May 22, 2009

Noreaga - N.O.R.E. (July 14, 1998)


Victor Santiago, the rapper known as Noreaga (or N.O.R.E., as he now goes by, due to legal issues with a former label), did not intend to begin a solo career only one year after the release of Capone-N-Noreaga's debut, The War Report. The imprisonment of his rhyme partner kind of forced his hand. Capone was actually sent upstate during the recording of The War Report, which is why there are a few tracks on there that don't feature him at all: at some points, it might as well have been a Noreaga solo disc anyway, so when N.O.R.E. was announced by Tommy Boy Records, nobody was surprised: the guy had to eat.

Victor embarked on a mission to keep the memory of Capone-N-Noreaga alive long enough for the duo to reunite and record at least one more album together. (They ended up recording two: I'll get to those when I get to those.) As one of literally eight thousand rappers from Queens, Noreaga had made many connections in the hip hop game, and cashed in multiple favors to get N.O.R.E. made. As a result, N.O.R.E. was a hit, allegedly moving over one million units on the strength of the second single, "Superthug", which was produced by up-and-coming beatmakers The Neptunes.

Guess he kind of lucked into that, huh?

After getting a taste of solo success, Victor, of course, decided he wanted more, and today, even though he still identifies himself as one-half of a rap duo, folks who frequent blogs know him as either "that guy who does those reggaeton albums" or "the guy who was arrested at Fatburger a few months ago", depending on your point of view.

But how goes N.O.R.E.?

1. THE JUMP OFF
Noreaga sounds about as giddy as a crackhead who just sold his Blu-Ray disc player for ten bucks, with another rock to be procured just around the corner. Not surprisingly, this rap album intro is about as worthless as Monopoly money.

2. BANNED FROM TV (FEAT CAM'RON, NATURE, BIG PUNISHER, JADAKISS, & STYLES P)
There's a lot of nostalgic love for this Swizz Beats-produced posse cut, whose participants were selected with the aid of folded-up squares of paper and a comically oversized magician's hat. (White gloves were optional, but recommended.) The reality is that this song is rather fucking stupid. I liked Cameron's verse, and Pun sounded as good as he always did, but as a whole, this “monumental” track is underwhelming. But then again, I didn't like the song that much back in 1998, either, back when all of these rappers were fresh out of the box and "mattered" (except for Nature, who, to my knowledge, nobody ever really gave two shits about).

3. I LOVE MY LIFE (FEAT CARL THOMAS)
This song is altogether pleasant, even though I'm not usually a fan of random collaborations between rappers and R&B singers that probably never shared the same room while recording the track. It appears much too early in N.O.R.E.'s tracklisting, though: you're supposed to reflect on your success after bragging about all the shit you have for at least seven tracks, Victor. Maybe he was just thankful that he wasn't the one in the cell while Capone was building a solo career.

4. N.O.R.E.
The Trackmasters-produced first single, which, had anybody at the label had the foresight as to how game-changing the second single would be, would have probably been quietly deleted from the album. This song has a weird sound and never becomes as catchy as it believes itself to be. Clever as ever, Noreaga changed the meaning of the title's acronym for the radio: it went from “N----z On the Run Eatin'” to “Now we On the Run Eatin'”. It didn't really help.

5. HED INTERLUDE
Groan...

6. HED (FEAT NATURE)
Just the mere fact that I just wrote that a Noreaga song entitled “Hed” (for a song about enjoying blowjobs, that title is even less subtle that N*E*R*D's “Brain”) features another guy (Nature, in a choral cameo that easily could have been deleted) makes me chuckle. The aural mess that make up the “drums” on here are horrible, but the melody that plays in the background is actually quite good. Unlike the rest of this song.

7. IT'S NOT A GAME (FEAT MAZE & MUSOLINI)
Noreaga's middle verse starts off approaching a somewhat serious topic (how to handle an argument between friends without choosing sides), but then, predictably, turns into random Noreaga-type shit. (We get it, man: you love blowjobs. So does every guy in the fucking world, whether they're straight or gay. You're not in the minority: you don't need to shout it from the rooftops. I love blowjobs too, but I don't write about that in every write-up.) The weed carriers are of no consequence, but SPK's piano-driven beat is a good one.

8. FIESTA (FEAT KID CAPRI)
I thought this song was really fucking awful back in the day, and it would always provoke my use of the 'skip' button. However, even though it still sucks today, I'm surprised at how much this one crappy song foreshadows Noreaga's excursions into reggaeton. Huh.

9. 40 ISLAND (FEAT KOOL G RAP & MUSOLINI)
In contrast, I loved this song back in the day, and it remains one of my favorite Noreaga tracks, even though it is, admittedly, a blatant rip-off of an older Kool G Rap song (but at least he included the song's original players, both on the mic and behind the boards, so that was nice of him). Marley Marl's beat is dramatic as fuck, and although G Rap is the only guy that sounds comfortable over it (naturally, as it was his song before), Noreaga and his chief potholder do alright for themselves.

10. THE WAY WE LIVE (FEAT CHICO DEBARGE)
Sure, the fact that Chico DeBarge is making an appearance on a Noreaga album (the man who created the catchphrase “Thugged Out!”) is amusing, but you can't help but feel bad for the guy. It definitely doesn't help that the man sings a chorus that rips off the hook from Atlantic Starr's “Secret Lovers”. Hmm.

11. ANIMAL THUG INTERLUDE
This is actually really fucking racist.

12. THE CHANGE
Beat-wise, Kurt Gowdy's production sounds like a leftover from The War Report. And probably because of that fact, I found myself liking this track, save for the corny-as-hell chorus.

13. SUPERTHUG (FEAT TAMMY LUCAS & PHARRELL WILLIAMS)
Beat-wise, this Neptunes-produced track sounds absolutely nothing like anything Noreaga had done up to this point. This is frequently touted as the track that broke Pharrell and Chad through to the mainstream, and hearing N.O.R.E.'s second single today is still an amusing experience, as it sounds kind of like a primer for their sound: Neptunes Club Banger 101, as it were. Still, it sounds really good, and is preferable to the shit that Pharrell passes off as “Neptunes” production when it's really work that he has done by himself. For my money, Noreaga is in the top five when it comes to the best rappers to ever work with the Neptunes. It shouldn't be a surprise to learn that the Neptunes influence grew exponentially over the rest of Noreaga's catalog.

14. DA STORY (FEAT MAZE)
I've decided that whenever Noreaga channels his past self who appeared on The War Report, his lyrics are far more tolerable. The presence of his bored weed carrier on the hook is a detriment, though.

15. MATHEMATICS (ESTA LOCA)
I'm not sure about my two readers, but if my kid's first words were “What What!”, I would be more than a little bit concerned. If my kid released a song that was as convoluted as this shit, I would assume that they just didn't have any sense.

16. THE ASSIGNMENT (FEAT BUSTA RHYMES, SPLIFF STAR, & MAZE)
If this song were released today, you could tag it as a Kanye West production and nobody would question it (except maybe Kanye himself). (Instead, it was created by Nashiem Myrick, of Puff Daddy's Hitmen (he's the guy who creates the cinematic moody beats) and J. Waxx Garfield, who later worked with Gza/Genius and Cormega.) Sure, this track would have had much more of an impact had Nore and Busta left their respective weed carriers in the car, but the song itself is still pretty decent. Not only does Busta dismiss Noreaga's potholder by failing to mention his name in the hook (although he makes damn sure to name-drop Spliff Star), Nore also pushes poor Maze out of the way to spit a second verse. Hi-larious!

17. BODY IN THE TRUNK (FEAT NAS)
Dame Grease's beat is distracting, which isn't a good thing, considering that Nas and Nore are trying to tell a fucking story. It shouldn't surprise anybody to discover that Nas outshines his host on so many levels that I've lost count, but Noreaga doesn't entirely suck on here, which is a plus.

18. ONE LOVE
Oddly, this is not a song, but an overly long interlude featuring Noreaga on the phone with an incarcerated Capone. The sentiment is sweet, and from a marketing standpoint, I understand the importance of keeping the Capone-N-Noreaga brand alive, but there's no reason this needed to go on forever.

19. OUTRO (FEAT EVE BRENNER)
At least Noreaga thanks me for listening to the entire album. Not many artists go out of their way to do that, and I appreciate it.

FINAL THOUGHTS: N.O.R.E. Is the rare rap album that starts off sounding pretty awful, but picks up steam in a serious way during its second half. (Usually it's the other way around.) Noreaga sounds excited at the prospect of a solo career, even though it was kind of forced upon him,and even though most of his beats sound like shit, his own energy is infectious. While this isn't an entirely good (or even decent) album, Noreaga proves that he may be capable of big things in the future, (Obviously, that didn't pan out in real life, but N.O.R.E. gave us the possibility of potential.)

BUY OR BURN? I wouldn't recommend that you go out of your way to pick this up, since the first half is almost uniformly terrible, but the second half is intriguing enough to warrant a burn. Go in with low expectations and you may find this one entertaining.

BEST TRACKS: “40 Island”; “Superthug”; “The Change”

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
Capone-N-Noreaga – The War Report

4 comments:

  1. N.O.R.E. is one of the few rappers i have ever actually gone to say is fucking horrific.

    ReplyDelete
  2. RingpeaceMay 22, 2009

    Max, you have something against reggaeton brah? You need to find Jesus brah...
    But seriously I like some of the reggaeton music because you can dance to it, the ladies seem to go crazy for it and it's not as pretentious as most of mainstream made-for-clubs hip-hop(or maybe it is but I don't understand shit they're saying and it's probably better that way...but on any given day I prefer spanish gibberish to Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane, 50 cent and their ilk).
    Never heard this album before, guess I'll just give the best tracks a spin...

    ReplyDelete
  3. AnonymousJune 13, 2010

    @ Ringpeace, shut up brah

    ReplyDelete
  4. this site seems to be about hating on some great songs and albums, sure this aint a KKK blog, what the fuck does this guy like

    ReplyDelete