Onyx's sophomore album All We Got Iz Us was released about two and a half years after their debut, Bacdafucup. Within that short period of time, though, a lot had happened with the group: they won an Album Of The Year award from Soul Train, besting Dr. Dre's The Chronic (really?); both Fredro Starr and Sticky Fingaz kicked off the second phase in their respective careers by taking acting roles (Fredro almost immediately after Bacdafucup was recorded, while Sticky waited until 1995); Sonee Seeza perfected his stance as the heavy hitter who prefers to remain in the background; and fourth member Big DS (R.I.P.) took himself out of the equation by leaving Onyx, citing a severe lack of screen time as his primary reason. (That last move is only really surprising to hip hop heads who forgot that Onyx was originally a quartet.) But the biggest shift in the development of the group took place within their minds: during the recording of All We Got Iz Us, they mentally strolled down the road less traveled and came across some dark shit.
Okay, "dark shit" is a relative term, especially given the fact that Onyx was still signed to Def Jam Records at the time, and because their "Slam" is still considered to be a classic hip hop song to this day. But it is undeniable that All We Got Iz Us is much more bleak than Bacdafucup. It is also true that All We Got Iz Us is one of the rarest offerings in our chosen genre: it's actually better than its predecessor, making it like the hip hop equivalent of The Godfather Part II.
Yeah, I realize I gave the ending away already. It's okay, the write-up is still worth reading through.
Fredro, Sonee, and Sticky Fingaz used the threat of the sophomore slump to their advantage, electing to amp up their lyrical game and take whoever would follow on a journey through their fears, touching on suicide on the very first track and only getting worse from there. Having said that, it should be noted that a lot of the subject matter on here is similar to that of their debut, but this time around, they took it even more seriously, which is weird, because it's not as though Bacdafucup was a radio-friendly affair. Also, unlike the slapdash-in-comparison music from their debut, All We Got Iz Us features the various members of Onyx trading back and forth over some of the best (self-) production that they will ever have the opportunity to rhyme to.
Most critics agreed that All We Got Iz Us was a worthy addition to not only Onyx's catalog, but to hip hop as a whole. I'm certain that there are a ton of bloggers who believe that this album should have been more successful than it was.
And yes, I'm one of them.
1. LIFE OR DEATH (SKIT)
The chanting in the background helps bridge the gap between Bacdafucup and All We Got Iz Us, but Sticky Fingaz's psychotic (non-rapping) performance, convincing himself to commit suicide because he's “better off dead”, blows that entire earlier project out of the fucking frame: this is some legitimately disturbing shit, and it helps set the darker tone of this album. It's still a rap album intro, of course, but it isn't nearly as unnecessary it could have been.
2. LAST DAYZ
The first actual song on All We Got Iz Us is the project's first single and its best song. Fuck, “Last Dayz” is actually the best song that the members of Onyx have ever recorded. Moesha's Fredro Starr handles the production, lending a melody to the post-apocalyptic environment the trio find themselves forced to live within: it's clear that on Bacdafucup these guys were just messing around, but now they have somehow unleashed the demons from Hell. Fredro also provides the opening verse, painting himself to be “America's nightmare / Young, black, and just don't give a fuck”, while Sticky Fingaz bats cleanup, correlating his irrational impulses with his overall need to survive. The video always creeped me out, because I don't care for the idea of having a barcode tattooed onto anyone's neck. But the song itself is a fucking masterpiece. And you can quote me on that shit.
3. ALL WE GOT IZ US (EVIL STREETS) (FEAT. P.I.)
The skit at the end of “Last Dayz” leads directly into this title track, which was the project's second single and also the second half of one of the greatest one-two punches in hip hop history (which I've noted in a past article). “All We Got Iz Us (Evil Streets)” continues the survival theme from its predecessor and is, in many ways, even bleaker: there is almost zero hope provided for anyone who makes the mistake of living in the same world as Onyx (and vocalist P.I., who provides an excellent chorus). Sticky provides my favorite line: “The only n---a that can kill me is the n---a in the mirror”, which isn't the textbook definition of the word “swag”, but fucking should be. Who knew Sticky Fingaz could be so lyrical? Oh yeah, everyone who actually bought All We Got Iz Us. Anyway, I used to have a promotional CD single that included both “Last Dayz” and this track, both explicit and radio versions, along with their instrumentals. In many ways, it was the perfect way to advertise this album.
4. PURSE SNATCHAZ (FEAT. GREG VALENTINE)
It would have been impossible for Onyx to have stuck with the same level of intensity for three songs in a row, but “Purse Snatchaz” isn't all bad. It is much more subdued, which is ironic given the title and the subject matter, but it forces you to pay attention to the lyrics, especially those coming from breakout star Sticky Fingaz, who now sounds like a homicidal backpacker. Seriously, the man stepped his writing game the fuck up since, um, Bacdafucup: he might actually be one of the most underrated emcees in our chosen genre today. The instrumental also included a fair amount of whimsy for a track ostensibly about getting your purse snatched, so that happened. (Side note: There was a sequel for this song featuring Smoothe Da Hustler, Trigga Tha Gambler, and D.V. Alias Khrist, but I can't remember what that track sounded like, so if you happen to know what I'm talking about, feel free to leave your thoughts below.)
Sounds like a throwback to the Bacdafucup days, and I mean that in a good way: Fredro Starr's beat accompanies the screaming beautifully. The only way you would know that this was recorded in 1995 is because of the lyrical flourishes both Fredro and Sticky Fingaz throw in the mix. Since the simple chorus is already part of the way there, I would have found it weirdly awesome had Onyx elected to straight-up jack “Shout” from Tears For Fears, but I'm still happy with what ultimately ended up on All We Got Iz Us. You have to admit, Onyx had a specific formula that worked for them. So why have they never collaborated with the Mash Out Posse? Would the ensuing decibel level crush the eardrums of everybody involved?
6. I MURDA U (SKIT)
An unnecessary interlude, but at least the listener knows where they stand now.
7. BETTA OFF DEAD
Takes itself a bit too seriously, which makes the song a bit hard to get into. The chanting of the group's name in the background grows more and more annoying as each minute slips by, and there is hardly any other instrumental aside from that, so it's up to the rappers to save the day, and let's just say that this song isn't an homage to John Cusack's Better Off Dead. (“Two dollars!”) Since the background music is the same as what was used for the horrifying (in a good way) introductory skit, this song has the displeasure of decimating the impact that “Life or Death (Skit)” originally had. Oh well, at least we got a goofy reference to Conan the Barbarian thanks to The Shield's Sticky Fingaz.
8. LIVE N---Z
Except for the addition of a skit tacked on at the very beginning, this is the exact same song as “Live!!!”, which appeared as a single from Def Jam's soundtrack to The Show, which was released two months before All We Got Iz Us. I didn't care for this song the first time around, and now that it has been explained that the use of three consecutive exclamation marks is a suitable replacement for the written form of the plural for the n-word, I still don't like it very much. This track was used to announced the return of Onyx, which was a poor move on their part. Also, Sticky actually utters the phrase, “!!! get shot daily, everyday”, which is hilarious, redundant, and makes you weep for the public school system all at once.
9. PUNK MOTHERFUCKAZ
Remember those half-thought-out songs that Onyx used as interludes on Bacdafucup? Here's the 1995 upgrade. Moving on...
10. MOST DEF
I fucking loved the dark melody on this track (nice work, Fredro), and I didn't even mind the simple hook all that much, since it doesn't get in the way of the three verses. Sticky Fingaz wins the day yet again, with some funny bars mixing it up with his trademarked bald-headed mean mug: “If I don't drink and drive, how the fuck I'ma get home?” and, “And I can't stop smoking weed 'cuz I ain't no quitter” are but two examples of that. Fredro and Sonee, who hasn't received much lyrical shine in this write-up thus far, also sound terrific. A fantastic deep album cut whose existence I had completely forgotten about until just now.
11. ACT UP (SKIT)
Please refer to my notes for “Punk Motherfuckaz”. Thanks.
12. GETTO MENTALITEE (FEAT. ALL CITY & P.I.)
A posse cut that shines a better light on P.I. and the two members of Onyx's weed carrier duo All City than it does on our host trio themselves. Fredro's instrumental is pretty bland, once again leaving it to the verses to hold the listener's interest, which is a lot of pressure for three relative unknowns to face. So it isn't surprising that “Getto Mentalitee” doesn't succeed, despite the best efforts from Sticky and Fredro. Sonee Seeza sounds as though his contribution was recorded while he was constipated and sitting on a toilet: how else could you explain his delivery?
13. 2 WRONGS
Fredro Starr opens the song with, “Fuck peace! I want justice!”, which doesn't fit with the sound of the track (Sticky Fingaz provides an instrumental that sounds anything but revolutionary or vengeful), but matches up with the song's theme just fine, and still sounds awesome anyway. Back when I first got this album on cassette tape (a friend of mine made a copy for me), I would gravitate toward this track after listening to “Last Dayz” and “All We Got Iz Us (Evil Streets)”, probably because all I had to do was flip the tape over. It isn't a great song, but it's pretty fucking entertaining, and it still works for me today, even if it isn't aggressive enough (the scratching throughout the beat, while a great touch, undermines the retribution that these three are talking about).
14. MAINTAIN (SKIT)
Oddly, this skit was not a song-in-training: instead, Onyx (and some of their weed carriers) individually urge folks to keep their heads up and to not succumb to societal ills, which was an oddly positive message for such a dark and violent album. Their advice is delivered in a rugged manner, though, so I guess it still fits the overall vibe on All We Got Iz Us, even if you'll never need to listen to it more than the one time.
15. WALK IN NEW YORK
For some reason, “Walk In New York” was also included on the “Last Dayz”/”All We Got Iz Us (Evil Streets)” promotional CD single that I referred to earlier, so I was familiar with this track well before I ever got my hands on All We Got Iz Us. (They also apparently shot a video for it, something I didn't know until right now.) Onyx's ode to their hometown doesn't succeed in making you want to reschedule your flight to JFK or anything, but Fredro's low-key beat clashes beautifully with the violent tales of Fredro Starr, Sonee Seeza, and Sticky Fingaz, rendering this a terrific way to end the evening.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Onyx's All We Got Iz Us is even better than the crew's debut, but in all honesty, comparing the two is like comparing apples and broccoli: both are technically food, but one of them won't be used for baking a dessert anytime soon. It seems as though dropping Big DS and shifting their overall musical tone worked in Onyx's favor. All We Got Iz Us is leagues darker than its predecessor, and the trio don't pussy out by providing glimpses of hope throughout: while listening to this album, you will be entertained, but you'll also feel overpowered by a sense of dread, as though the tides were turning and you're powerless to do anything about it. (And this isn't even a horrorcore album, mind you.) The production, handled by the trio themselves, exposes the darker side to their outlook on the world, giving the listener a richer experience than the first time around. The only drawback I could find about All We Got Iz Us is that Fredro Starr and Sonee Seeza, who both always shouted their lyrics anyway, have both decided to alter their respective vocal deliveries to ape Sticky Fingaz, who may have been the last guy added to Onyx but is obviously the leader, the man who decided the direction of the project (not for nothing is Sticky the only guy to appear on the intro). All We Got Iz Us is a follow-up in only the loosest sense of the phrase: this sounds like a project from an entirely different group, albeit one with enough ties to their past to help identify the corpses. This was fucking good.
BUY OR BURN? Buy this shit. Do it now. Click the link below and order this fucking album. You will enjoy All We Got Iz Us. Besides, I have it on good authority that if you don't buy this album, Sticky Fingaz will show up at your house and barrage you with polite inquiries as to why you refuse to purchase what is his finest hour. Wait, what were you expecting him to do?
BEST TRACKS: “Last Dayz”; “All We Got Iz Us (Evil Streets)”; “Most Def”; “Shout”; “Walk In New York”; “2 Wrongs”
B-SIDE TO TRACK DOWN: EVIL STREETS (REMIX) (FEAT. METHOD MAN)
Although it's labeled as a remix, this song barely holds a familial tie with “All We Got Iz Us (Evil Streets)”. Instead, this revision finds the three members of Onyx even further underground, flowing freely over an instrumental that reminds me of something Method Man would have used during his Tical days. Fittingly, Meth also provides the final verse, which sounds fucking amazing. I have no clue why Onyx and Def Jam Records elected to not include this song on the actual album as at least a bonus track: it fits with the darker theme, and Method Man was once labelmates with Onyx, so it isn't as though there would have been a lot of paperwork. Oh well. (I believe this song was eventually released on a recent compilation of Onyx B-sides, so it may be relatively easy to track down, but it's still worth the effort.)