In the early 1990s Hip-Hop music was being dominated by the west coast. Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, 2Pac, and Ice Cube stood atop an art form that was created in the Big Apple. It took a young and wildly energetic quartet from Queens to shift the focus back to Hip-Hop’s birthplace. The group was called Onyx and their 1993 debut album “Bacdafucup” went on to sell over a million copies and produced Hip-Hop anthems like “Throw Ya Gunz,” “Shifftee,” and “Slam.”
The creator of Onyx’s biggest hits was producer Chyskillz. Chyskillz would never work with the group again, despite the meteoric success of Bacdafucup. Sadly, Chy passed away in early 2018. Prior to his passing he reconnected with the front-man of Onyx, Fredro Starr. Fredro freestyled over Chy’s beats and decided to share those recordings with the world, two years after their creation. The result of Chyskillz and Fredro Starr’s 2018 studio sessions is a 4-track EP simply called, “A Few Joints.
Fredro Starr spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about his group, Onyx, saving Def Jam, how Hip-Hop culture carried over into his acting roles, and his new EP produced by the late Chyskillz, A Few Joints.
TRHH: The EP is called “A Few Joints” and you said that a couple of tracks missed the cut due to sample clearances, were you and Chyskillz working on a full-length project at the time of his passing?
Fredro Starr: We wasn’t really working on nothing planned. We was just in the studio doing what we do. This was like the first time me and Chyskillz was in the studio since the first album. Chy was doing records with LL, Shaq, he did a publishing deal. Chy came through with the purple M3 with the white seats inside. Chy was doing it! That’s when I started doing beats on the SP-12 and the S950. Me and Sticky handled the production on the second album. We didn’t really work with Chy after that. After that we worked with Self and DJ Scratch on the Shut ‘Em Down album.
This was the first time me and Chy really worked since the Bacdafucup era. We was in the studio just rockin’. It wasn’t no planned album or nothing. It was just, “Yo, I’m in New York. Where you at right now?” “I’m in the studio, come through.” I went to the studio and he had a little set up. The studio he had was crazy because it was like rock bands. It was one of those buildings with a lot of studios in it and we had the only Hip-Hop room in there. It was mad Rock ‘n Roll niggas. It looked like Motley Crue everywhere and shit. It was a cool experience rockin’ with Chy for a minute.
TRHH: You said you came off the dome for the whole project. Why did you choose to not write over these beats?
Fredro Starr: To tell you the truth I used to freestyle daily. When you freestyle on a record I think you get more of a genuine flow of the rhythm. I think when you write you get kind of complicated with shit, you’re crossing shit out, and you’re copy and pasting shit. It depends on certain records. If you’ve got a record like “What If” or “24 Hours to Live” you definitely have to write that type of shit. I wanted to go back to the days in the park, natural feel of music. I got to the studio, Chy put the beat on, and it was “Alright, let’s go!” We were just rockin’ shit and whatever comes out natural comes out. Jay-Z, Biggie, and I used to know this dude named Young Skitso from Queens, the nigga never used no pen. I was doing it on Onyx projects. It’s certain niggas who can do that shit. No pen, you just get busy.
TRHH: A couple of times on the EP you mention that you don’t rock with trap music, I don’t either, but why don’t you listen to trap?
Fredro Starr: Trap music is like 80s music to me. Like, when music got corny in the 80s with the sound. I’m not saying trap music is corny at all. Some trap music I fuck with, but the sound of it is kind of how music transitioned from the late 70s to the 80s when you had synthesizers. It was good music in the 80s, too. Trap ain’t my thing. I’m a Hip-Hop nigga. I like what I like. If a nigga like motherfuckin’ chocolate ice cream you’re going to like it from a baby to when you fuckin’ die. I like real Hip-Hop music. That’s what I like. It’s always real Hip-Hop and it’s never dying.
TRHH: Word. On the song “Punk Mcs” you give props to late Phife Dawg, but there is a line in there where you say, “When it comes to live shows they know that I’m the best/The only rapper coming close is KRS.” I’ve been to tons of rap concerts but unfortunately, I’ve never seen Onyx live. What separates the Onyx live show from other emcees on stage?
Fredro Starr: Onyx shows, we have the most energy. My job in Onyx is to connect with the crowd. I’m the crowd guy. I talk to the crowd. I got a lot of tricks up my sleeve to keep the crowd entertained while the music is off. Doug E. Fresh is another great guy that I’ve seen on stage that I learned from. You got the greats on stage like Ice Cube. I couldn’t name everybody. When I said, “the only rapper coming close is KRS,” there’s probably twenty people behind him that I could name, but I’m not going to just name everybody. His name just rhymed with “best” [laughs]. That was a freestyle. The next thing that comes after that is not going to be Ice Cube, ‘cause he’s got a dope show. I’m not going to say Busta Rhymes. “KRS, hey!!” you know what I’m saying? When you’re freestyling you’re giving them what is real. Let me give you my list of top 5 best show niggas if we’re gonna go there.
Fredro Starr: I’d have to give it to KRS number one. I’m not even going to put myself on the list. I would have to say Ice Cube, man. We did a show with Ice Cube and I got taught a lesson. It was a real crazy lesson. Busta Rhymes and Spliff Star at number three. Them niggas got a hell of a show and Busta’s got hits. Then we gotta go with Redman and Method Man at number four. Their show is ill because they got a lot of hits, they’re from two different camps, but when they come together it’s a great show. Every time I seen them niggas the crowd was crazy. Redman will fuckin’ body me with no shoes on. Them niggas go all out. Who else is nice with the shows?
TRHH: You said Doug E. Fresh. Doug E. Fresh is up there to me.
Fredro Starr: Did I miss Doug E. Fresh? Yeah, I would have to say Doug E., and this is no particular order. Doug E. Fresh is probably number one [laughs]. He probably can do what KRS can’t do because he can do the beat box. He don’t even need a DJ.
TRHH: I saw Doug E. Fresh rock for 45 minutes and he only did two songs!
Fredro Starr: Doug E. knows how to talk to the crowd. He’s got a lot of tricks up his sleeve. He does a lot of crowd participation and different melodies. He’s been doing it so Doug E. is probably number one. Let’s just stop it! He’s the number one entertainer. We’re going to give him that. But yo, I get busy, man! I had to put myself in the realm of all of that.
TRHH: In ’98 you guys went on the Survival of the Illest tour and I remember wanting to go so bad, but not being able to make it. I remember you played at the Amphitheatre, which was a shitty building, in Chicago. What was the experience like touring with DMX and Def Squad?
Fredro Starr: First of all, let me go back to that show ‘cause I remember it vividly. When the tour bus pulled up it hit a fucking tree in front of the hotel, my nigga. It was a big mess. It was fucked up. Something happened to my man on that tour. I don’t wanna get too personal, but it was a tragedy. He has to leave that day to get off the tour. I’ll never forget that day. Going on tour with them dudes was crazy. Ja Rule was the hype man for DMX. Them niggas was killing shit. Imagine them two niggas on stage. A lot of people probably didn’t even know that. He had his own shit poppin’.
If you look at the “Walk in New York” video Ja Rule is in the video with us. He was the young nigga coming up from Queens. He came to the side. He came to Rockaway Boulevard where we was at. Going on tour with DMX and them niggas every night we was lighting shit up. DMX was the new nigga and had the livest record at the time. We was the OG’s still slammin’. Sometimes we would do “Shut ‘Em Down” on stage with the nigga and shit got crazy. When Onyx and DMX do Shut ‘Em Down together the shit was crazy. We only did it a couple of times. I’ve never seen footage of that shit. If somebody can find it post that shit.
TRHH: You guys have also been going to Europe for a long time and you’re big out there. What are the differences between Hip-Hop fans in Europe and Hip-Hop fans in the States?
Fredro Starr: Well, the fans in Europe they wanna be in America. It’s just the culture in America. Everybody wanna be like us – culture wise. Not saying the laws, and the police, and all that crazy fucked up shit. They ain’t fucking with us like that. As far as the culture, the way we dress, the way we talk, they wanna be like us. When we go there we’re bringing America to them, so they feel more excited about what’s going on. People in America are already in America, so the level is different. It’s like smoking bullshit weed and smoking exotic weed. We exotic when we come through.
When American artists come over there it’s like, “Oh shit!” Our audience in Europe is like 16-17-18-19 – they’re young adolescents, because our music always reflects that. We stay in that adolescent mind state. The #WakeDaFucUp album we were like, “We gotta go back to our childhood and that way of thinking.” If you can go back to that way of thinking you can rhyme like that again. We always capture that young audience in Europe. I noticed that in Europe – the crowd is younger than in America.
TRHH: I want to go back to ’93. For some reason there is this revisionist history that Biggie brought the east coast back in the early 90s, but in my eyes, it was Onyx and then Wu-Tang, followed by Nas, Biggie, and Mobb. Would you say that’s a fair assessment and if so, why do you think you guys don’t get the credit for bringing New York back at the height of west coast Hip-Hop?
Fredro Starr: As far as I know we do get the credit for that. Straight up. Because when we came out Dr. Dre and The Chronic was poppin’! We was actually on The Chronic tour with Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and all of them. Suge Knight was the security guard. Suge Knight wasn’t even “Suge Knight” at the time. He was there, but he was like the security guard. Dogg Pound, Onyx, Run-DMC, I think Boss from Detroit was on it, she had a song called “Deeper,” and Dr. Dre and Snoop. So, when we came out we did bring New York back. Not just us, you had Das Efx, Naughty by Nature, Onyx, and then Wu-Tang. New York never really fell off, but Dre and them niggas came with some shit.
The west coast was excellent. That shit was poppin’! Everybody in New York was even fuckin’ with The Chronic. That was the biggest shit in New York! Them niggas changed the game. We came with our Bacdafucup shit and the tide shifted back to New York. So much that Dr. Dre was like, “We gotta get these little niggas on tour with us,” straight up. We was on tour with them niggas, but the tour didn’t last too long because one of their entourage did some stupid shit and fucked the whole tour up, so we only did like six dates. We had $250,000 worth of merch in the warehouse that we couldn’t sell, the bus was rented out, niggas lost mad bread on that shit. That nigga Dr. Dre owe us a couple of dollars [laughs].
That tour was fucked up, but we brought the east coast back, for sure. We brought the Timberland’s, the bald heads, the baggie jeans, the screaming, the grimy shit, we brought that back. We were like, “Fuck that, New York ain’t fallin’ off, this is what it is!” We put Def Jam right on our back and we did the ground work. Def Jam should have gave niggas a couple of dollars too because not only did we bring the east coast back, we helped bring Def Jam back. Years later I’m hearing Def Jam was in the hole forty million dollars when we got signed over there and they didn’t give us shit.
Fredro Starr: Yeah. You gotta think about it, our first album was on Sony Distribution. Bacdafucup was on Sony. Nigga, we was going to Sony on Madison Avenue walking out with flat screens and Sony Walkmen and all of that. Shit was poppin’! We was on the same label with Nas. We was doing promo runs with Nas in L.A. at the same time, in the same van, going to Sony in L.A. Real shit. The second album, if you do the knowledge, “All We Got Iz Us” was on Polygram. That’s not Sony. From ’93 to the second album in ’95 Russell and Lyor got their weight up. They was down forty million I heard and then they had Onyx and Redman. It wasn’t just us, but we were part of it. We put the ground work in for them to go get $80 million from Polygram. So, they paid the $40 million they owed and they were up forty.
And then Jay-Z, Ja Rule, DMX, they got new money to fuck with. When them niggas got to Def Jam they had new money up there. When we got to Def Jam the money was fucked up! We didn’t know. That’s just how business works. Not only did we bring the east coast back, nigga, we brought Def Jam back. Do the knowledge – first album, second album, do your fuckin’ Googles. Jam Master Jay helped bring that shit back. Jam Master Jay saved Def Jam. I won’t even say Onyx, ‘cause we were part of Jam Master Jay’s label. He gets the props for that because he discovered us. Jam Master Jay should have been straight, my nigga. All these niggas talkin’ about they loved Jay so much and they came up with $40 million, why didn’t they give that nigga four mill? At least ten percent.
TRHH: It was just Russell and Lyor at the time, right?
Fredro Starr: Yeah, Russell and Lyor. JMJ Records had Onyx. We ain’t going to get into all of that. Love is love. Jay had an anthem for artists. Jam Master Jay was really the mastermind. That’s why his name was Jam Master Jay. He was the mastermind being Run-DMC, saved Def Jam, discovered Onyx, discovered a lot of other fuckin’ artists. He get all the props. I’m a student of his, so I gotta always give it up to him because he put me in the game.
TRHH: I didn’t know until recent years that he produced on that first Slick Rick album. I don’t know why I didn’t know that.
Fredro Starr: He did the joint with the horns.
TRHH: The Ruler’s Back.
Fredro Starr: Jay did a lot of production he don’t get credit for. He did “The Ruler’s Back,” word. Now I gotta play that record.
TRHH: You have been successful in the TV and film world for a long time now, what keeps you coming back to Hip-Hop?
Fredro Starr: Everything I do is Hip-Hop. Every movie I’ve ever done was Hip-Hop. Every one! Every movie I’ve ever done I always played somebody from the Hip-Hop culture. Diamond Ruff wasn’t really a Hip-Hop guy. Save the Last Dance, Strapped, Moesha, in Ride I was a skateboard guy, but that’s still Hip-Hop. I’ve always been Hip-Hop. I’ve never left. A movie, an album, all that shit is art. All that shit is for the culture, and most times we’re lucky enough to get on a soundtrack.
Light it Up with Usher, I got a joint with my man Blaze called “Ghetto’s a Battlefield.” On Save the Last Dance I got a joint called “Shining Through” with Jill Scott. On Sunset Park we got “Thangz Changed.” The whole Onyx Bacdafucup album is in Strapped! In the movie Ride we had the Onyx/Wu-Tang joint “The Worst.” We always try to not just be on the screen, but add music to the movie. That’s another bag. After you do the movie you get on the soundtrack and get another bag!
TRHH: Chyskillz is a name that doesn’t often get mentioned when people speak about the greatest Hip-Hop producers, but if you check the resume he’s among the greats. What should people remember about Chyskillz in the game of Hip-Hop?
Fredro Starr: He has the hardest beats with the smoothest finish. As a producer I was like, “How do his beats get that sound?” It’s just silky. Even though it was hard it sounded silky. It’s just a certain way he did his beats – the way he sampled his records, his hi-hats, sonically he’s on Timbaland’s level. Chy is a jazzy dude. He loves jazz music. He wasn’t really into the soul beats. Now on the EP the joint “Punk MCs” is a little soulful. Chy is one of the best. He got the smoothest finish to the hardest beats.
Purchase: Fredro Starr – A Few Joints