There was a time in history where hip hop gave insight into the issues facing the Black race. But as the infantile genre continued its ascendency into the mainstream during the mid-to-late 1990’s, popular acts and record labels began shifting away from the raw, gutter and street sound of rap. Rather than focus on tales of the inner-city, lyrics began to reflect a more glamorous lifestyle, that was backed by a wardrobe to match.
Onyx never suffered from that conundrum. The Southside, Jamaica outfit always seemed to know where their niche lied. They excelled in their raw, energetic, raucous, and lyrically inclined style of rap. Coming off a platinum-selling album and high-charting single, it would’ve been easy for them to continuously chase commercial success. Rather, the “Slam” emcees stuck with what originally garnered them critical acclaim.
Their sophomore effort, All We Got Iz Us, has been certified gold with over half-a-million sales yet, never reached the success of its predecessor. Nonetheless, the Jam Master Jay signees delivered several more classic hip hop records. The singles, “Live Niguz” and “Last Dayz,” have gotten their just due, but the anthemic “Walk in New York” best resonates with the parts of New York City many can’t fathom.
According to New York City’s crime database, in 1993 (the year Onyx’s debut album dropped) the city faced nearly 2000 murders, and over 85 thousand robberies. For better context, New York City is estimated to face only 468 murders in 2021, a substantial difference. In light, it is easy to see why Onyx’s style, sound and lyrics reflected such lawlessness and aggression, those were the times!
Their description of their hometown is more resemblant of a violence laden wasteland where ruthless aggression rules above all. Yet it’s clear as day the pride each emcee exudes when characterizing their beloved New York City, for better or worse.
The title “Walk in New York” refers to the strut and swagger one from New York maintains as they walk, particularly when part of a larger ensemble. And as the proprietors of hip hop, New Yorkers held a certain panache when it came to the culture, taking pride in setting all the latest trends.
Fredro Starr begins the record, emphasizing that New York was not a part of the gang culture that had become so prominent in hip hop as a result of the West Coast influence (possibly a jab, as this was during the height of the east coast-west coast hip hop beef), before reminding listeners of the intense animosity between NYPD and young minorities.
We don’t throw gang signs in New York
We just be on some shit in New York
New York City, shiftee low down gritty
You punk niggas yell pity and smell shitty
NYPD can suck my dick
One of Hip Hop’s greatest attributes is that it allowed inhabitants of inner cities to express their first-hand experiences. Unpolished thoughts that are not ready-made for the mainstream were encouraged during the 1990’s. On the song’s second verse, Sonsee furthers fortifies the real New York experience.
Them damn streets are eager to claim all lives
But fuck it, it’s my home hate it or appreciate it
It’s the torrid 8 million story orientated
Designated and made for the real renegades
So I never been afraid to stomp, comp, then get paid
As the song continues, Sonsee’s temperament changes, he goes from accepting the cards he was dealt, to taking pride in the lawless nature in which many from the inner-city were conducting themselves. Which I maintain should go in the case study for nature vs nurture.
New York hold shit down on keep locked we rock all night
And if Zoo York niggas wasn’t part of your shit, your shit wasn’t right
We known to start shit up from trends, to riots, to fracas
And big enough to fuck up anybody that wanna attack us
And that’s cause the five boroughs are deep
Most of us are peeps, true Zoo York niggas we play for keep
The unmistakable Sticky Fingaz concludes the record with a fitting encapsulation of mid-1990’s New York City. From the violence, the distinctive swagger that New Yorkers carry themselves with, the “by any means” mentality of its hustlers, and the tourists who visit the outskirts and the city’s landmarks, but would never step foot in the jungle.
Representin’ New York City and for what it’s worth
Yo we the triflest mother fuckers on the face of this Earth
So if you don’t like your life fuck with a nigga from New York
The instincts we got is to shoot first then talk
But what seems to always gives us away is our “niggery” walk
And I speak from experience, so pleader take heed to advice
We sellin guns and drugs and sex or anything for the right price
The crime rate’s so goddamn high, we had to name the shit twice
Cause tourists be scared to death to visit the criminal’s paradise
Home of bloodshed and tears and for souvenirs there’s fears
It appears nobody cares so say your prayers
While not a major hit record, the song resonates mainly with New Yorkers, specifically those who lived through those dangerous times as well as those who feel Onyx represent the values hip hop were founded on. Real street tales from people who actually experienced them.
So fuck the mayor, fuck Rudy, Ray, and the governorFredro Starr
Ya’ll niggas couldn’t walk my walk, my talk’s ruggeder