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The Decepticons: Gangs Of New York Part 1

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“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 New York 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 MC Lyte: “Wasn’t safe on the A-Train/ in G or the F/Decepticons, LoLife niggas/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 Jam Master Jay. “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.”

Continued in Part 2 – click here…

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