On Second Thought
Sticky Fingaz – Black Trash: The Autobiography of Kirk Jones

for better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.

“‘If it wasn’t for Kool Herc hip-hop wouldn’t have been created’ / That’s bullshit! I would’ve created it ten years later.” – Sticky Fingaz, “Not Die’n.”

In April of 2002, the reunited members of Onyx—Fredro Starr, Sticky Fingaz and the other guy—sat down with MTV News. They were there to discuss the release of what would ultimately be one of the most inessential and underwhelming rap records ever, Bacdafucup:Part 2. It’s a typical piece: Onyx is looking to reignite “the game,” as it were, and recapture that old “Slam” magic. Fredro Starr in particular has been most disappointed with rap in Onyx’s absence and thinks the current crop of rappers just don’t try hard enough (as opposed to rappers who star in Save the Last Dance and Moesha). However, the real reason for the reunion was actually much simpler: Divided they fell. But that’s really neither here nor there.

What is interesting about this relatively meaningless feature lurking deep within the archives of MTV.com is this: About midway through the piece, Sticky Fingaz, the group’s unofficial leader and the guy who finished nearly every Onyx song with a verse of astonishingly frightening vitriol and clinical insanity, offers this little gem:

“I feel I had one of the most brilliant solo albums in hip-hop history.”

Sticky was referring of course to his cinematic personal opus: Black Trash: The Autobiography of Kirk Jones. Now, normally we can chalk these sorts of blanket unqualified remarks as typical rapper bullshit braggadocio, or perhaps in this case some sort of strange proto-Kanye meta-boasting. Except for one thing:

Sticky Fingaz’ Black Trash is one of the most brilliant solo albums in hip-hop history.

Black Trash stands today as just another one of those albums hip-hop heads know to be unbelievable while the rest of the world somehow remains oblivious (granted the heads prefer it this way): albums like O.C.’s Word...Life, Organized Konfusion’s Stress: The Extinction Agenda, Big L’s Lifestylez Ov Da Poor and Dangerous, and of course the motherload itself, Freddie Foxx’s Industry Shakedown.

And this is unfair.

Well, I mean it’s not entirely unfair; Black Trash isn’t exactly radio-friendly or even marginally accessible. In fact on some levels it’s actually kinda retarded, ambitious to the point of foolishness (There aren’t too many hip-hop records where the protagonist [aren’t too many hip-hop albums with a protagonist] has an actual dialogue with God himself). But it’s also really, really good. It deserves better.

Just skimming the liner notes for Black Trash is a depressing exercise is masochism. That an album, from 2001 mind you, with guest appearances from Redman, Raekwon and Eminem, and production from beatmaker-of-the-moment Rockwilder and the ever-reliable DJ Scratch could brick as fantastically as Black Trash bricked is beyond all reasonable comprehension. That there was not too long ago, in theaters no less, a movie in which an A-level rapper makes a peepee on someone while a Black Trash movie starring Omar Epps as these liner notes promised doesn’t even exist is an absolute crime.

For the uninitiated, Black Trash is a concept album following the trials and tribulations of Kirk Jones (Sticky’s alter ego/boring real name). Just released from prison, Kirk returns home only to find himself immediately drawn back into the trouble that got him locked up in the first place. He comes back, wiles out (“Come On”) gets into a heated argument with Sandy, kills Sandy (“My Dogz Iz My Gunz”), but not before Sandy shoots him five times (“Not Die’n”). Two weeks later, a recovered Kirk has taken over Sandy’s spots, dope, dough and even his “bitch Vanessa.” Now a kinda powerful dude (“Money Talks”) Sticky robs a jewelry store with his friend Bruce and kills a dude named Tyrone. As they try to flee the scene they crash the car and Bruce goes flying through the window (“Why”). Now Kirk talks to God (“Oh My God”). Congratulations, you are now a third of the way through the album!

Sonically, the beats match Sticky’s throw-ya-gunz force bar for bar with timpanis accenting nearly every bass drum kick, and the snares…oh the snares.

(R.I.P. the snare drum. It could be argued Black Trash was the last great hardcore rap record: just a relentless assault of ominous key stabs, filtered samples, and some of the hardest drums you’ll never hear again. Hardcore rap has all but given way to G-Unit Mt. Olympus-hand claps and whatever the fuck Kanye’s using on “Addiction” and “Impossible.” Those snares should be illegal. “Get it Up” will shatter you.)

And along the way we learn Sticky is actually a pretty incredible lyricist, displaying a biting wit and flair for metaphor rarely heard when he was pulling “bichasniguz” skirts up in Onyx, though he never displays this skill at the expense of his trademark high-octane growl: “I take shit from no man, I set up my own fam / I never was a kid, came out the pussy a grown man / I slept in a slum, I’m second to none / I give you ten seconds to run, 9, 7, 3, 2 1! BLAOW!” or “So unless you and me come to an understanding / You gon’ be under and I’ma be standing.” Ha. That’s pretty good.

Which brings us to the album’s centerpiece:

“State vs. Kirk Jones, Judge Battle now residing / Got a case of armed robbery that ended up in violence / Maximum sentence, life in jail’s what you’re facin / Prosecution set it with your opening statement / Your honor, before we get started / I’d like to give my condolences to the family of the dearly departed.”

Set at the trial for Kirk’s murder of Tyrone with Redman as defense attorney, Rah Digga as judge and Canibus as prosecutor, “The State vs. Kirk Jones,” endgame of all conceptual rap tracks, is still as impressive today as it was when it was first released. Its narrative is focused, its dialogue is sensible, and it’s cinematic in a way that is actually cinematic: visual, not just lots of strings.

Said Sticky: “I felt like it went unnoticed, under the radar. But the people that did hear it were like, ‘Yo, that shit’s crazy.’”

Black Trash may be overly ambitious and convoluted, and its storyline sophomoric and formulaic, but it also pushed the envelope in ways no rap record before or since has even come close to attempting, let alone accomplishing. Any album where a song as different as “State Vs. Kirk Jones” makes sense and works is reason enough for this criminally overlooked album to be given a second chance, reason enough to back the fuck up.

By: Barry Schwartz
Published on: 2006-06-20
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