, because a lot of people throw out the cloak and dagger fantasy. But when the NSA is collecting smartphone data, there’s an actual case of what you rhymed about.
Sticky Fingaz: So imagine the next level shit where your Internet is getting tapped, nigga. How about that?
Fredro Starr: The revolution will be wi-fi! That’s why you see your man right now out of the country. That nigga is running from the US. That nigga Eric Snowden peeped game early, and he had to bounce; he in Russia right now. We should go holler at that nigga [laughs]. Where that nigga Eric Snowden at? We’re gonna go to Moscow and throw him in a fuckin’ video or something.
How Onyx Collaborated With A$AP Mob & Expanded Their Audience
DX: Well before we bring in Eric Snowden, you guys also collaborated with A$AP Ferg for “Fuck Out My Face.” How did that happen?
Fredro Starr: It’s crazy how we connected with him. His DJ is my man, Hectic. And Hectic has been down with Onyx since I did my Firestarr album. I did my album in his bathroom, and we was rockin’. He rocks with them, and said that A$AP Ferg was doing a mixtape called Trap Lord. He wanted us to jump on the mixtape, and then the mixtape turned out to be an album. So in return—just out of respect—it was like, “Hey we’ll jump on a joint, and then you can jump on [“We Don’t Fucking Care”] on our album.” So it was just a mutual respect.
I always liked the whole A$AP Mob and what they represent, because they reminded me of Onyx when I first saw them. They were kind of dark and mystic in a way, and they were doing something different when Hip Hop wasn’t doing what they were doing. When we first came out, nobody was doing it the way we did it. We had our own clothing line, our own style and our own swag with the whole shit. Further down the line, A$AP is gonna be like that. They’re going to leave their own mark in Hip Hop as far as fashion and what they’re doing. So A$AP and Onyx going together filled in a generation gap, and it made sense.
DX: What did that do in terms of opening you up to a new audience?
Fredro Starr: I think it works both ways. It exposes Onyx to a younger fan base and different types of sound. And when we jumped on his joint—it was kind of a trap beat—but we ripped it. Then vise-versa, it introduced A$AP Ferg to an older audience in Hip Hop.
DX: You mentioned the Firestarr album with Koch, and you guys have done multiple deals with different labels. What was the moment when you say you began understanding the business end of Hip Hop on a different level?
Sticky Fingaz: When we was fuckin’ signing autographs with no muthafuckin’ money in our pockets. We was like, “Hold up, we gotta make a stake in this shit.” Niggas always been gettin’ it and doing this Rap shit. We just some niggas. It baffles me when rappers say, “I’m famous, and I’m getting money now, so I’m getting bitches.” I’m like, “You fucking buffoon! You could’ve been doing that shit before all that.” We were famous before we were famous. So at some point it registered like, “Hey, wait a minute. You’re doing this shit for the love, from the gut and from the heart. But it’s a business, my nigga.”
So when you’re signing autographs and you’re broke, it makes you put the brakes on. That’s when it’s time to tie your boot strings up and get it crackin’ on a business level. But it’s still from the gut and the heart. The reason why we’ll always be successful is because we’d do this shit for free.
Fredro Says “Wakedafucup” Will Set Off A Fuse For N.Y. Hip Hop
DX: Throughout all this time, what has been your best business move?
Sticky Fingaz: I think the best business move is that we didn’t stop yet. Real talk.
Fredro Starr: I think our best business move is still yet to come. We’re still continuing to grow, and 2014 marks a new resurgence of energy for Onyx’s brand. When Nas said, “Hip Hop is Dead,” it wasn’t dead. I just think the sound has changed over the last 10 years, so it’s hard for any New York rapper with a New York sound to be progressive, do what they want to do successfully and make money. That’s why you had every New York rapper trying to rhyme on Down South beats. To this day, you got [New York] rappers trying to rhyme on trap beats, because they want a deal to pay their bills. That’s what sells. So you lose the integrity of New York Hip Hop.
I think this Wakedafucup album with these niggas from Germany is gonna set the fuse off for the New York sound again. I think this is where it’s at for Hip Hop. You got other niggas coming out representing that New York sound, and this is gonna be the start of it. That’s why we’re dropping it on March 9—which is the anniversary of Biggie’s death.
Sticky Fingaz: Whooo! It’s a fuckin’ omen, my nigga.
Fredro Starr: We waking up the dead with this joint. It’s really March 11, but I’m just a nigga who deals with spirits and spirituality. That’s why we’re dropping it on March 9. I was one of the last niggas to see Big alive in L.A., and the nigga was like, “Yo man, peace God.”
It’s real shit going on, and this Wakedafucup album is what Hip Hop needs. Wake the fuck up literally.
DX: There’s a lot of power behind that sentiment. How much do you guys feel like elder statesmen or torchbearers for that brand of Hip Hop?
Sticky Fingaz: We take responsibility for every fuckin’ thing we do. We’re always newcomers and originators of shit—originators of the grimy style, originators of slam dancing, stage diving and throwing water at Hip Hop shows. We were some of the first rappers to go into acting. We’re definitely the first rappers to make a Hip Hop movie with all raps. We’re definitely the first rappers to be a superhero. Fuck that. We originators. We’ll take the responsibility and carry the torch on some Spike Lee movie shit and be like, “Wake the fuck up!” Let’s get back to this real Hip Hop shit, which is guts and glory, nigga.
DX: Last time HipHopDX talked to you guys, Fredro, you had some interesting comments about being dropped from Def Jam and Russell Simmons’ deals with Sony and Polygram.
Fredro Starr: I think business is business. Once you’re down with a corporation, you’re just basically an employee. So what they’re doing up top in the big offices… You might not know about those deals. It’s crazy that you mention Russell, because we’re working together with Russell on a new movie. Sticky is producing and directing…
Sticky Fingaz: It’s called Cain and Abel. It’s a Hip Hop musical, and it’s going in the theaters. It’s gonna be the illest fucking Hip Hop movie to date. No disrespect to the other ones that brought shit to the forefront like Beat Street, Breakin’ and Krush Groove. But this is the fucking mammoth of all Hip Hop movies.
DX: Talk a bit more about the Hip Hop musicals, because with A Day In The Life and Caught On Tape, you’ve done a few now.
Sticky Fingaz: Not to cut you off, but you’re forgetting the first one, and that was Black Trash. That’s where the whole fucking Hip Hop musical shit first started, because the whole album was a musical. It was an album, because I didn’t have the funding to do a movie. And then when I did have the funding, we did Caught On Tape and A Day in the Life. And that brings us to the present with Cain and Abel. I wrote it, and I directed it. Russell Simmons is one of the producers, and we’ve got some big stars in there whose names I can’t say right now.
DX: So what’s your process as far as crafting these scripts and getting the actors to rhyme in a way that’s not corny?
Sticky Fingaz: Everything is a process, and it’s scientific. Like the Egyptians, we actually start from the top and build it to the bottom. I’ll give away a secret. The ancient Egyptians wrote their books from back to front, and we use the same science. You start with the punchline, and then you build backwards. People can do the science on that.
DX: With both of you, can you walk through the progression of auditioning to getting on the higher levels with production and writing credits?
Fredro Starr: It’s just a Hollywood shuffle to me. It’s just like you’re on the block hustling with this shit. I’m coming from that perspective. Whatever is out there, whatever I can do, I’m gonna do it. If I have a passion for producing, I’m gonna do it. If I want to write or be an actor, it’s all for the taking. It’s all hustling—just like if you’re selling weed, coke or whatever. You’re in the movie game, but the same rules apply. Writing, producing or even picking up a fucking light…whatever it takes to get the job done. It’s a hustle.
Sticky Fingaz: And we grow from that, teach ourselves and move forward. We create bigger opportunities for ourselves and people around us. Ultimately being an actor and doing independent movies is basically [working for] scale. That’s minimum wage. Instead of doing that, you’ve gotta create and make your own road. That’s what Jam Master Jay taught us. He told us, “You’re not selling a song, you’re selling you. We’re selling the artist…the person.” So with that perspective in mind, you have to be capitalizing and growing off of every opportunity that’s placed in front of you.
Fredro Starr: You can’t wait for Hollywood, man.
Sticky Fingaz: Word up. You can’t wait for nobody!
DX: Last year was the 20-year anniversary of Bacdafucup. What memory stands out as far as commemorating that moment in time?
Fredro Starr: When you say 20 years, what stands out to me is that we lost a couple soldiers that started out with us. Rest in peace to Big DS, who was one of the original members from Onyx. Rest in peace to X-1, who was like the fifth member of Onyx. He was on the Shut ‘Em Down album. Jam Master Jay ain’t here no more. If you look back through the years and see all the soldiers we lost, it’s like a survival story. We’re still surviving.
Sticky Fingaz: It’s a little unsettling…
Fredro Starr: I think about winning the Soul Train Awards and beating Dr. Dre for that. That was a monumental thing to do that. At the time, you knew that The Chronic was crazy. I loved The Chronic, and to beat that album, I felt like it was a milestone.
Every time I see Dr. Dre, I think about that. You might have a past relationship with somebody, and every time you see them, what are you gonna think about? If you’re Dr. Dre, every time you see Onyx it’s like, “Damn. Them niggas beat me for that Soul Train Award in ‘94.” It’s not like some beef or anything, ‘cause we was just at Dr. Dre’s crib the other day chillin’. So this is Hip Hop shit, and that was a milestone for me. Every time I see Dre, I think about it.
Sticky Fingaz: And that pinpoints our legacy too, because he’s one of the illest. And we’re definitely one of the illest.
Why Sticky Fingaz Says Onyx Is Colorblind
DX: When you have a single as successful as “Slam” was…
Sticky Fingaz: As successful as “Slam” is. We’re in Russia right now because of that single. Get the word game game correct.
DX: With a single as successful as “Slam,” a lot of artists get tempted to chase after additional crossover hits. What allowed you guys to have commercial success without chasing another hit?
Sticky Fingaz: First of all, somebody trying to manufacture or harness the power of the sun is like trying to create the next Tupac or the next Onyx. It’s impossible, OK? You just keep on doing what the fuck you do. As far as us, we just keep being original and coming up with more shit—more albums and more movies. We’re moving into different aspects of the same art. We went from rapping and producing to producing other groups. We started out as actors, but then we started writing and directing our own projects.
Fredro Starr: The main thing is don’t be fuckin’ lazy. Just get up and get to fuckin’ work.
Sticky Fingaz: That’s a poster on the fuckin’ wall of my studio. Everybody has the power to do what they want to do. The only thing that stops certain individuals is just being lazy. So don’t be lazy…that’s it. That’s ill that he said that, because that shit hangs up in my studio.
DX: In terms of “Slam,” how much did you get to pick your audience? You guys have previously talked about walking onstage and seeing a 90% white crowd moshing.
Sticky Fingaz: We do pick our audience. I got one eye, and the eye I can see out of is fuckin’ colorblind. So there’s no such thing to me or to us as black, white or whatever. We picked the ill, wild out, hardcore, love that grimy shit audience. It makes no difference if they’re white or black, ‘cause it’s no such fuckin’ thing, man. Do you think roses argue with sunflowers and sunflowers argue with daisies?
Fredro Starr: One thing about Hip Hop culture, if you go to our shows, you could be white, black or any color. But you’ve got the baseball hat on with the Nikes… If you got your shit looking like you a Hip Hop nigga, I don’t care if you’re from Africa, Switzerland or whatever. We represent one culture worldwide. That’s the realization; there is no separation in this shit.
Sticky Fingaz: It’s like when you’re having a discussion and people say, “It’s in black and white.” Technically, there is no black and white. If you’re talking about who our fans are, it’s just Hip Hop. What else is there like that on this planet except for Hip Hop? That’s the world we live in.
DX: Let’s end it on this note. There was a lot of talk about the Black Rock album. Will 2014 see you release that as well as Wakedafucup?
Fredro Starr: We really want to focus on Wakedafucup, and the Cain and Abel movie right now. Everything else is gonna fall in place—the Black Rock album, the Firestarr II album and all that will fall in place. We’re gonna do even more movies, and other shit is gonna come into play. Wakedafucup is important to us, because we worked on that with Snowgoons for the past year.
We’ve got Papoose, Cormega, REKS and Snak the Ripper on the album. To the Onyx fans, Sonsee is not on this album. Sonsee don’t rock with us no more, but we never broke up. I still speak to Sonsee, and it ain’t no beef. He just don’t rock with us, and we can’t wait for nobody. If Sonsee ain’t gonna rock with us, we gotta go get a nigga like Papoose to do a verse. Somebody like Snak the Ripper will fill in that third spot, and that’s the reason why we did some features.
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