Where Ya Been? '90s Hip-Hop Edition: Onyx, MC Lyte, Rob Base, Young Black Teenagers

MC Lyte and Onyx's Fredro Starr, Sticky Fingaz have found success acting.

We couldn't get enough of them. Their songs were our soundtrack, and we laughed, danced, cried and loved along with them. They flashed across our radio and TV burning brightly ... but where have they been lately? As you'll find out in this regular feature, sometimes the stories behind your favorite songs are more interesting than the hits themselves.

The late '80s and early '90s were ripe with hip-hop acts that scored massive hits and then slipped off the map. Fu-Schnickens anyone? We tracked down some of our favorites to find out what they're up to.

Who: Onyx

Biggest hit: "Slam"

Why do I know that name?: One of the first rap groups to embrace the power of the mosh pit, Queens, New York's Onyx busted out of the box with their 1993 debut, Bacdaf--up, thanks to the smash-mouth shout rap "Slam." Original members Fredro Starr, Sticky Fingaz, Big DS and DJ Suave Sonny Caeser caught the eye of late Run-DMC DJ Jam Master Jay, who signed them to his label, JMJ Records, and helped produce their first album. They further courted the rock audience by teaming with Biohazard on a "Slam" remix for the "Judgment Night" soundtrack. The hits dried up after that on two subsequent albums, but Sticky and Starr both launched lucrative acting careers that continue to this day.

What now?: "Onyx is a 20-year group," Starr said. "We're going to keep doing this like the Whispers and the Temptations. We may take it to Vegas and do a show with Naughty by Nature." Starr has appeared in more than a dozen movies and in the Brandy TV series "Moesha," while Sticky has landed roles in several TV series ("Over There," "The Shield"), including his current hit run in the TV version of "Blade," and dozens of films. Big DS died of cancer three years ago, but Onyx have soldiered on, playing shows around the world. They are considering doing a new album that will take them back to their hardcore, rock-inspired roots.

"We always catered to the streets, but 'Slam' built another market," Starr said. "We were the first ones to bring slam-dancing to hip-hop. That first album got so much flak for being crossover that we left that whole rock-and-rollish crowd behind on the next one and never capitalized on it. Now we're saying, 'Let's go back to those fans who were never satisfied and do the black rock album.' "

In the meantime, a second-generation version of the group, the teenage Yung Onyx, are out performing and prepping a debut album. Starr has just begun work on a pilot for a half-hour Showtime series called "The Hype" about a shock jock. Sticky is working on his third solo album, and he recently wrote, directed, produced and starred in two big-screen hip-hop musicals: "A Day in the Life" (featuring Mekhi Phifer, Michael Rapaport, Starr, Omar Epps and Clarence Williams III) and "Caught on Tape" (with Cedric the Entertainer, Vivica A. Fox, Bokeem Woodbine, Malik Yoba and Kel Mitchell).

Who: MC Lyte

Biggest hits: "Ruffneck," "Cha Cha Cha"

Why do I know that name?: Lyte never had the chart longevity of contemporaries like Salt-N-Pepa, but she was one of the first female MCs to call out the misogyny in hip-hop and put male MCs on notice. The Brooklyn, New York, queen debuted in 1988 with Lyte as a Rock, which featured such career highlights as "10% Dis," "Paper Thin" and the title track. Eyes on This (1989) spawned "Cha Cha Cha," which hit #1 on Billboard's Hot Rap Tracks chart, and the drug-violence tale "Cappucino."

What now?: Lyte released albums through the late 1990s and branched out into acting, appearing in episodes of "Moesha," "In the House" and "New York Undercover." She released a comeback album in 2003, Da Undaground Heat, Vol. 1, and has just returned to her indie roots by releasing two new singles on the BurnLounge digital download service. The songs — the DJ Premier-produced "The Wonder Years" and "Hot Damn," featuring Brand Nubian's Sadat X — are from her upcoming album, Back to Lyte, which is not yet scheduled for release.

"I'm doing it like back in the day, putting out singles and pushing them and promoting them until they have momentum," said Lyte, who was ordering some DVD dubs of her new video while speaking to MTV News. "It's exciting to be doing it alone, but it's scary too. You don't have that big-label shoulder to lean on." Now that her three-year run on the TV show "Half & Half" is over, Lyte is looking for a dramatic role, and she said her dual career has made for an interesting generation gap in her audience. On her recent slot on the Ebony Black Family Reunion Tour with Slick Rick, Doug E. Fresh, Whodini and several others, Lyte would see older fans, who recognized her music from the beginning of her career, and their kids, who only knew her as an actress. "I'd talk to parents, and they'd be like, 'I had to tell them that you're more than an actress and tell them what you did,' " she said. "It's cool to be part of culture in a way that spans generations."

Who: Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock

Biggest hit: "It Takes Two"

Why do I know that name?: If you've been in a dance club anywhere in the world, you know Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock. Their 1988 hit "It Takes Two" is one of the all-time hip-house classics, along with its follow-up, "Joy and Pain." The duo, who had performed together since grade school with the group Sureshot Seven, broke out on their own in 1987 for a partnership that only produced a few hits but endures to this day.

What now?: "We're still doing shows," Base said of his partnership with Rock. "We're in the studio, and we have a production company called Funky Base Entertainment with artists like Mr. Streets, a reggaetón guy I found in Colombia." Base, who recently began work on a new solo album, said the pair still perform shows almost weekly, often as part of package tours with fellow '80s and '90s rappers. "I feel blessed to have a song like 'It Takes Two,' " he said. "We do shows all over, and guys who are 18 and 19 come up to us saying, 'I love this song!' I'm like, 'How old was you when this came out?' The weird thing is that when we do a show, the crowd still reacts like it's 1988 and the song just came out." EZ has kept busy with production work and DJ gigs in clubs in Chicago and New York.

Who: Young Black Teenagers

Biggest hit: "Tap the Bottle"

Why do I know that name?: At a time when political correctness was all the rage, YBT were the ultimate in un-P.C. acts. Mentored by Public Enemy producer Hank Shocklee, the five-man crew — consisting of Knowledgable Child, First Born, ATA, Tommy Never and DJ Skribble (four white guys and one of Puerto Rican ancestry) — were clearly not black, though they were young and mostly teenagers. Their 1991 debut on Shocklee's Sound of Urban Listeners label featured an ode to "Married With Children" character Kelly Bundy, "Nobody Knows Kelli," and the not-ironic "Proud to Be Black." But it was their second — and final — album, 1993's Dead Enz Kidz Doin' Lifetime Bidz, that spawned a hit with the Rush-sampling ode to 40-ounce beers, "Tap the Bottle."

What now?: "Young Black Teenagers was like five years of college for me," said Skribble, an in-demand DJ who plays club shows four nights a week and has residencies at the Vegas club Cherry and the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. "That's how I learned about the music business. Hank gave us the name to spark some controversy. The whole idea was to make people open their minds to other kinds of people in hip-hop." YBT toured the U.S. and the world with Public Enemy, Anthrax and Sisters of Mercy, but Skribble's most vivid memory is how at their first show, in England, they were booed off the stage, a situation that changed just a few shows later in Germany, where crowds were won over. By the time "Bottle" came out, Skribble — who grew up with ATA and knew the other guys from the neighborhood — was on his way out. "We were overseas when 'Tap the Bottle' came out, and we came home to New York to do a show at the Palladium," Skribble recalled. "We heard it was #1 and saw 6,000 people jumping up and down to that song." He left the group shortly after, and YBT dissolved. Skribble was very visible on MTV in the '90s, spinning for shows like "The Grind" and "MTV Jams." He said he hasn't spoken to his bandmates since and doesn't believe any of them continued pursuing music careers.

 

Ever wonder what happened to Crazy Town? How about Snow? Ace of Base? Tell us which faded stars you'd like us to check up on, and you just might find them in a future edition of "Where Ya Been?" Send us your suggestions and we'll get digging...

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