In 1993 Onyx made a lasting first impression with their high-energy animated hardcore style that would arguably go on to be copy catted just as much as Das EFX’s stuttering style the year prior. The hyper-energetic four man crew out of Queens, led by the witty raspy-voiced Sticky Fingaz, crafted a quality debut album in Bacdafucup (you can read my thoughts on that album here) that would go on to achieve commercial success and a platinum plaque, thanks largely to their crossover platinum selling single “Slam” that you can still hear on somebody’s throwback mix on any given weekday around the globe. In ’95 the grimy gang would return with their sophomore effort, All We Got Iz Us.
The four man crew would become a three man team, as the late Big DS (who had a limited role on the debut album due to his legal issues) would leave the group after Bacdafucup. Also missing from AWGIU are Chyskillz and Jam Master J (rip to both of them), who were responsible for most of the production on the first album (Jam Master Jay does get an executive producer credit, but so did Nas’ 6 year old daughter for Stillmatic. My point? Executive Producer credits don’t mean shit.). Instead, Fredro Starr (with a few co-production credits going to his Onyx bredrin and 8-Off Assassin aka Agallah) is credited with producing the bulk of AWGIU, even though there are several rumors that 8-Off Assassin was really responsible for most of the production work on the album. AWGIU would not be nearly as commercially successful as its predecessor and received average reviews upon its release.
How would Onyx fair with their new formula on All We Got Iz Us? Let’s get into it now.
Side note: Fredro shouts out A Tribe Called Quest in the liner notes, so we can check off Tribe Degrees of Separation for this post. Okay, now we can get into it.
Life Or Death (Skit) – AWGIU opens with a dark distorted bass line and Sticky Fingaz screaming over it trying to
punk convince some random dude to commit suicide, and based on the gun shot that rings out, it sounds like he’s successful. This sets the dark mood that would remain for the rest of the evening.
Last Dayz – This was the second single from AWGIU and the instrumental will always be remember as the backing music for the epic second round battle between Lotto and B. Rabbit in 8 Mile. Fredro hooks up a chilling Earl Klugh bass line (that reeks of emanate danger) mixed with an eerie horn loop and a soulfully haunting Aretha Franklin vocal sample, all placed over scarce drums that culminate into one of the most cold and callous instrumentals I’ve ever heard, and I absolutely love it. Onyx matches the backdrop’s energy every step of the way, with Sticky Fingaz stealing the show (which quickly becomes the norm throughout AWGIU) with a brilliant heartfelt verse full of hopelessness: “Thinkin’ about takin’ my own life, I might as well, except they might not sell weed in hell, and that’s where I’m going, cause the devil’s inside of me, he make me rob from my own nationality, that’s kind of ignorant, but yo, I gotta pay the rent, so, yeah, I’ll stick a nigga, most definite”. This is not Onyx’s biggest hit (that will always go to “Slam”), but this evil masterpiece is definitely the best song in their catalog and the instrumental is a worthy candidate for top ten of all time.
All We Got Iz Us (Evil Streets) – Onyx continues to build on the dark mood with this one. Fredro’s instrumental might now sound as cold as the previous track, but its sinister vibes are in the same vein, as the trio share hood commentary and pledge to stay together as they move through these evil street.
Purse Snatchaz – As the song title suggest, our hosts use this one to discuss all the criminal activity that goes on in the inner city that they don’t only endorse, but also claim to participate in as well. The sorrowful backdrop, drenched in misery, coupled with Greg Valentine’s (one-half of the group All City) wearily desperate notes on the hook, make Onyx’s cold rhymes believable and makes for another brilliantly bleak song.
Shout – Naturally, our hosts would turn up the energy and their volume levels for a song called “Shout”. Bass guitarist (and decorated music producer/mixer), Rich Keller provides a monster bass line (that’s guaranteed to make you screw your face while you nod your head) to go with Fredro’s slick up tempo instrumental, as the three man crew spaz out all over the track, with Sticky walking away with yet another one. This banger lightens the dim mood a little bit and also completes what may be the most intense four song combo to start any hip-hop album.
I Murder U (Skit) – Short interlude that loops Fredro repeating the song title over a simple drum beat.
Betta Off Dead – The fellas bring back the dark instrumental from the intro and get into their tough guy slash psychotic bag, and some of their bars are pretty funny (specifically, Sticky Fingaz line: “Get the fuck out the way or get your ass cut, cause if you go to jail they’ll probably make a pussy out ya butt”). All of Onyx’s insanity is brought to a head with the morbid hook that finds Sticky growling “Get a life”, to which they all reply in unison: “Fuck that, we’re better off dead!” There very well might be something wrong with me, but I love this dark morbid shit.
Live Niguz – This was first released on The Show Soundtrack under the censored title, “Live!!!” and was the soundtrack’s lead single. The instrumental is built around a dope Isaac Hayes loop that Onyx uses to celebrate all the “live niguz” out there. It makes for a decent bop, and it’s probably the only song on OWGIU that lets a few rays of sunlight in.
Punkmotherfukaz – Onyx takes exactly one minute to
yell at the top of their lungs rhyme about how much they despise “punkmotherfunkaz”. The soft melodic loop sounds like it’s at war with the rugged drums and rumbling bass line, but it all sounds great underneath the threesome’s amped up rhymes.
Most Def – Compared to the rest of the album, Onyx sounds semi-sedated on this one, as they pledge their allegiance to the hood and the street life over a somber backdrop that feels as serene as a cloudy day. My only qualm with this one is the placement of Sticky’s stellar dark verse that I think should have closed out the song instead of opening it. But even with that small misstep, this is still most definitely, one of my favorites on the album.
Act Up (Skit) – A quick interlude that finds the fellas amping the energy back up after the mellow gem that was the previous track.
Getto Mentalitee – Onyx invites All City (which is comprised of J Mega and Greg Valentine, who we earlier heard sing on “Purse Snatchaz” and sounds like a less talented version of Redman on this one) and Panama P.I. to join them on this rowdy cipher joint that all parties involved use to issue death threats and talk about how nice they are on the mic over a borderline boring beat. As expected, Sticky son’s his fellow crew members on the mic, as he discusses his lineage and how the blood of his enslaved ancestors also runs through his veins and has him ready to spark a race war. Other than Sticky’s contribution, I didn’t care for this one.
2 Wrongs – Onyx sticks with the energy Sticky gave us on the previous song, as the trio are ready to seek vengeance on the white man for the wrongdoings he’s dished out to black folks over the past 400 years. Sticky hooks up, what sounds like, a grimy interpolation of a chord from Marvin and Tammi’s “You’re All I Need To Get By” with a dusty guitar riff and steady drums. It was kind of nice to hear Onyx on some conscious shit.
Maintain (Skit) – Fredro lays a super laidback and smooth instrumental that he, Sticky and Sonee use to encourage all the pussy muthafuckas, the starving niggaz, the “nothing, nobody going no where’s” and all the brothers locked down to maintain.
Walk In New York – As soon as Fredro’s grimy instrumental drops you can just visualize the rats and rodents coming out the crevices and cracks of hood walls across NYC. Onyx matches the instrumental’s soiled piss stained energy with muddy bars to represent for the New York City streets. Filth never sounded so good.
Bacdafucup was a dark project in its own right, but it gave us a few cracks of light or at least some lighthearted material here and there to help break things up. That is not the case with All We Got Iz Us. From beginning to end, Onyx mashes the listener in the face with intense demented, morbid and militant content over fantastic production that’s so dark it makes Don Cheadle look light skin. Sticky, who proved he was nice with the mic on Onyx’s debut, is in a complete zone on AWGIU, with an improved Fredro being a decent Robin to his Batman; and Sonee…is still Sonee. Bacdafucup was definitely a bigger commercial success with bigger singles, but pound for pound, AWGIU is a better album that doesn’t get the credit it rightfully deserves.