Filed under: Album Reviews
Onyx’s vision of the realities of inner city life are amongst the grittiest and most terrifying ever laid down on wax. As a collective, they are paranoid, incredibly angry and have resigned themselves to the fact that in all likelihood they are going to die imminently as a result of their lifestyle choices. To add to this, they don’t give a fuck. The album begins with a short skit in which one man convinces the other to kill himself, despite the protestations of the soon to be dead, whimpering man with a gun pointing at his own head. The philosophical conclusion here is that ‘you’re better off dead’, and this theme is essentially continued throughout the duration of ‘All We Got Iz Us’, with various allusions to suicide, guns, drug dealing and murder.
In my opinion, this incredibly hardcore aesthetic cannot be successfully carried over the course of a whole album and it is for this reason that ‘All We Got Iz Us’ falls down. Interestingly, I really rate the first half of the album and feel that the second half is significantly weaker. Perhaps this is simply because I can’t make it beyond ‘Shout’ before feeling that I have to reach for something else to lighten the mood and remind myself that life is in fact worth living. As with ‘Poverty’s Paradise’, this is also one of the first albums that I ever owned on tape as a young fan of the genre. It is no wonder that my parents struggled to see the appeal of rap music with ‘All We Got Iz Us’ blaring out of my bedroom, with Sticky Fingaz and co. roaring and growling over neck snapping beats.
Despite its shortcomings there are some standout cuts here that make the album worth owning. ‘Shout’ is an almost carbon copy of ‘Slam’, adopting exactly the same structure in composition and with the same message: Onyx are the best that the genre has to offer and you need to get off your sorry arse and unleash your frustrations like there’s no tomorrow. I actually prefer this to ‘Slam’ although this is probably due to the fact that the group’s signature tune has been overplayed somewhat and lost some of its original impact. ‘Last Dayz’ is moody and brooding, transporting the listener to the metaphorical dungeon in which the MCs dwell painting their pictures of violence and the rest of society’s ills. Sticky Fingaz’s verse demonstrates the recklessness with which the group’s on-mic personas handle a ghetto lifestlye, throwing all humanity to one side and embracing the darker side of living in the city:
Thinking about taking my own life,
I might as well,
‘Cept they might not sell weed in hell,
And that’s where I’m going ‘cos the Devil’s inside of me,
They make me rob from my own nationality.
I also like the track ‘All We Got Iz Us’ which features a warm bassline, drums and little else beyond the snarl of the MCs over the top with more details of their experiences on the streets of New York. ‘Purse Snatchaz’ also comes recommended, featuring some nice strings and more hard hitting drum programming. These four songs are the best on the LP, and because I can’t really bring myself to listen to more than fifteen minutes of the album in any one sitting, these are the tracks that I come back to whilst the remainder of the work has drifted away from me somewhat.
In some ways I have to laugh at some of the lines because as a nice middle-class boy from north London, hip hop doesn’t come much further away from my own experiences of life. Still, therein lies the appeal of the group. I don’t listen to Onyx to engage in a world that I know, I listen to it because it transports me to a fantasy world in which every man fends for himself and faces the world around him with an unerring sense of rage and brutality. Pull your fiercest screwface, raise your hands to the sky and jump around to one of hip hop’s darkest and most unforgiving outfits. You might not last more than five minutes, but you’ll have a damn good time whilst doing so.