As one of the most pivotal years of its decade, 1998 was particularly memorable when it comes rap releases, as a number of landmark bodies of work were unleashed to a rabid community of listeners during that calendar year. Among the more noteworthy releases that year was N.O.R.E., the debut solo album from Noreaga, one half of the hardbody Queens duo Capone-N-Noreaga.
First making waves alongside partner Capone on tracks like the West Coast heat-check “L.A., L.A.,” Capone-N-Noreaga followed that up in a big way with their 1997 debut album, The War Report, which announced the former felons as one of the premier rap groups in New York and earned the duo a gold plaque off the strength of the hits “T.O.N.Y.” and “Bloody Money.” However, prior to the album’s release, Capone would be found guilty of a parole violation, leaving him incarcerated — and Noreaga alone to fend for himself and promote the album.
Capone’s extended absence would force Noreaga to become a solo artist in an attempt to keep the group alive, resulting in the making of N.O.R.E., an album that would change the trajectory of Noreaga’s career and become one of the best of its era. Released on June 7, 1998, on Penalty Records, N.O.R.E. was a massive success, peaking at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and eventually becoming the LeFrak native’s first platinum-certified album. Calling in a number of his peers for the album, Noreaga pulled all of the stops with N.O.R.E., which included contributions from Nas, Big Pun, Busta Rhymes, Cam’Ron, Nature, Jadakiss, Kool G Rap, Carl Thomas, Kid Capri and more heavyweights.
Noreaga would reunite with Capone after Capone’s release from prison, releasing The Reunion in 2000, but Noreaga would also go on to enjoy a successful solo career, releasing multiple platinum and gold albums and becoming one of the more respected, beloved and tenured artists in hip-hop, in which he remains a fixture til this day.
In celebration of the 20th anniversary of Noreaga’s solo debut, REVOLT looks back on five of the definitive songs on N.O.R.E. that speak to the album’s excellence and that stand the test of time.
5 | “Body In The Trunk” featuring Nas
One key collaboration from N.O.R.E. that caught fans’ attention was when Noreaga linked up with fellow Queens native Nas on “Body in the Trunk,” a storytelling record that finds LeFrak City and Queensbridge connecting on the homicidal tip. Seeking Nas’ assistance to get rid of a dead body after getting into a verbal altercation, Noreaga details the events that led up to the murder, while God’s Son serves as the voice of reason as he backtracks his cohort’s moves to ensure a smooth getaway. However, the final verse comes with a plot twist as Nas discovers that he knows the murder victim (who happens to be a convicted felon and drug dealer), but still makes it clear where his loyalty lies as the two handle their business the Queens way.
4 | “I Love My Life”
“I can’t stop thinking of the game, y’know what’m mean? Can’t get the game out my mind,” Noreaga laments on “I Love My Life,” a soul-bearing cut from the Queens native’s loaded solo debut on which he gets biographical. Teaming up with R&B singer Carl Thomas, Noreaga and his co-star exude an effortless chemistry with one another, with the latter turning in a stellar vocal performance that serves as the perfect complement to Noreaga’s heartfelt rhyme spills. Reminiscing on his childhood, as well as his dealings in the streets, Noreaga conveys a certain clarity and graciousness that hits home with every bar spat atop the EZ Elpee-produced backdrop, making it a fan favorite in the rapper’s catalog of deep cuts.
3 | “N.O.R.E.”
Noreaga keeps it unapologetically gutter on “N.O.R.E.,” the Trackmasters-produced lead single and title track from his 1998 solo debut and a song that would solidify the Penalty Records signee as a capable soloist with the ability to balance style and substance. “It’s like a gun trilogy, gat strategy, what, Noreaga, lay up like your majesty,” barks the LeFrak rep, talking greasy over kicks, snares, synths and keys while promoting the lifestyle of a criminal living off the land while avoiding the long arm of the law. Peaking at No. 32 on the rap charts, “N.O.R.E.” was a minor hit commercially, but flourished as a mix show and video countdown favorite and is regarded as one of Noreaga’s most recognizable tracks to date.
2 | “Super Thug”
N.O.R.E. reaches its apex when Noreaga and The Neptunes join forces on “Superthug,” the second single released from the album and a song that would put Noreaga on the map. A sonic departure from his previous material as one half of Capone-N-Noreaga, “Superthug” saw Noreaga channel his aggression and utilize his abstract delivery for a masterful performance on his part. From swimming the English Channel to mentions of cocker spaniels, Noreaga’s thuggish exploits and random proclamations know no bounds, as he strings together unforgettable one-liners and quotables with ease. Featuring guest vocals from Tammy Lucas and Pharrell Williams, “Superthug” was a massive hit, topping the rap charts and peaking at No. 36 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it an essential number in Nore’s discography and a timeless gem.
1 | “Banned From TV”
N.O.R.E. produced more commercially successful songs, but no other track from the album compares to “Banned From TV,” a blockbuster battle royal pairing Noreaga with a pack of some of the most fearsome spitters out of New York state. Featuring Nature, Big Pun, Cam’ron, Styles P. and Jadakiss, “Banned From TV” captures every artist turning in Hall of Fame worthy performances, beginning with Nature, who’s “Regardless of rain or snow, sleet or hail/I kick street tales, choking niggas like I’m Sprewell” couplet immediately sets the tone and puts the pressure on his costars to rise to the occasion. However, all comers handle their end of the bargain with impressive stanzas of their own, including Noreaga himself, who takes advantage of his home-court advantage with an epic closing verse that anchors the track and shuts down the proceedings on a high note. An undisputed classic and one of the best rap debuts of its time, N.O.R.E. is devoid of many blemishes or filler and packs plenty of replay value, but twenty years later, “Banned From TV” remains its finest moment and one that will never be forgotten.
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