In Appreciation Of: Sticky Fingaz

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“Who had the last verse you was always waitin’ for?”

Every time you heard an Onyx song, you knew it was coming.

Even when the group’s other members – Sonny Seeza [a/k/a Sonsee], Big DS, close affiliate X-1, and especially leader Fredro Starr – brought their best, fans would still eagerly await the final verse: “The vitriolic and intensely confrontational flow of Sticky Fingaz was the voice who caught ears every time an Onyx song hit the needle”

The voice. The energy. The lyrics. The flow. Sticky Fingaz had the total package and he displayed it virtually every time.

“Rip my heart out my chest, put it right into a rhyme”

It all began with “Throw Ya Gunz.” Onyx’s first single, it was released in late 1992, a few months before their debut album, BacDaFucUp, and it introduced Sticky as the cleanup hitter that would shut down the song with a bang.

But he could also open with a bang. Literally. At the start of their performance of the song at the 1994 Source Awards, Sticky fired several shots into the air on stage.

“The mad author of anguish, my language polluted”

While “Throw Ya Gunz” came first, it was the group’s second single, “Slam,” that introduced Onyx – and Sticky Fingaz – to the world at large. A certified hit, it reached number four on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and Sticky’s closing verse was memorized by millions.

“The degenerate, if I get caught, I’m innocent / ‘Cause I don’t leave no sticky fingerprints”

Onyx’s sophomore disc, All We Got Iz Us, was less commercially successful, though it was arguably a better album. Beginning with the opening track, “Last Dayz” and continuing throughout, the group sounds fantastic, most especially Stick, whose wordplay and lyrical dexterity had improved between projects.

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“You wanna know the truth? Take a look in my eye”

Nearly a decade after their debut, Onyx came back with the sequel, BacDaFucUp Part II, which naturally included a return to their biggest hit with “Slam Harder.” While nowhere near as popular as their first album – they were no longer on Def Jam and the music industry had changed so much – they still brought it and Sticky still ended nearly every track.

“Every word that come out my mouth is an anthem”

The following year came Triggernometry, a lukewarm effort that did have some bright spots including “Champions,” which finds the group, particularly Sticky, employing a more melodic flow that isn’t always perfect but is always intriguing.

“God of the underground”

By 2014, Sonny Seeza was no longer a member of Onyx while Big DS, who had left after their first album, passed away from complications of cancer in 2003 and frequent guest (and Sticky’s brother) X-1 committed suicide in 2007. Thus, Onyx was reduced to a duo. The resulting album, #WakeDaFucUp, tries to offset this occurrence by featuring several impressive guests, but it doesn’t have the same vibe as the earlier projects. Still, while there were now only two, the formula remained – Fredro would kick things off and Stick would close it up and “TurnDaFucUp” is one of the album’s highlights.

“You could try to censor my shit, but that won’t keep me quiet”

“I started reading when the judge threw the book at me”

Of course, it wasn’t just on albums on which Sticky shined, either. He closes “See You in Hell,” originally a freestyle for a DJ Clue tape as well as its sequel, also originally a Clue freestyle before being packaged as part of a Def Jam sampler with DMX’s debut, It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot, and ultimately winding up on the group’s lost tapes compilation album, Cold Case Files: Murder Investigation.

“My name speak for itself, kid, you know the rest”

In fact, it wasn’t just Onyx songs on which he shut down the track. He provided the final verse on numerous guest spots in three different decades, including “Strange Fruit” along with Tragedy Khadafi & Cappadonna off Pete Rock’s 1998 Soul Survivor, the remix of Gang Starr’s “Full Clip” a year later, “Soldierz” in 2001 along with X-1 off fellow Onyx groupmate Fredro Starr’s debut, Firestarr, and went back and forth with Fredro on DJ Kay Slay’s “My Brother’s Keeper,” which also featured Outlawz, in 2014.

“I’m still alive / That mean the greatest rapper of all time ain’t never died”

While Sticky Fingaz has been crafting scene-stealing verses for over two decades, there’s no doubt that his apex occurred from 1998 through 2001.

On Onyx’s stellar third album, Shut ‘Em Down, Sticky rose to another level. He outperformed everyone, including red-hot guest DMX, on the album’s title track: “Sticky F-I-N-G-A-Z, the crazy, Cajun blazin’ bullets for days and days/Grazin’, amazin’ I’m the guy that’s lacin’, Purple Hazin’, hard to be phasin’/Lord of all this hell that I’m raisin’/God of the Underground, I’m gunnin’ ‘em down with a thunder pound/We gonna shut ‘em down!” From that track’s remix, which featured Noreaga and Big Punisher, to the ninety second solo salvo “Take That,” to the epic back and forth with Method Man on the Onyx/Wu-Tang collaboration, “The Worst,” Stick was virtually flawless over 16 tracks, helping to make it Onyx’s most complete album.

That year and the next, he provided stirring hooks for others, including “Massive Heat” off Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz’s Make It Reign and “Buck ‘Em” off Snoop Dogg’s No Limit Top Dogg (1999), but his greatest guest appearance occurred in 2000.

“My name should be ‘Can’t-Believe-That-N—a-Said-That-Shit’”

Eminem’s second major label album, The Marshall Mathers LP, was destined to be a monster and it exceeded expectations, becoming certified diamond (10+ million copies sold). In the middle of the album, came a track called “Remember Me?” A departure from the rest of the album, it was classic hip-hop and had originally been slated to appear on Dr. Dre’s 2001, but when Eminem heard it, he wanted it on his album.

It featured a strong verse from former Death Row soldier RBX as well as a dope Em performance, but both were overshadowed by Sticky Fingaz. Respect called Sticky’s contribution “one of the most memorable guest verses ever” and he claims that both Eminem and Dr. Dre told him that it took Em two months to write a verse that would match his.

Stick and Dre also recorded “Feel It,” but there could’ve been more collaborations. As Sticky was prepping his solo debut (on which Em is featured), he was a free agent looking for a label, and he was planning on signing with Aftermath, but Universal offered more money, so he took it.

“Went solo on that ass but it’s still the same”

When it was finally released in May of 2001, Sticky’s long-awaited solo debut managed to exceed the lofty expectations that had been placed upon it. A concept album that blurs the line between fact and fiction, Blacktrash: The Autobiography of Kirk Jones tells the story of Kirk Jones (Sticky) upon his release from jail and his struggle to acclimate to life on the outside. In the rarest of hip-hop feats, it’s a concept album that actually works: “The collection plays like a sonic movie tracing the turbulent life of its principal character, Kirk Jones, who is played by Sticky. Each of the guests on the album, including Eminem (‘What If I Was White’) and Raekwon (‘Money Talks’), also portrays a character in the story.” Sticky covers it all. There’s the party track – “Get It Up,” also the first single – the existential question conversation – “Oh My God” – and a phenomenal courtroom scene – “State vs. Kirk Jones,” with a stellar cast, including Canibus as the prosecutor, Redman as the defense attorney, various witnesses, and Rah Digga in the role of the judge. Despite its brilliance, the album was not commercially successful and was missed by many fans, leading at least one writer (me) to label it the most underrated album in hip-hop history.

“I’m a hoodlum in Hollywood acting like an actor”

In the years since, he hasn’t been able to reach the same heights musically, either in a group or as a solo artist. The Onyx albums following Shut ‘Em Down varied in quality, but none were close to great and his own sophomore effort, Decade: “…but wait it gets worse, which featured Missy Elliott, Scott Storch, and others, was significantly inferior to Blacktrash. Instead, he’s enjoyed a steady acting career, starring as the titular character of Blade: The Series, and appearing on Law & Order, CSI: Miami, NCIS, The Shield, The Night Of, Empire, and others while also dabbling as a director.

“Everything that I spit is controversial”

Even if he never records another song, Sticky Fingaz’s place in hip-hop history is secure. Don’t believe me? Go listen to an Onyx song from the ‘90s and you’ll find yourself eagerly awaiting his verse.

That’s greatness.


Christopher Pierznik’s eight books are available in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Medium, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly reading review newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

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