“Nobody is writing, niggas getting they beats off Youtube. I was just raised differently.” — Fredro
Rappers are interesting people. When I was first asked to interview Fredro Starr of Onyx, I was excited… but a little nervous. From their music, they have a rep for being super aggressive.
That was only intensified by Fredro’s now infamous interview with The Breakfast Club, where he appeared to almost go to blows with Charlemagne. Hell, even my editor told me to make sure I was well versed since Fredro was prone to spazz. When we did finally sit down to do the interview, I was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t see the man I was warned about. Naw, the person I interacted with was balanced. An OG who knew his place in the game, and knew how to play the game. Our interview was about Shotgunz In Hell, Onyx’s new collaborative project with Dope D.O.D. What I got was serious insight on Hip-Hop’s global state, trends, and longevity. Emcees take notes.
Onyx, you guys are obviously legends in the game. With that status comes the luxury of not keeping up with hyper-consuming Internet age of music. What made you decide now was the time to release new music? What, if anything about today’s music scene influenced, or inspired you creatively?
See the whole thing about it is these youngs cats, they are doing what we did already. We came in the game in ‘93, so as far as keeping up with the young kids, we not young. It’s like, we on our schedule. We from the Def Jam cloth, so it’s kinda instilled in us to do quality music. Like you said, cats putting out two mixtapes a month, but it sounds like two mixtapes. Nobody is writing, niggas getting they beats off Youtube. I was just raised differently. I come from the Run DMC cloth, the Jam Master Jay cloth. When we go into a project, we go into a project. Like, we don’t get beats off the internet. We get real producers, real studios, real concepts… and we knock the album out. If the album takes four, five, six months, that’s how long it takes. We overseas in Europe. In Europe, there’s a niche for 90’s Hip-Hop, well, for Hip-Hop in general, but they love the 90s over there, so you don’t have to alter what you do.
This isn’t your first collab with Dope D.O.D… tell me about how you guys linked. What drew you to them? Or did they reach out to you?
It happened like this; I was overseas doing a show by myself. It’s crazy cuz Sticky was doing a movie, but I was like “Yo, Ima rep for Onyx.” They (promoters) was like “naw, but Sticky’s not with you, ” and I was like “Fuck that, I’ma still rep,” so I went out and killed it. Killed the shit. The promoters were like “yo; I’ve never seen anything like that. You singlehandedly bodied that shit…” But we got hits. But, there were these kids coming on before me. I’m in my dressing room, like “who the fuck are these niggas?” I never heard of them before. They music all crazy, niggas is wylin’. So I leave my dressing room to see them perform, which I don’t normally do. I hear niggas open up for us all the time, but you know, I’m prepping my show. But them niggas was crazy, so I had to check them out.
After they had got off stage and shit, they were all “Yo, Fredro. You a legend…” we put one in the air and vibed out. Once we vibed out, we just had that connection. They just reminded me of a young Onyx… the way they had their energy. Young dudes are bodying shit. I’m talking festivals. These niggas are rocking 10-20 thousand people. Not just no little 100 people at the club, but I ain’t ever heard of em. But once we connected, we just kept in contact, and they were coming out with an album, and they wanted us to get on a song called “Panic Room.” I told Sticky about them, and we did the joint. After that, we had our album coming out, so we were like “Let’s get them, kids, them Dope D.O.D. niggas for this shit.”
So they got on the “Wakedafucup” song, which is the single for the album. The album was “Wakedafucup,” and so was the single. After that, we saw the fans was loving it. Every time we did it at a show, it was a classic already. Niggas know that shit like the “Slam” lyrics. I’m like “damn, this is crazy. I mean, the song just came out. We did Hip-Hop camp. 50 thousand people and everybody saying the shit. We did Out for Fame in Germany, everybody saying it… 20,00 people and everybody is saying it. Dope D.O.D is dope for what we dope for, which is bodying shit on stage. We were like “yo, let’s do a whole album” so we started it and finished it. It was just a mutual respect between us.
Before the initial collaboration, were you familiar with Grime? If so, what were some of the things that attracted you to the sound? Was it always something you wanted to incorporate into your music?
Yo, them niggas told me it’s Grime music, but it sounds like some trap shit to me. I mean, it got the trap snare. They were saying Onyx was Grime. I have been out to London before, and I heard the grime shit, but it ain’t sound like that when I heard it. When I heard Grime, it was like the drums were sped up or something. So when I heard they shit, I was like “Y’all shit is crazy. Imma call it death trap.” I named their music death trap cuz it has that trap bounce, but the shit is dark… like somebody died. But yea, I heard of Grim when I first went to London. Rest in Peace to all those who died in that tragedy that just happened over there. But when I first heard it, I was like “yeah, this shit is wild.” Boom-bap got that kick and the snare. But ya know, the grime, how they produce it — it got that 808 and that snare that everybody’s used to. For this album, I was like “Ima let Y’all (Dope D.O.D) pick the beats. We are gon’ ride y’all wave with the beats.” So, they sent us a bunch of beats, we picked em out, and we just rocked. We rocked on their wave.
Now, I will admit that this question comes from a limited perspective since I’ve never been out of the United States. However, it seems that there is a greater appreciation ambitiously creative music. Do you care to speak on that as artists that defy the mainstream standards set by American music?
I mean I feel it’s vice versa. BMW and Benz are made in Germany, but everybody in America ant them. “I wanna ride foreign; I wanna ride foreign.” It’s the same thing over there. When you overseas, they want things from America. From fashion to music, to live shows… they wanna feel like they’re from America. They wanna be a part of it, cuz it’s not accessible to them. They want the foreign.That’s American music will always translate overseas and vice versa. You got a lot of overseas artists over here. You got guys from Russia, Germany over here. You just gotta know where to find the music. We have been rocking overseas for the last ten years and it’s all love. Everytime we get there it’s love. Everytime we get there; it’s like we back in the 90s.
I mean, you got people in the United States who appreciate good Hip-Hop. We performed in Vegas at the “Art of Rap” on the 17th with Ice-T, Ghostface, Raekwon, and a couple of other people. The appreciation is there, but America is just spoiled. In a sense, they listen to the radio like that’s what’s popping. Like, every artist I just named is not on the radio. In the 90s we were. You still got people who wanna see the show, but it’s saturated on the radio. It is brainwashing people. It is songs that I can’t even stand… I listen to the radio like “hey, I kinda like this song” cuz that’s what the radio does. But that’s any situation. We came out “Slam” was brainwashing to muthafuckas. People probably didn’t like it, but we got so much play on the radio and MTV, you get forced to like it. That’s what people don’t understand it; we get brainwashed by everything we see and hear. Hip-Hop right now starts on the street, and it starts at a young age.
Ain’t no 30, 40-year-olds setting the culture. It’s getting set off by young niggas 17, 18 years old. When we came in the game, we were 19-20. We established the tone for what was gonna happen for the next five years. So it’s always been young Hip-Hop, always been a young game. So, you gotta respect it: how they dress, how they talk. It’s all keeping Hip-hop afloat from a young perspective. But we always stay true to our roots because we got a fanbase that appreciates that, so we always know that. I know some people… it’s some rappers, 40 years old… who came up with me that never really popped off. They tryna do the trap shit; they tryna sound like Drake because they don’t know what’s over there across the pond. They don’t know. They don’t know it’s a scene for that, so they tryna keep up with the young niggas. Y’all niggas are 30, 40 years old, man … chill the fuck out.
Why ShotGunz In Hell? How did you decide the title?
Tell you the truth, I came up with the title, and I don’t even know (laughs). I remember he Nas line “shotguns in hell” he was talking about the weed perspective of it when you give somebody a shotgun or whatever. But.. I don’t know, it kinda just stuck in my head. I was like “let’s name our album that.” We tried coming up with titles afterward, but Shotgunz in Hell was just too ill.
At first, it was like” Oh, let’s try to get something without guns in the title, something radio friendly…” but it was like fuck that, we going with Shotgunz in Hell as the title. That was the whole vibe from the start.
There’s a stigma that emcee and fans that came up during the 90’s golden era tend to be a bit too nostalgic and stuck in their ways to enjoy music currently. Onyx, once again as legends, you could have just followed a formula for previous success. What made you want to expand your horizons are helping create a more experimental sound?
I mean, it wasn’t experimental cuz Dope D.O.D. been rocking. It’s proven. It isn’t an experiment when it’s proven. Them niggas on tour right now, shit… they do more shows than us. So, it wasn’t really an experiment, I knew that whatever beats we were rocking… we were gonna be able to rock the shows. That’s the basis for when I create music. I make music for stadiums and shit. I make music for a lot of people to listen to. So it wasn’t really an experiment cuz we let them rock with the production side of it. But they beats were already rocking shit. If they didn’t, and we were rocking with somebody who wasn’t already out there, a newcomer… then that would be an experiment. We knew these niggas already rocked shows, so it wasn’t really hard to let them grab the steering wheel as far as the sound
There is a balance between a more traditional Hip-Hop sound and experimental side. Is that something that you’re actively conscious of while creating the music? Were there ever any moments when you thought “hey, we may be going a little too left the field with this?” If so, how did you settle that uncertainty?
Yea, there was always moments of “I don’t like this, let’s redo that” it’s four heads rocking. Four emcees on one album and everybody got their perspectives. But we listened to them, and they listened to us. It was easy working with them. A couple of studio sessions were organic, where we all were there when it first started, so we got a feel for each other for a week. After that is was like “send your vocals, I’ll see you on tour or pop up at a show…” It took like a year to get it done cuz we were far apart. We let them mix it; we let them do what they do cuz we just wanted to run. We just wanted it to pop off cuz Sticky (Fingers) is a perfectionist. He got so much music stored on his computer, but nobody hears it. So, I was like “let’s let them do the mixing, ” and it was a good decision.
You guys have been around throughout the various trade-offs in Hip-Hop. From gangsta, to glitzy and back again, multiple times. There has been a serious absence of aggressive Hip-Hop in the mainstream as of late. Do you care to speak on why you feel that is? How do you, as a legendarily aggressive Hip-Hop group, adapt to the times? What do you think will need to happen before aggressive Hip-Hop regains the dominance it once had?
I mean, everything changes and everything evolves… it is what it is. There’s been some aggressive Hip-Hop. These niggas in the trap are talking about shooting shit up and selling crack in every record, but the delivery is not aggressive the way Busta Rhymes did it, or MOP, Onyx, Wu-Tang … naw it’s not a lot of that no more. Everybody got soft as far as the delivery, man. It’s not too many people that’s screaming… getting that anger and aggression out. It’s a few… I ain’t gon say no names, but it’s a few, and I like that shit. It gotta start from the youngsters; There’s this kid named TJ, I don’t his last name. I think he’s on a show, too. He got a video called “New Kids on The Block.” I reached out to the kid on Facebook, we never solidified anything, but I respect what he does cuz it reminds me of a young Onyx. The kid Astro from Brooklyn, there are some youngsters with the flow that got the 90s shit poppin. They just gotta keep going. Joey Bada$$, that’s another kid repping for the nostalgic era, you just gotta know where to find it.
What’s next for Onyx and Dope D.O.D.?
We doing a tour, we’re going to Russia. We’re going to do the whole album in its entirety. We’re going to record a live version of it that will be ready for Christmas. As far as Onyx, we’re finishing the script for the first Biopic. It revolves around the first album, Backdafuccup era. We are shooting a documentary because next year is the 25th anniversary of the Backdafuccup album. We’re gearing up for next year. We are doing the Hundred Mad which is the umbrella for all my brothers, my family. It should be ready in a few months, we working on it now, so be on the lookout for that as well.