For Fredro Starr, it's all about the "grandma love."
Sure, the former Onyx member and "Moesha" star wants props from hip-hop heads for the gritty rhymes on his debut solo album, Firestarr (February 13).
But it's that unconditional grandma love that really makes him feel complete.
"Do you know how many f---in' kids in America would love to kiss ['Moesha' co-star] Brandy?" the gravel-voiced rapper said of his singing co-star on the long-running UPN sitcom. "Let them n-----s sit on the sideline and talk while I'm in the game playing. When I walk through the mall, I get love from the thuggest motherf-----s to grandmothers. A lot of these rappers don't get that love. That's that real sh--."
The accomplished actor might have to leave the grandma love behind when he unleashes Firestarr, a mix of hardcore beats, rugged street tales and fluid R&B hooks that is his first full-length effort outside Onyx. Starr said making the transition from UPN sitcom star to grimy rapper is no problem.
"Hollywood ain't nothing but a plane ride away from New York," he said. "I stay in Brooklyn. I don't get caught up in the Hollywood thing, I just work out there. I stay in the streets as far as music is concerned. It never left me."
The proof is in the video for the album's first single, "Dat Be Dem," a hard-hitting, string-backed track on which Starr brags about his stick-up tendencies. The clip juxtaposes images of Starr as a white-suited movie star with a more sinister persona as the leader of a wallet- and gold-chain-boosting gang.
The rapper, who has appeared in such films as "Sunset Park" and "Clockers," co-stars in the box office smash "Save the Last Dance," which set a record over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend with a $27.5 million haul. (The movie is a co-production of MTV Films.)
While Firestarr lacks the snarl-and-shout style of Onyx's breakthrough 1993 hit, "Slam," Starr's lyrics are anything but "Moesha"-clean on such profanity-spewing tracks as "Perfect B----," "Who F--- Betta" and the ominous, "Godfather III"-style murderous gangsta saga, "Big Shots." Among the guests on the album are Ice-T, the Outlawz, former Onyx partner Sticky Fingaz, R&B crooner Aaron Hall and Capone-N-Noreaga.
One of the few nods to the bling-blinging of hip-hop on the album is the 24-karat boasting of "Electric Ice," a song about a subject as old as EPMD and Slick Rick: shiny diamonds and flashy cars. And not to be outdone by other entrepreneurial rhymers, Starr said he has his own line of jewelry in the works, called, not surprisingly, "Electric Ice."
Both the album and the "Save the Last Dance" soundtrack feature the Tupac-like ballad "True Colors," in which Starr gruffly wishes for ghetto dreams to come true over a vocal sample of wacky singer Cyndi Lauper's 1986 hit ballad of the same name.
"I wanted it to be grimy, but a clean sound as far as production," Starr said of the album's bouncy-but-menacing tracks. "I don't have to be as forceful [as I was in Onyx] less is more. I wanted this album to be melodic and musical. When I was putting it together, I was thinking of big shows and how [the songs will] react with big crowds. These are beats that will rock a big stadium."