S6 E22 | Capone-N-Noreaga ‘The War Report’ 25 Year Anniversary
On the latest episode of “Drink Champs,” N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN welcome Capone — one-half of Capone-N-Noreaga — to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their groundbreaking debut album, The War Report.
Hailing from Queens, New York, Capone-N-Noreaga released their first single “Illegal Life” featuring Mobb Deep’s Havoc in 1996 after signing to Neil Levine’s Penalty Recordings. The record laid the groundwork for N.O.R.E. and Capone to drop their debut studio album the following year. However, Capone was locked up after violating his parole, which led Noreaga to finish the project himself. Comprised of 20 songs, The War Report was released in 1997 and contains features from Mobb Deep, Busta Rhymes, Iman THUG, Troy Outlaw and frequent collaborator Tragedy Khadafi (who appears on more than half of the project), among several others. The album boasts singles like “L.A., L.A.,” which serves as a direct response to Snoop Dogg’s “New York, New York,” as well as records like “T.O.N.Y. (Top Of New York)” and “Driver’s Seat.” Widely considered a street classic by fans and critics alike, the project was pivotal for the music scene in Queens and still remains a cult favorite 25 years later.
Below are nine interesting facts we learned about The War Report from this week’s “Drink Champs” interview. Check them out and be sure to tune in to the full episode above.
1. On Capone and N.O.R.E. meeting in jail
N.O.R.E. and Capone first met in Collins Correctional Facility during the 90s, although as the duo recalls, they didn’t initially have intentions to create music together. As a matter of fact, the two jumpstarted their relationship with a game of basketball long before their debut single “Illegal Life” came in out 1996. “Our first plan was basketball. It was basically how can I get you to my side of my jail to play basketball with me ‘cause you nice, but your side don’t got no players. But y’all won the championship ‘cause you was on the team,” Capone recalls. “If it wasn’t for [Carlos Maldonado] and Billy Wade, we wouldn’t be together. We met at church but we had to have a common ground where we could meet and that was the basketball court.”
2. On Capone-N-Noreaga being compared to Mobb Deep
Mobb Deep appeared on the first three of Capone-N-Noreaga’s albums and according to the latter, they were instantly met with comparisons due to their similar upbringings in New York. “We was Mobb Deep rejects … That was before they knew we was affiliated,” Capone shares in regards to the press comparing the two. Tragedy adds, “People need something to compare something to, they need a gauge. At that time, it just offended me. It bothered me because we’re going so hard … I don’t want me and mine to be associated in a way that we’re trying to bite off their shit.”
3. On Tragedy putting up Capone-N-Noreaga “Wanted” posters to promote their project
As N.O.R.E. recalls, there was a period where Tragedy put “Wanted” posters up around Queens in order to promote the artists. Though the campaign was effective and garnered a lot of attention for C-N-N, the rapper reminisces on getting phone calls from people who believed the posters to be true. “Prior to us getting to Penalty, there was a big campaign a part of our thing. People kept calling for weeks because obviously back then we didn’t have Twitter. So people were calling me, and remember they’re not telling me what’s fully going on and this has been happening for weeks,” Noreaga recalls. “They’re like, ‘Yo, man. I see that shit.’ So I’m like, ‘What?’ Meanwhile, what Trag was doing was putting up Capone-N-Noreaga ‘Wanted’ posters. What I didn’t know for weeks was these were people calling and warning me, but you gotta realize they’re speaking in code.”
Tragedy expands on the posters, “They thought the ‘Wanted’ posters were real. I said if you have any information regarding these suspects, call 1-800-223-9797.” He later shares that the phone number was the call-in line for Hot 97’s radio station.
4. On Prodigy removing his verse from “L.A., L.A.” during the West Coast-East Coast rivalry
A standout cut from Capone-N-Noreaga’s debut album, “L.A., L.A.” served as a direct response to Tha Dogg Pound’s music video for the Snoop Dogg-assisted track “New York, New York.” The song features Tragedy Khadafi and Prodigy of Mobb Deep, the latter of which removed his verse prior to the song’s release and later put it on Nas’ “Live Nigga Rap.” In regards to what prompted this, N.O.R.E. shares that it happened due to Tupac sending shots at Mobb Deep on his song “Hit ‘Em Up,” where the rapper infamously taunted Prodigy about having sickle cell anemia.
“There’s a part of that record where Tupac is responding to us. He was like, ‘Whoever else, one of y’all.’ He didn’t know our names,” N.O.R.E. says. “I’m 50-50 with that. 50 percent of me says I wanted Pac to diss us and then 50 percent of me says I don’t know if I would’ve been able to take it. I don’t know back then. Right now, I know how to respond.”
Capone chimes in, “I wouldn’t want to be a part of that beef.” Elsewhere, Tragedy states, “That offended me. Not that he dissed us, that he didn’t diss us.”
5. On the industry relying on analytics now versus taking a chance on artists
As Tragedy recounts, record executive and CEO of Penalty Recordings Neil Levine took a chance on C-N-N before they had an actual hit record. Pivoting into record labels no longer relying on luck or an ear for music but rather numbers and analytics, he states, “That’s why shit is not changing because its math. They say math doesn’t lie but the soul is gone. The naturality of this shit is being lost because it’s all about dollars.” DJ EFN expands, “Math does lie because its proven that they paying for that math. They’re paying for those numbers.”
6. On Funkmaster Flex fronting on Capone-N-Noreaga
While reflecting on some of their favorite memories while creating their debut album, Capone, Noreaga and Tragedy Khadafi discuss a time when they tried to get Funkmaster Flex to listen to their demo for “Thug Paradise.” Tragedy gave Flex the record to listen to and followed the DJ around New York until he finally gave it a spin. “Flex was fronting on us, I remember. He kept it real … Flex is a lot of things, but he’s not a liar,” N.O.R.E shares.
Tragedy reminisces on going everywhere Funk Flex was until he played their record, “You know how when you give [it to someone and if they don’t] fuck with it, normally they’re going to tell you why they don’t fuck with it? He didn’t do that so I’m like, ‘Oh, you didn’t even listen to that shit.’ I was like, ‘Alright, cool. I see how I gotta do this dude. I’m going to be in his face every time he looks up. I’m not going to say nothing to him, I’m not going to ask him to play it again. He’s going to know when he looks at me why I’m here.’” Elsewhere in the interview, N.O.R.E. recalls a time when they went to the radio station and The Notorious B.I.G. was there.
7. On The War Report not becoming successful until months after its release
As N.O.R.E. explains, The War Report didn’t rise to acclaim as soon as he anticipated and when it did, the success only felt regional due to social media and the internet not playing a role. However, as he traveled across the states, he was surprised by the number of people listening to the album outside of his hometown in New York. “It felt like there were months that went by where TWR was actually playing, but it didn’t feel like there were months that went by where it was actually successful as a record. Then it actually became successful and it felt regional because we had no internet,” N.O.R.E. shares.
“We had no idea they were playing it in North Carolina. It took me to travel to be like, ‘Wait a minute, maybe we do have something,’” he adds. Earlier in the interview, N.O.R.E. also states that his self-titled album, which was released the following year, was more successful upon its debut.
8. On Busta Rhymes being the first to show C-N-N love and their song “Driver’s Seat”
Among the several notable features such as Mobb Deep and Iman THUG that appeared on The War Report, Busta Rhymes is arguably one of the most recognizable for today’s generation. He briefly appeared on the latter half of Capone-N-Noreaga’s “Driver’s Seat,” which serves as track three on the project. Speaking on the listening experience of the album and how the duo presented themselves, Busta shares they “had a flow pattern that no one else was doing.”
“I’ma be honest, one of the first people to show C-N-N love outside of our camp, in my opinion, was Busta,” N.O.R.E. emphasizes. Busta Rhymes picks up, explaining the story behind their “Driver’s Seat” record: “N.O.R.E. told me to pull up, I don’t remember what studio. ‘T.O.N.Y,’ that record was fucking me up. The fact that Capone was in jail and had such a presence on that album, I had never seen that before. The phone calls from the jail cell on the skits, that to me was a different type of camaraderie and loyalty and love. It was refreshing and interesting.”
Busta continues, “The way they sounded on the record, it was weird. All of them sounded like they were similar but with different voice tones. Trag, N.O.R.E., and Capone had a flow pattern that no one else was doing.”
9. On what made The War Report and everybody involved in the album so special
Bringing the interview to a close, Capone delves into why the album meant so much to him at the time of its release. Midway through recording the project, he was incarcerated for violating probation, leaving N.O.R.E. to complete the album on his own, which the rapper bigs him up for. “For me, I look at it like this. I ain’t have to take my brother with me, and he ain’t have me with him. So for everybody that said, ‘Yo, you put this together, you did this, or N.O.R.E. didn’t leave you enough’ … Nah, we did what we was supposed to, we remained brothers. We remained brothers so all of this, I love this.”
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