[Editor’s note: In “Tweets Is Watching,” Phillip Mlynar asks local artists questions based solely on the contents of their Twitter timeline.]
Back in 1993, Onyx helped hip-hop take a turn to the grimy side with the then-quartet’s Bacdafucup album. Just over 20 years later, the original mad faces are back with Wakedafucup, a new project out today (3/18) that they maintain channels the same rugged spirit of their debut. In honor of its release we tapped Sticky Fingaz and Fredro Starr to take a tweet-prompted trip back to their days running rampant through the fabled New York City nightclub The Tunnel. Stories about oral favors in the bathroom, stick-up kids posing as security, and poppin’ bottles with 2Pac ensued.
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— JUNGLEMINI (@MiniGotchu) March 17, 2014
When did the idea to record Wakedafucup come about?
Fredro Starr: Wakedafucup is just time for hip-hop, you know? New York hip-hop was sleeping and if New York hip-hop is sleeping it means all of hip-hop is sleeping ’cause that’s the nucleus and heart of it. We was actually doing another album called Cut Throat. It was in the middle of that and we got the epiphany to put out a whole other album called Wakedafucup and we put Cut Throat to the side and just totally put all of our energy and thought patterns into it. We went back to the mindstate of the way we used to rap in ’93.
Sticky Fingaz: The verses, the flows, the concepts.
FS: Everything about this album reminds me of the first album. We were taking it back to the essence.
SF: It’s volatile like that.
How did you hook up with the producers the Snowgoons?
FS: We was on tour in Europe a lot — like actually our biggest market is in Russia — and we’d always see these dudes and they’d be rocking the crowd. We was like, “Who the fuck is these dudes?” Through touring we met them back stage and it sounded like 1993 New York City.
SF: We needed someone to handle the production on the whole level, so like not just beats from here and beats from there. We wanted it to sound like one complete thought, you know what I’m saying? It’s going to sound like a rude awakening to a lot of people.
— ONYX – #WAKEDAFUCUP (@ONYX_HQ) March 17, 2014
The album has a song paying tribute to the nightclub The Tunnel, right?
FS: Yeah, that’s one of the major records on the album. Onyx don’t really do a lot of features but we have Cormega and Papoose on the record. Also, we brought such a visual song with it. If you just close your eyes and you’ve never been to the Tunnel, you’re there.
Can you remember the very first time you went to the Tunnel?
SF: We used to go all the time! It was a regular occurrence!
FS: First time though, it was crazy ’cause it wasn’t a hip-hop club when we went there — it was house music. New York in ’89 had Jungle Brothers come out with “I’ll House You” and the shift of hip-hop changed — hip-hop became hip-house, that’s what the fuck they was calling it!
FS: So the first time we went to the Tunnel it wasn’t even hip-hop, it was house music.
Were you fans of house music?
FS: We was forced to be. We was into the deep house like the Larry Levan, we was up in Mars club, but we was always the hip-hop kids in those clubs. That’s where it was poppin’ at. And this kid named Jamal who worked in this barbershop in Brooklyn, he was into the house scene and was showing us the city. This was how we got hip to New York City. Coming from Queens, nobody went out from Queens.
SF: Nobody went to Manhattan.
FS: Jamal would put us in Manhattan in like ’89 and it was house music.
Did you enjoy those nights?
FS: Yeah, we enjoyed them, there was a lot of drugs in those nights.
SF: A lot of long nights! When did you notice the Tunnel starting to get known more as a hip-hop club?
FS: Early ’90s when Funkmaster Flex was on Hot97 and introduced it. He was part of the whole restructuring. Onyx was one of the first records Flex was playing and that’s where the Tunnel started. The Tunnel just represented all of New York: Mind your business, face to the ground, and it was just grimy like that. It was Timberland boots.
SF: 40 belows, Polo and Lo-Lifes, that time in New York was crazy. We’re bringing that back.
What’s the wildest thing you saw in the Tunnel?
SF: Girls giving head in the unisex bathrooms, niggas getting stuck up, stick up kids posing as security guards! It was crazy.
FS: A lot of robberies in the Tunnel, it was a madhouse.
SF: A lot of fun.
FS: One moment I remember was when 2Pac came in the Tunnel, the night or so before he got shot at Quad Studios. It was crazy ’cause when he came in the Tunnel he had a diamond cross on his necklace and I told him, “Man, I should have worn shades to the club.” It was the first time I saw real crispy jewelry; everyone used to wear the big bulky jewelry but this was small but you could tell it was very expensive and so well made. Then the next day he got robbed, but he was in the Tunnel with that chain on, straight up. We was poppin’ bottles at the bar before with him. That’s an ill memory.
How did the crowd react when they heard Onyx songs in the Tunnel?
FS: Crazy, when Onyx came on don’t be on the dance-floor, just play the bar if you don’t wanna get your clothes all wet up. It was blood and Moet on the floor when Onyx came on.
SF: If you didn’t want no bloody noses stay away.
FS: When “Throw Ya Gunz” came on in the Tunnel you felt what New York was about, when “Shifftee” came on, you felt it, when [Mobb Deep’s] “Shook Ones (Part II)” came on, you felt it. There was just certain records that encapsulated New York. “Throw Ya Gunz was part of that, it was part of the foundation.
Onyx ft A$AP Ferg & Sean Price – We Don’t Fuckin Care (Prod by Snowgoons): http://t.co/qNMMvpezEY I’d rather starve than be a purse stealer
— Renegade (@KulMiJeime) March 14, 2014
Going back to the new record, you also have A$AP Ferg on it.
FS: Yeah, he’s cool, real good. We worked with him on his album first, for a song called “We Don’t Fuckin’ Care” that was supposed to be a mixtape song but it turned into an album cut. He turned up to the studio, he was very humble, he was showing us mad respect and just telling us stories about how he was in junior high school when we was coming out and just that influence we had on him. It’s cool, ’cause I see that influence. With A$AP, them niggas is like a 20-year generation gap between them and Onyx, it’s like they could be my son’s age, but it’s cool that we’re still rapping and still hitting the same audience. The generation gap ain’t really go nowhere — it just came full circle.