The Decepticons: Gangs Of New York (Full Interview)
“My moms gave birth to a crazy ass wilder / bust out her p***y with a mother f***in gun / started talking slang even joined a gang.”
-Sticky Fingaz on Onyx’s “Betta Off Dead” (1995)
Quite simply, before the Bloods and Crips made their journey from the West Coast to New York, there were the Decepticons.
If you were older than eight years old and living in City in the late 1980s, chances are you know about the Decepticons gang, a smash-and-grab band of thugs who ruled Brooklyn, instilling fear from subway trains to street corners to project hallways.
From 1986 to the early-1990s, they were notorious for vicious attacks and thievery on innocent, everyday people. They were almost mythical in the paranoia they created.
In a New York Times article from 1989, Sgt. John Galea, an NYPD gang unit commander, said, “There is a reality to the Decepticons, but there’s also a myth. The reality is that they exist. The myth is that they’re all over the place in large numbers, and that’s simply not true.”
Moreover, the lines between fact and fiction have been blurred over time, which is a true testiment to the powerful lure of The Decepticons. Their story has told in numerous rap songs, hood movies and in the dark recesses of online message boards. Many people who were asked to interview for this story either declined or were reluctant to go on record. Still, there are those that weave this tale, revealing aspects of the crew that are certain.
The Decepticons, or “Deceptz,” were teenage kids – naming themselves after the bad guys from the Transformers cartoons of the 1980s. When they attacked, they were known to yell the famous cartoon phrase “form Voltron!”
Oddly enough, the original Deceptz were gifted graphic arts students from Brooklyn Technical High School who orchestrated a “flash mob” style of mischief. “They committed senseless acts of violence,” describes Soldier, president and CEO of Negast Entertainment, who was a pre-teen living in Brooklyn at the time.
“I used to see 40-50 dudes run up on people on the train at one time. I mean, New York at the time was crazy. People would smoke weed on the train and in the movie theaters…Bernard Goetz had shot those kids on the train…it was a lot of just senseless stuff going on,” says Soldier.
Another person recalled, “Decepticons used to shut down streets – between 250 and 300 Deceptz use to lock down 42nd St [in Manhattan]. Stop traffic and all [that],even shut down train lines with fear. I remember NYPD coming with riot gear and patty wagons and horses and vans trying lock n***as up.”
Some former members say The Deceptz gang lacked a formal structure to regulate who came and went within its ranks. Latin and so-called “poser” sets of Deceptz began to pop up in places like Queens and the Bronx, making their actual numbers hard to calculate.
A local off-shoot of the Deceptz called the “LoLifes” were known for wearing only Polo by Ralph Lauren clothing and committing crimes mostly to maintain the gang’s fashion statement. By today’s standards, the Deceptz’ motives were less than sophisticated – they were poor kids living in desperate times.
However, as a gang, the Deceptz were far from fun, cartoon characters who were consumed with boyish fun and brawling for expensive gear. There are countless stories of them pouring into a place, hundreds deep, causing a ruckus that brought entire neighborhoods to a standstill. Rapper Jay-Z reminisced over the gang’s control on his track “BK Anthem” featuring “Wasn’t safe on the A-Train/ in G or the F/Decepticons, LoLife n***as/Snatch the polos off your chest.” :
Over their nearly 10 years, the Deceptz were accused of vandalism, thefts and assaults, and even murder. Local schools held awareness assemblies to teach students how to protect themselves from the Deceptz. Their young members were ruthless and raw but talented – and some of them went on to become world-renowned rappers and Hollywood actors.
Case in point is Sticky Fingaz of the rap group Onyx. To say he has always seemed a little “off” is an understatement. The fact that he was front and center at the height of the Decepticons reign during comes as no surprise when one considers how his wild, Tasmanian devil-like image has endured a life in entertainment since the early 90s.
Long before Blade: The Series and sidekick stints in the Friday movies, as a student at Brooklyn Tech, Sticky Fingaz admits to “running with the Deceptz all the time.”
“I was introduced to the ‘Rico Cons’ by Steele from Smif ‘n Wessun (a.k.a. the Cocoa Brovas),” says Sticky Fingaz. “They were the Puerto Rican Deceptz…there were all kinds, you know? You either hung with them, or you became their victim.”
“In the cartoon, the Decepticons were the bad guys, and that’s who we were. I can’t deny it – I’d either be lying to the world now, or I was lying back then.” – Rock
During his recent interview with AllHipHop, Sticky says that at that time, he wasn’t nearly as focused on music as his cousin Fredro Starr, who was living in Queens and embarking on a rap career as a protege of the late
“Before I went to Brooklyn Tech, I went to Arts and Science, and you had to take a test to get into that school,” says Sticky Fingaz. “Brooklyn Tech didn’t have a test, so you had all kinds of kids up in there. From my memory, the ‘train runs’ were what made us infamous. We would cut school, jump the train, go to other schools, and just terrorize motherf**kers.” [Editor’s note: Brooklyn Tech did require a test for enrollment, according to our research.]
“Those times sort of formed who we were,” says Fredro Starr. “At the time, Sticky was only like 17 or 18 and living that Decepticon lifestyle, but we were all following their ways, fighting, doing petty robberies…and our early stuff was about adolescence and the crazy stuff we would do everyday. We were always affiliated with the Decepticons.”
Beyond the time Sticky Fingaz was around, the Deceptz continued to beat up and pilfer from random locals into the early 1990s. Rockness Monster, one half of the dark and critically-acclaimed rap group Heltah Skeltah, recalls his years in Brooklyn as a time filled with mostly “doing dumb shit.” In fact, “Rock” is one of only a few rappers who will outrightly admit his Deceptz membership away from the recording booth.
“We were doing bad things….long before I came along,” says Rock during a recent interview with AllHipHop.com. “In the cartoon, the Decepticons were the bad guys, and that’s who we were. I can’t deny it – I’d either be lying to the world now, or I was lying back then.”
“The Decepticons were like the Lochness Monster or Bigfoot for a minute – something you heard about all the time but didn’t really see,” jokes Rock. “And, if you did see them, you didn’t enjoy talking about it. When you would get on the train, people would say, ‘be careful, you know them Deceptz are around’.”
Rock said there were at least hundreds of members, but “when you put too many components in the formula, it’s get diluted. We knew there were fake-ass Decepts running around.” When he was ready to leave the gang, he says, “There was no ‘Blood-in, Blood-out’ type of system. For the most part, we were a high school gang.”
And, by the time the popular “Leflaur Leflah Eshkoshka” dropped on his 1996 Nocturnal album, Rock says he left gang life behind and focused on pouring his experiences into his lyrics. Along with his distinct voice and less-than-sunny lyrical style, the Deceptz years helped to cement Rock’s street credibility and influence over his nearly 15-year career.
“I’ve been rapping since I was 11 years old. I had no idea how I was going to go about becoming a professional rapper,” Rock admits. “I heard you had to have a demo and shop it, but I was way too ignorant to know any of that. During that time, I was in the streets, and I didn’t smarten up until I got little homies and developed a conscious because I didn’t want to see them to do the stupid s**tI did.”
Flash forward, and in January 2008, Rock was accused of attempted murder against a man authorities called a “fellow pimp.” Rock says he spent seven sobering days on Rikers Island, and went on to pen most of his contributions to the Shell Shock mix CD during the lengthy court proceedings.
“I’m a writer,” says Rock, “and there were periods [during the trial] when I couldn’t write at all because of the distractions. I also knew there might be some concern over my subject matter…that the court might try to use material in my songs against me.”
Some of that material included Rock’s ballsy lyrics on songs such as Boot Camp Clik’s “Yeah”: “n***as be shakin’ like pits when they lock on/ I rock on/ Calm in these streets or in jail/ Gettin’ my high rocks on/ Even though I rock with the red/ Gettin’ my pop on/ I’m a D-E-C-E-P-T-Icon.” And while other rappers such as Necro and the Cocoa Brovas have aligned themselves with the Deceptz in lyrics, many rappers today are sensitive to the potential high risk of admitting how their art imitates life.
In early July 2010, Duck Down Records president Dru Ha announced that Rock had been acquitted of all charges, and the rapper was spotted in July at B.B. King’s in New York celebrating the label’s 15th anniversary. Rock laments that he was angered by how the media swooped in to cover all of the sordid details of his arrest and trial, but won’t report on the good music being created by rappers like him today. He admits, however, that being accused of attempted murder against a pimp is scandalous and understandably newsworthy.
“Not guilty!” he yells emphatically during his AllHipHop interview. Seemingly, the former Decepticon has dodged another legal bullet, and he claims victory right alongside his youthful history of “doing dumb shit.”
“I learned that sometimes, when you’re fearful as a young man, that tree will grow into a tree of fearlessness” – Sticky Fingaz.
In 2009, the elusive Decepticons story was brought to life in The Eddie Black Story, a movie backed by Onyx and others like writer/actor/director Shawn Baker who wanted to clear up some of the mystery behind the gang’s existence – albeit through a fictional Deceptz gang member and plotline. Onyx member Fredro Starr stars as Decept “Psycho” in the movie, a role that doesn’t veer far from his wild-style Onyx persona and TV thug image, although he was never a gang member.
“The movie is about a kid named Eddie Black who didn’t want to be part of a gang, but he’s sort of forced into it,” says Fredro Starr. “He ends up carrying out the duties of the gang – robbing people, running up on trains, snatching jewelry or anything Polo or Walkmans…the mischevious things kids would do. The Deceptz weren’t holding weight like drug dealers. It was more of an intimidation thing, and just doing the movie took me back to those days in the Eighties.”
The Decepticons’ legend from the 1980s survives through various street tales of bad-guys-gone-good – there are now former Deceptz members who are successful entrepreneurs and motivational speakers helping steer Brooklyn youth down the right path. Fredro says some of them provided creative input for The Eddie Black Story and served as extras in the movie which was shot in Brooklyn.
The legend also lives on in the rap lyrics and images of former Deceptz members and associates who are now bonafide hip-hop legends. Rock is working on a new CD called Rockin Out West, set for release in September, which features classic West Coast beats and guest appearances from Kurupt, Ras Kass, Nate Dogg, and others. He says he’s looking forward to an upcoming album release party and the chance to reunite in the studio with Ruck from Heltah Skeltah and other Boot Camp Clik members.
Onyx, minus former group member Sonsee but with a renewed Fredro Starr and Sticky Fingaz, is in the studio now working on a long-awaited CD. “Kanye has a new album coming out soon, and we definitely not gonna let Kanye come harder than us,” says Sticky Fingaz. “I think nowadays, hip-hop is kinda soft in a way…it’s like the days when people were dancing and wearing bright colors. But I think we’re slowly making a return to hard beats and hard tracks, so this album is about taking that back.”
Fredro Starr continues to pursue his acting, with recent appearances on shows such as CSI-Miami, and recently, Sticky Fingaz has taken a courageous leap behind the camera, directing films such as A Day in the Life starring Mekhi Phifer, Bokeem Woodbine, Fredro Starr, and Omar Epps. Sticky says he is most proud of his new project “Smarty Pants,” a hip-hop inspired TV show that teaches life lessons to kids.
“I learned that sometimes, when you’re fearful as a young man, that tree will grow into a tree of fearlessness,” says Sticky Fingaz. “So, the lesson for me is that, even running with the Deceptz, you can grow.”
Soldier sees the Deceptz legacy in a different light: “Marcus Garvey once said ‘man is the most wicked creature on Earth’ because he’ll create things to kill another man. I saw the [Deceptz] do a lot of wicked things back then, and I think New York is returning to those violent times. We got the Bloods and Crips now, but New York has always been a Decept city.”
One thing is for sure. The Decepticons history and legacy as the most infamous Gang of New York is shrouded in mystery and suspense. As one can imagine, there are a ton of perspectives on this over 20-year-old story, and hard facts about the social and criminal activities of the gang are hard to come by. After the story ran, the floodgates of even more stories were opened. AllHipHop.com managed to capture somel of the stories, memories, and notoriety surrounding the Deceptz, but certainly not all. Click here for Part 1 and Part 2 of Decepticons: Gangs of New York.
Believe it or not, there are still members from the late 1980s and early 1990s claiming Decepticons, and that is a tale within itself. To that end, AllHipHop.com presents Part 3 of the Decepticons series, to allow Deceptz Lord Vital and Divebomb to share some thoughts on their existence and legacy as one of the most vicious street crews in American history.
Decept Lord Vital
AllHipHop.com: Give me a brief background about your Decepticon affiliation.
Lord Vital: HAIL MEG DFL. I am Lord Vital Constructicon Leader, Head of the 3rd Generation and an active member of the Decepticons.
AllHipHop.com: How long have you been involved with the Deceptz?
Lord Vital: I became Decept in 1990, five years after my older brothers started it, so I can’t take credit. [laughter] The name was already known before I came along. But one thing I want the people to know is that Decepticons was a family that shared a brotherly bond, but by the time the second generation started…we were a gang. This was because there was a huge gap of information that was missing between the two generations. Most of us didn’t know about the history of our family – mainly because we were young and too focused on ourselves and gettin’ our names known to want to learn. Our egos are what plagued this thing of ours.
AllHipHop.com: What inspired you to get involved with Decept?
Lord Vital: Since a freshman in J.H.S 117, I was wylin’ out. I was known for fighting, so it was only natural that I would end up with those similar to me. We had a little clique that would go off on our own missions, doing whatever came to mind, going up to various other junior high schools.
Now at this time, my older sister was dating a Decepticon. He was a Horrorcon (a legion I later became second in command of). He heard about a brawl me and my dudes had with some Face Heads on the G-train one day, and he came to me to recruit, or as we say “bring me into the matrix.” This was funny because I agreed to get tested (initiated), and that same day my boy Ghost got tested, too.
“SUBTRACTICONS FORM CYPHA!!” Next thing I know, 50 n*ggas came out of nowhere and surrounded me and my twin. (I got down with a close friend). Now as I look around not knowing what to expect, I see the same friends from school. I had no idea they were already down, so this was another school day to me.
AllHipHop.com: I’d like to know a little more detail about Decept life back then. What did they do?
Lord Vital: Like my big brother Cyclonus would say, we were like the Warriors. We rode the trains, terrorizing passengers, and fought with rival gangs, the Lo-Lives, A-Team, and Raiders, just to name a few. We robbed jewelry stores, clothing stores, everything Meg put his mind to. They lived for
each other, and one stole to feed the rest. That’s how the family moved.
This was the Decepticons of the 80’s, but by the 90’s, Decepts were running around like crazy… there is a difference between the two.
AllHipHop.com: How was the gang structured?
Lord Vital: We were structured like any other organization that you can think of, with all the head members of each chapter connected at the top. Then you had the leaders of each legion who reported in and received their orders or missions of the day. Then there were us Decepts, the ones who didn’t ask no questions. We just lived for the rush and carried out any necessary issues that needed to be dealt with. All we knew is that it came from the top and that was it.
AllHipHop.com: How did your individual names come about?
Lord Vital: All the originals chose their names directly from the cartoon, but Rumble is responsible for choosing the name Decepticons for the fam.
AllHipHop.com: What light can you shed on your most memorable moments with the Decepticons?
Lord Vital: Certain things are not meant for others to know about.
AllHipHop.com: Do you have any regrets?
Lord Vital: I would say the attacks on the innocent. They were never prepared for what we did to them. But for the ones who shared this lifestyle, f*ck’ em. They knew what it was. So I don’t regret no bottle to they face, no hammer to they head, or boot to they chin.
AllHipHop.com: What impact has Decept had on your life?
Lord Vital: Me being Decept has made me not underestimate anybody, and made me more alert at the same time. I’ve watched the smallest man out da group bring down the biggest…lol. But the most important thing that I’ve learned is that deception is your best weapon when used correctly.
AllHipHop.com: What do you think about the Deceptz being back in the news?
Lord Vital: I love it…because I’m in the middle of it all. I made it cool to rock that symbol in all fashions. At every show, on every album cover, on damn near everything – “Decepticlothes” is what I called it.
Then by releasing the “PURPLE REIGN MIXTAPE Vol. 1 – I.C.O.N.”, it has brought my family back together and reunited cons that haven’t seen each other in 20 years. We recieved a write up in The Source, featured in F.E.D.S., and have a 6-page spread in MASS APPEAL magazine.
This gave New York a breath of fresh air and took us back to that era, even if only for a minute. And this also helped bridged the gap between the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generations. For us to finally meet each other…to the point where if you wanted to learn your history, I could bring you straight to its founding members. It feels good to say I was a major part of that happening.
AllHipHop.com: What do you want the world to know about Decept?
Lord Vital: I want the people to know that as long as I live, Decept lives. You can see it in me, hear it through my music. And you can call me Prince, ’cause I’m about to change my name to the symbol.
Decept is a part of me like my name. My life story is a fraction of my life experieces edited through the minds of the reader. We are a part of New York’s history…we exist… I’m still active with six legions under me ready to move on call. The family still grows – CONSTRUCT, LLC – build from the bottom up.
Also I want the world to know we had structure and a chain of command that we still follow ’til this day, and the lack of information is how we will continue to keep it. But know all legions were connected in some way, no matter what borough they were in.
AllHipHop.com: Give me a brief background of yourself.
Divebomb: My name is Divebomb of the Predacons, under Decept. I am an Artist, Filmmaker, Educator, and Entrepreneur. I reside on the planet Brooklyn via Cybertron.
AllHipHop.com: How long have you been involved with the Decepticons?
Divebomb: I’ve been a part of Deceptz since the Fall of 1986.
AllHipHop.com: What inspired you to get involved with the Deceptz?
Divebomb: I wasn’t inspired, I was recruited. At the time, Decepts was not the popular group everyone today knows it to be. If you were drafted, it’s because you brought something to the table. You were expected to be part in bringing this little Decept thing to the empire that is known for today.
AllHipHop.com: What are the most memorable events in your experience as a Decept?
Divebomb: My most memorable events are when I’ve witnessed how thousands of minds can move as one – one movement, one agenda, one family.
AllHipHop.com: Any regrets about any of your experiences as a Decept?
AllHipHop.com: How has being a Decept enhanced your life?
Divebomb: Decepts has enhanced the world.
AllHipHop.com: How is that, and what are your feelings on the attention Deceptz gets now?
Divebomb: It is well deserved. Decepts are original New York I.C.O.N.S. You can’t speak of anything original from NY without mentioning Deceptz. Deceptz are pop culture.
AllHipHop.com: What’s one thing you want the world to know about the Decepticons?
Divebomb: What I would like the world to know about Decept, I will show them.
AllHipHop.com: What are you doing with the Deceptz now?
Divebomb: I’m wrapping up the making of the Deceptz documentary, as told by those who lived it – not those who witnessed from a distance or through close relation. The film, produced by me, is coming soon to premiere film festivals. People can visit www.divebombonline.com to learn about our mixtape albums. The documentary soundtrack will include songs from the Original Deceptz’ such as “Purple Reign” and Lord Vital’s “It Can Go Down Anywhere.”
We have many individuals involved in their own private endeavors, from music, producing, brand apparel, construction, engineering, medicine, design, automotive, film/video, and marketing/productions, just to name a few areas.
AllHipHop.com: What do you see as the Decept legacy?
Divebomb: The range of talented people within the Decepticons is phenomenal. The sky’s no limit.