Review Summary: Time to wake up
The cover of the second Onyx album, All We Got Iz Us
, should have come with a picture of a bed on it. Not because the music contained within is boring, or because it would be suitable background music to put on when trying to fall asleep. No, it should have had a bed on the front because it turned out to be one of the most slept-on hip-hop albums of the 90s, if not of all time.
Onxy exploded onto the hip-hop scene with Bacdafucup
, based on the strength of its massive hit single, "Slam". The song was completely inescapable in 1993, and because of it Bacdafucup
went platinum within six months. The album itself was solid enough, and--most importantly--its mosh-worthy rap helped pave the way for artists like DMX to bring hard-rock aggression into mainstream hip-hop. To give an idea of how huge the album was, it helped pave the way for group members Fredro Starr and Sticky Fingaz to have acting careers in a time where a hip-hop contract didn't come with an SAG card. So I can only imagine what Def Jam thought when they were given All We Got Iz Us
as a follow-up.
First of all, All We Got Iz Us
is a dark, morbid album. The main theme running throughout is suicide, and they show their hand right off the bat on the intro, in which Sticky Fingaz has an internal monologue about killing himself (and the intro ends with him actually doing so). Second, the aggression here is backed with production that doesn't intensify it, but rather flips it into something beautiful, yet still managing to cast a pall over the entire album. If you're only familiar with Onyx because of the song "Slam", one word you'd never expect to hear associated with an Onyx album is "pretty". But the production on this album is downright gorgeous. Opening track "Last Days" is a perfect example of this, with Onyx rapping over a mournful beat underscored by a sample of Aretha Franklin's "A Song For You". This all works because Onyx didn't try to change their rapping-style. The loud, gravel-throated vocals are still intact, but they're given new life by going in a different direction with the mood they're trying to create. The same goes with "Purse Snatchaz", in which a song about growing up robbing people is rapped over a beat drenched in warped strings.
Even on songs where they're seemingly attempting to recreate the mood of their debut, the production betrays them in the best way possible. Two examples of this are the title track and "Ghetto Mentalitee", which could have had different beats and easily fit on Bacdafucup
, yet (especially on the latter) instead are given beats that sound like something from a horror-film, adding the necessary weight to make them something above-and-beyond their previous work. The only song that sounds out of place (because it's actually a positive track) is "Live Niguz", which works because it's perfectly sequenced square in the middle of the album, almost to give a breather from the darkness surrounding. Most of all, this album gives a vivid picture of mid-90s NYC, and the album closer "Walk in New York" paints this picture better than any other track, perfectly summarizing everything that came before.
Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, the album failed to yield any major hits. It still managed to go gold, which is impressive since only "Last Dayz" charted on the Billboard Hot 100 (and at 89). In response to this, Onyx returned to the well of their debut on future albums, with highly diminishing returns. They even went so far as to make an album called Bacdafucup pt. II
with a song called "Slam Harder". Yet aside from select songs, none of their albums after this one are worth paying attention to*. However, in doing some research before writing this review, I've learned that I'm far from alone in having strong feelings for this album. In 2008 Vibe named it the best-produced album of 1995 and later put it on a list of "20 Albums Every Hip-Hop Fan Must Own (But May Have Missed)". So, if you're reading this chances are you're a fan of hip-hop. If you won't take my advice, take Vibe's. Check this album out, and stop sleeping.
*it should be noted that they released two albums called Cold Case Files 1&2
, which are worth seeking out if only because they have unreleased material from this album on them