This year marks the 20th anniversary of a remarkable year in hip-hop. Over the 12 months of 1993, De La Soul, Salt ‘n’ Pepa, Snoop Dogg, A Tribe Called Quest, the and more than a dozen other rap artists released or promoted albums that helped to change the sound of America.
One of those was the debut of the rap group Onyx whose raucous single “” became an unlikely hit on MTV and pop radio. The song was on the leading edge of a media change of heart.
In 1990, MTV and pop radio sounded like Wilson Phillips’ “.” Excluding specialty shows like Yo! MTV Raps, the occasional rap song that received airplay alongside Wilson Phillips and Whitney Houston sounded something like MC Hammer‘s “.”
Pop rap from the likes of MC Hammer was anything but “hard.” Back then, Rick Cummings was the program director of Los Angeles pop radio giant Power 106.
“Vanilla Ice and Hammer were pop artists,” he says. “They were non-threatening. There wasn’t anything about their lyrics or their appearance or the sounds of their records that could be terribly troubling or unsettling or even regarded as somewhat aggressive. They were just really mainstream, mass appeal pop records.” Some entrepreneurial record labels were releasing hard-hitting hip-hop albums that sold millions without airplay like ‘s but most were chasing radio with poppy rap.
In 1990 Profile Records signed a rap group from Queens four kids who called themselves Onyx. I’d just landed my first job out of college at Profile doing radio promotion to specialty hip-hop shows. I was green, and so was Onyx. Fredro Starr, de facto leader of the group, recalls what Onyx was trying to do with its first single, “,” which sounded like a novelty pop hit.