April 5, 2011
Capone-N-Noreaga - The Reunion (November 21, 2000)
Kiam "Capone" Holley and Victor "Noreaga" Santiago released their debut album (as Capone-N-Noreaga), The War Report, in 1997. The follow-up, The Reunion, magically appeared on store shelves in 2000. But the years in between were fucking packed.
Capone, who was locked up on a parole violation during the recording sessions for The War Report (which accounts for why he barely appears), missed out on the album's mostly positive critical reception; The War Report is considered somewhat of a classic today, which isn't exactly a classification I agree with (it's a good, entertaining album, but it doesn't bring anything new to the table), but people like what they like.
Noreaga, the only member of the duo who was in a position to capitalize on the success of The War Report while trying to keep his friend and rhyme partner's name on the minds of hip hop heads, drank the Kool-Aid and went solo. His debut, N.O.R.E., was a commercial hit (thanks to Victor's connection with the production team The Neptunes before they hit it big), moving over five hundred thousand units, but his rushed follow-up, Melvin Flynt - Da Hustler, tanked, even though it followed the exact same blueprint. (It doesn't help that the album was terrible.) Around the time Noreaga discovered that his sophomore album was a colossal failure, Capone was released from prison, and after hooking him up with some weed and some women, Nore convinced his friend to jump on a remix to his Neptunes-addled "Oh No", which wasn't a very good remix, but oh well.
They then immediately got to work on their second group effort, which they called The Reunion for obvious reasons.
The Reunion moved many units, but most of them were purchased out of sheer curiosity alone: aside from one or two of the songs presented, abso-fucking-lutely nobody ever brings up this album whenever they talk about Capone and/or Noreaga (in the off chance they ever come up in conversation). For their part, Capone and Nore stuck with what they knew, writing lyrics based around the war-torn streets of the Queensbridge housing projects while farming out the musical duties to outside help such as Havoc (from Mobb Deep), L.E.S., and The Alchemist, among others. They also enlisted far too many guest artists to contribute in some fashion, perhaps because Capone wasn't yet acclimated to what it took to actually record an album after being away for so long. (One man who notoriously doesn't appear is Tragedy Khadafi, who was seen as an honorary third member of Capone-N-Noreaga on The War Report, contributing more than Capone himself: after the release of The War Report, he began feuding with Noreaga and took his act on the road. By the way, how the fuck can someone be looked at as the third member of a duo to begin with?)
Although I stopped caring about Noreaga's solo career after N.O.R.E., I apparently gave enough of a fuck about the unit to pick up The Reunion: I came across this album while I was cleaning out those crates that everyone says that I don't really have. But I'll be damned if I can remember a single thing about this project.
So this should be fun.
1. INTRO: CHANGE IS GONNA COME (FEAT. CARL THOMAS)
Now this was an interesting rap album intro. Foregoing his usual tradition of fucking up any song he appears on by crooning a love song that has nothing to do with the actual proceedings, Carl Thomas simply covers Sam Cooke's “A Change Is Gonna Come”, making The Reunion already sound like a gritty independent thriller where you just know some tough life decisions will be made and at least one person's life will hang in the balance. (It may also turn into one of those indie flicks where the bulk of the budget was spent on procuring the rights to Sam Cooke's “A Change Is Gonna Come”, though.) Capone's ad-libs at the end fuck up the momentum, but up until that point, I'll be honest, CNN had my undivided attention.
2. COLLECT CALL SKIT
Much like how it went down in real life, Noreaga plays the role of a free man, while Capone portrays the locked-up rapper who is behind on all the current trends. The L.E.S. beat fails to convey the seriousness of this song, but to be honest, Nore doesn't play fair, either: his rhymes are more Melvin Flynt - Da Hustler than The War Report, and Capone can't help but sound dated when compared to that shit. They play around with the convention of rhyming on the hook a bit, but instead of being praised for its experimental nature, it just sounds awkward. Groan.
4. QUEENS (FEAT. COMPLEXIONS)
There's no depth to The Alchemist's instrumental: all of its secrets are laid out on the table in front of you, and none of them are interesting. The decision to include an overly long R&B chorus is also questionable, unless every crew walking around in Queens actually has that one guy who sings about random daily events, in which case, this track is very realistic. Capone barely registers with his verse, as if even he was unhappy with the direction “Queens” was heading toward, since he leaves the studio after his performance to catch the hot dog vendor outside the studio before he closes up shop for the day.
This DJ Premier concoction is best known for containing Noreaga's apology to his fans for making Melvin Flynt - Da Hustler a “half-assed album” (but he had just lost his father at the time, so I can still understand his position). This bit of honest candor lends “Invincible” credence that it doesn't actually deserve. Primo's beat is fairly generic, and neither Capone nor Noreaga come across as the type of artists who could use it to their advantage. This is the most entertaining track on The Reunion thus far, but it still isn't very good, and the fact that Primo only scratches in sound bites from other CNN records is kind of annoying, as if this duo has lived in a bubble ever since The War Report dropped, ignoring the rest of the hip hop community. I know a lot of you two dig this song, but it is what it is.
6. BANG BANG (FEAT. FOXY BROWN)
A quirky Alchemist beat (complete with the sound of crickets chirping) adds a whimsical element to an otherwise murky track. Capone and Noreaga come across as decent enough, although neither man seems to know what to do with the beat (it is out of their league, for the most part), as they quickly resort to catchphrases (Nore especially) in lieu of the usual “lyrics”. Oddly, Foxy Brown provides the harshest verse, aiming “lyrical” (I'm using that term loosely here) barbs at Lil' Kim and Puff Daddy, two “artists” (see previous set of parentheses) who still have actual careers today, while poor Inga was left in the dust. Neither member of CNN takes her side, which was kind of funny and interesting. This is a creative misfire, but it still manages to be somewhat entertaining, much more so than “Invincible”, anyway.
7. GANGSTA SKIT
To his credit, Capone actually spits a verse on this interlude. But it isn't a very good one.
8. FUCK WITH US
At least he's being upfront with us, but what exactly does Noreaga have against sex? He keeps bragging about how much he loves receiving oral sex, but he's apparently afraid of pussy. What's up with that shit? Anyway, the beat wouldn't be terrible if not for its facilitation of a weak-ass hook. Capone, good luck with your duo's hunt for “the pesos”: with the exchange rate being what it is, you'll he hustling for quite a fucking while. You may not even be able to find the time to record shit like this, which might be a blessing. (Online websites seem to believe that this song also goes by the title “Ya'll Don't Wanna”, which I guess would fit my version's name like a puzzle piece.)
9. SHOWS! (INTERLUDE) (FEAT. TIMBO)
10. STRAIGHT LIKE THAT (FEAT. ALGADO & SHOBALLOTTI P/K/A FINAL CHAPTER)
This Jewellz beat isn't all bad, but the chorus on here should have been fucking erased. Otherwise, this Thugged Out posse cut is okay, I guess. The weed carriers do a much better job than they should, given their lot in life, and I liked how Noreaga appeared to have absolutely nothing to do with the song until you heard him prepping in the middle of the artist formerly known as Final Chapter's contribution. Could have been a lot worse.
11. ALL WE GOT IS US
Over a poppier-than-it-should-be EZ Elpee beat (due to the drums), Capone and Noreaga each take one-and-a-half verses to get their point across (in short, Noreaga is friendly while Capone is far more guarded, but when it comes down to it, they can only trust each other). Almost everything on this song is of no consequence: aside from the reference to Latina women spitting sperm onto your car seat (after blowing you, obviously – just try cleaning that shit up), all I can recall is Nore's phone ringing at the end of the track during his rambling monologue. Thankfully, he leaves the booth to take the call, but still.
12. BROTHERS (FEAT. GOLDFINGAZ & TROY OUTLAW)
For some reason, Noreaga, the Tommy Wiseau of hip hop thanks to his non-sequiturs and general misunderstanding of how human beings interact, plays it completely straight on “Brothers”, elevating this otherwise rote posse cut into something that you won't immediately turn off. This is quite an accomplishment, considering how far down the hole the man has gotten lyrically after The War Report. Nice work, Victor.
13. B EZ (FEAT. NAS)
This L.E.S. beat is nowhere near as dark and moody as a Capone-N-Noreaga track featuring Nas should be, and Nasir turns in one of his least interesting verses to date (although I will admit that he still walks away with the song, easily), but “B EZ” isn't a complete and utter loss, as the mere presence of God's Son seems to have a positive impact on Capone, who delivers a truly commendable performance, while Noreaga is...well, Noreaga. I'll never need to listen to this shit ever again, but I've heard much worse.
14. GUNZ IN DA AIR (FEAT. 5-8 & TED SMOOVE)
It took me a minute or two, but I finally figured out what this Noreaga solo track was trying to be: this is what he believes a Swizz Beatz DMX song sounds like. Everything from the Havoc instrumental to the chorus, which practically begs the listener to chant along and he'll be your best friend, screams for mainstream radio airplay. Not that it actually deserves that level of attention, as it's corny as hell, but at least Victor had a theme in mind, one Capone, apparently, didn't agree with.
15. WET WILLIE SKIT (FEAT. QADR & TYSON BECKFORD)
What the hell?
16. FULL STEEZY
Kudos to Capone for realizing that what the CNN catalog was missing was a song for the ladies that isn't about forcing girls to give you head and then simulating anal sex with them using the handle of a broomstick because you're too afraid of the vagina to help them reach orgasm in a humane manner. (I have to assume that's what Noreaga was talking about during his appearance on DJ Clue's “Fantastic Four” from The Professional.) Capone handles this love rap for dolo, and although he doesn't sound all that sincere (there's something about his voice: he seems to feel that he's above this material), he works hard to impress the listener, and on that end, he succeeds.
17. QUEENS FINEST (FEAT. ALGADO, SHOBALLOTTI P/K/A FINAL CHAPTER, & MOBB DEEP)
The Havoc beat tricks you into thinking that this could be in the same vein as some of the better Mobb material, but then the lame-ass drum machine that is set to “hip hop dance” kicks in. The tracks boasts six collaborators, but the only folks to receive proper airtime are Havoc, the artist formerly known as Cellblock P, and our two hosts, which I kind of saw coming. Surprisingly, mostly everyone sounded decent (especially Hav, who still appears to be fucking starving), but P squanders his goodwill yet again, with his lame-as-fuck “Last night I sat in a car / It was a nice car / It was blue / It had a CD player / I read a magazine / Better Homes & Gardens and shit / Someone knocked on my window / It was a pigeon / It's dead now / I contemplate life / Fragile and pure / While my girl gives me head / Oh shit, dunn just left his house / Kick her out the car / Throw her bus fare and a Dunkin' Donuts coupon / Reach for the burner in the glove box”-type reenactment of the previous evening's events, in lieu of a coherent verse. Has anybody ever fallen off as horribly as Prodigy? Discuss below.
18. YOU CAN'T KILL ME
Capone sticks with the script, but Nore's bizarre opening lines are fucking hilarious, so much so that I have to actually share them with you two, so that you can understand: “I can't believe what I saw / Through the eyes of the corner (huh?) / I had warrants on each name / Aliases in each state / I got caught, what the hell did I thought? / Turkey bacon or turkey ham, it's pork / It's the same thing.” It's the same thing, people! His verse is more poorly acted than the entirety of Troll 2. Good for a laugh, but I feel bad for Capone, who could have actually pulled this off with a better rhyme partner.
19. DON'T KNOW NOBODY (FEAT. MUSALINY-N-MAZE)
Meh. Capone and Noreaga could have saved four minutes and twenty-three seconds of my life by simply saying “stop snitchin'”, instead of trying to write a shitty song about the anti-police movement.
International pressings of The Reunion contain an extra final song. For some reason, that's the version of the album that I have, so here you go.
20. HEY Y'ALL (FEAT. ALGADO & SHOBALLOTTI P/K/A FINAL CHAPTER)
Truly one of the worst ways to end the comeback album from a thug-obsessed rap duo from Queens. You think anybody back in their home base bumps this shit? Fuck no, they don't. Also, why did C and N deem it necessary to explain that Shoballotti was previously known as Final Chapter on every single fucking song he appeared on? The once would have been enough.
FINAL THOUGHTS: The Reunion was somehow successful, but it's really a fucking mess. In an attempt to appeal to the streets, Capone and Noreaga eschew the pop sensibilities Nore embraced while Capone was locked up (read: there is no Neptunes production on The Reunion) in favor of hardcore rap, but aside from throwing us a bone by including production efforts from Havoc, The Alchemist, and DJ Premier, their respective ear for beats need to be checked. The Reunion sounds what I would imagine an all-Trackmasters gangsta rap album to be, which is a horrible slight to the producers who actually worked on this garbage. Lyrically, Noreaga has reached Kool Keith-levels of nonsense, while Capone tries his best to stay together for the kids, but the task is too overwhelming for him to handle alone. The Reunion, with its lack of consistency and a sound that wasn't even popular upon its release in 2000, is a waste of time.
BUY OR BURN? Neither one, but I understand that you two might be interested in the tracks listed below for some reason, so track those down and you'll just have a few more songs on your hard drive than the next guy. But it's not as though you need to have them.
BEST TRACKS: “Bang Bang”; “Brothers”
Capone-N-Noreaga – The War Report
Noreaga – N.O.R.E.
Noreaga – Melvin Flynt - Da Hustler