Many artists and fans alike cite a lack of creativity for the recent glut of uninspired rap albums. Onyx blame something else: lack of energy.
The bald-headed trio who exploded onto the hip-hop scene nearly a decade ago with smash singles "Throw Ya Gunz" and "Slam" from their riotous debut album, 1993's Bacdaf--up, hope to inject the same type of kinetic energy into the rap game as they did 10 years ago.
"Right now the game is fabricated with a lot of MCs that really don't focus on a lot of energy in the streets," said Fredro Starr, who is joined in Onyx by Sticky Fingaz and Sonee Seeza. "That's what we're bringing back: the streets and the energy. I've been going to a few rapping shows lately and I'm not impressed. It's like people are being lazy. People are just programmed to hear their voice, so they're being lackadaisical. We're in the trenches right now. We've got a lot to prove."
With Bacdaf--up: Part 2, due for a June release, Onyx want to prove that they are still the kings of hardcore grime. After the relatively lukewarm response to debut solo albums from Starr (2001's Firestarr) and Fingaz (2001's [Black Trash] The Autobiography of Kirk Jones), the group has plenty of motivation to come with another batch of irresistible musical fury.
"It's just energy, frustration and points to prove," Sticky Fingaz said of the follow-up to 1998's Shut 'Em Down. "It's not like a life frustration thing, more of a creative frustration. I feel like I had one of the most brilliant solo albums in hip-hop history. I felt like it went unnoticed, under the radar. But the people that did hear it were like, 'Yo, that sh--'s crazy.' I feel like I haven't reached my creative apex. I feel like I have a point to prove, which is good, because creatively when you're satisfied, you're creatively dead."
Onyx come to life on "Hold Up," a smoky club cut that features Havoc from Mobb Deep and X-1. They give props to females who lick bullet wounds and in general stick by their men on "She's Straight Gangster," while "Bring 'Em Out Dead" contains Onyx's classic manic energy. On "Gun Clap Music," they pay homage to some of hip-hop's fallen lyrical soldiers as Starr freaks a Biggie Smalls-esque flow, while Sonee Seeza raps similar to a signature Big Pun style and Fingaz incorporates a 2Pac-like delivery. Elsewhere, they offer a rowdy club cut with "Wet the Club" and give their feelings on the fleeting nature of life on "Feel Me."
Despite covering their bases, Onyx needed to spend some time recapturing the creative drive that made them one of hip-hop's most explosive crews. After all, they hadn't recorded together for a few years.
"We've been out of the loop with each other musically for a while," Fingaz said. "Me and Fredro had been doing movies, went to L.A. and did our own solo albums, but the chemistry is still there. When you're not with somebody for a long time, your spirit doesn't recognize time. It picks up right when ya'll were together the last time. It's like no time lapsed. We creatively just got right back in the loop. It wasn't really a thing. It was natural for us."
Starr concurs with his cousin, who feels that Onyx operate as an entity. "If Onyx was mind, body and soul, I would be the mind," he said. "Sonee Seeza would be the soul and Sticky would be the body. Sonee's the glue of the whole sh--, the middleman. He holds that middle verse down for the dudes in the streets."
Now, with scores of rappers claiming that they represent the streets, Onyx know that they need more than just hardcore music to connect with fans. It's a different musical climate than when they first emerged, when rap was much more political, optimistic and less concerned with money, cash and hos.
"When we did our first album, the contrast was so much bigger because there was nobody doing what we did," Fingaz said. "We were the originals. People were coming with, like, Digable Planets-type rap, trying to be conscience, kind of soft. We came with the raw, f--- that [style]. The contrast was ill."
Fortunately for Onyx, Starr and Fingaz have maintained a steady stream of TV and film roles that have kept their names and faces in the minds of millions of fans. (Starr had a recurring role on Brandy's "Moesha" and had a supporting role in "Save the Last Dance," while Fingaz has appeared in "Next Friday," among other films in the last few years.)
This visibility helped sustain a demand for Onyx and set the stage for their fourth album, its first on its own OPM imprint. "It's like we're empowering ourselves as businessmen," Starr said. "It feels good to go in the booth and spit this sh--."