Before he became a drink champ N.O.R.E. was an emcee. He came onto the scene in 1996 at the peak of the East Coast/West Coast rap wars. Along with his partner Capone, N.O.R.E. formed the group C-N-N and defended his city with a response to Tha Dogg Pound’s New York, New York with a song called “L.A., L.A.”
What followed was an album deemed a street classic called The War Report. With Capone behind bars N.O.R.E. carried the flag for Capone-N-Noreaga and released a handful of successful solo albums. It was N.O.R.E. that introduced the masses to the Neptunes and their sample-free sound. In the meanwhile he built up his resume and rocked alongside rap royalty like Big Pun, Nas, and A Tribe Called Quest.
In July of 2010 I got the opportunity to interview N.O.R.E. fresh off the release of part 2 of The War Report. With an album still on the charts N.O.R.E. was preparing to release a solo project that was kinder and gentler than The War Report 2. N.O.R.E. was really excited about his upcoming album, but if you’re a fan you know the full-length album never actually came to fruition. Nonetheless, my conversation with N.O.R.E. was one of the most enjoyable I’ve had in Hip-Hop. That’s a fact!
TRHH: Tell me about the new single Nutcracker.
N.O.R.E: We just got finished throwing out the Capone-N-Noreaga War Report 2 album, which is in stores right now. I really wanted to do something that was totally opposite of what the Capone-N-Noreaga album represented so I wanted to jump out there on the solo tip real fast and get straight back to clubs.
TRHH: Is this new album gonna be mostly club joints?
N.O.R.E: I’m aiming that way, man. I’m really aiming that way as of right now, yep.
TRHH: It’s been like 12 years since you dropped the first solo album. What’s changed as far as your recording process in that time?
N.O.R.E: I think I’m faster. I think I work faster. I’m very comfortable in what I’m doing. This sort of feels like the first solo album, N.O.R.E. , because I’m not really rushing things. I needed Macy Gray on the hook and she came to the studio. I needed certain producers and they came. Everything feels like it’s all organic, nothing is forced, so it kind of feels like the first album.
TRHH: Tell me about the Macy Gray song.
N.O.R.E: It’s called Electrolytes. I’m a big fan of Macy Gray. I was cooking the song up, she happened to be around, the producer called her and asked if she was down to get on the record. She came through and did it that night. It’s a classic. It’s something that people are definitely not expecting, N.O.R.E. and Macy Gray, but then again I always do the unexpected. I’m expected to do the unexpected [laughs].
TRHH: The War Report 2 has a lot of critical acclaim. It’s one of the best albums of the year. Were you pleased by the way it was received by fans and critics?
N.O.R.E: Absolutely, man. For XXL to give us a XL, I’m not even sure about the other writers, but it’s so many wonderful writers and great fan responses. In the climate of Hip-Hop and what it is right now, but probably the way me and you look at Hip-Hop is probably not the way Hip-Hop is perceived nowadays. For a person of our caliber to come out with an album and people still say it’s a classic during a climate where we’re surrounded by people who don’t really understand the essence of real Hip-Hop, I’m very satisfied.
TRHH: How’d you hook up with Raekwon to put that all together?
N.O.R.E: We had a deal at EMI. Rae already had his deal in position. He asked if we would be down to partner up. I wasn’t opposed to it and we left it like that. The deal was Thugged Out/Ice Water.
TRHH: On the album Brother from Another is one of my favorite joints. Why did you and Capone decide to make a song like that because it’s kind of different?
N.O.R.E: It’s real easy, man. I don’t want the business to ever define our relationship as friends. For instance, right now I immediately jumped on my solo world domination mission and I’m back in New York right now to do a show with him tonight. I love the fact that we get money together. Our friendship is real. I don’t necessarily have to speak to him every day. I don’t have to hang out with him every day, but the love for each other as friends should never stop. We just reminisced to what brought us here. A lot of people hear the Phone Time song where we talk about him being locked up and me holding him down while he’s locked up, but this is the story before Phone Time. That’s what you get from Brother from Another Mother. Everything that I’m saying is dedicated to everything that went down prior to him going to jail. It’s like part 2 to Phone Time but in a weird way it’s part 1. I’m not sure if that makes sense. Nobody really understood the gesture of our relationship and what we went through. We just wanted to paint it out. I lost my father, he lost his mother.
TRHH: On another song off the album you talk about Tragedy Khadafi. What’s your relationship with him right now?
N.O.R.E: We’re cool. I bid him his salute. We spoke a lot since he’s been home. I invited him to a show and I think he couldn’t break curfew. We haven’t really spoke since then. Definitely salute to him. Hopefully he gets his stuff together and we can eventually meet at the top again.
TRHH: There’s a song you have called Stay Flawless with DMX and Ja Rule. Where is that song from? Is that going to be on the new album?
N.O.R.E: That song was on my new album. I actually had a record with DMX that I was holding for years. When I seen VH1 Hip-Hop Honors and DMX and Ja Rule got together and squashed the beef I thought it was only right to throw Ja on the record. It was three different camps, my camp, Ruff Ryder camp, and Murder Inc. and Empire. Everybody basically wanted to hear the record. When I sent the record for people to hear somehow it got blasted out and leaked and this would have been a phenomenal great record that could have been placed on my album but thanks to the hackers they fucked that up. Who knows, I’m very cool with DMX and Ja Rule, you never know when another one will happen.
TRHH: Do you feel like New York Hip-Hop is more united these days? I feel like people are squashing beefs and getting together more often now.
N.O.R.E: I don’t think that it’s got something to do with Hip-Hop, I think it’s got something to do with people growing up as men. It’s just like throwing eggs on Halloween. When you was 8 years old you thought that was the dopest shit in the world. Every Halloween when it came around you wanted to get dressed up and bomb people, put shaving cream on people’s things, go trick or treating and steal people’s candy. But then when you’re 18 you’re no longer doing that. I think it’s the same thing. All this beefing in Hip-Hop and all this separation in New York being how small we are I think everybody sort of realizes that this is the time to do it. Everybody’s older, let’s get money together.
TRHH: It’s been ten years since Big Pun passed. Give me a Big Pun story that nobody ever heard before.
N.O.R.E: I have so many stories. I can’t tell you if nobody never heard ‘em. I don’t know if I told this before but I remember coming to Pun’s house and I was shooting a video or something. Pun was like, “Yo, come to the Bronx before you go and do the video!” I went to the Bronx and went in his crib and he had his daughter and his son boxing. It was the weirdest thing. They were arguing and he made his daughter and son put on boxing gloves and just go at it. I can tell you one thing, his daughter is not a chump.
TRHH: What was his point? Was he trying to make her tougher?
N.O.R.E: Absolutely. I can’t even recall if he was trying to make his boy tougher or if his daughter was the bully. I can’t recall exactly but that’s how he solved problem in his house. He let his kids fight. I think a lot of kids should grow up that way ‘cause if you do grow up that way you’ll have a lot less shooting going on. I think that’s what’s wrong with this generation, a lot of these people just didn’t have fights as children. Here you go as a grown man and all you’re used to doing is jumping people or stabbing people. Then you get a gun in your hand and you really just don’t know how to fight. This is the reason why you have so much useless crime going on because half of these people don’t even know how to fight.
TRHH: That’s an interesting point. I’m from Chicago and you probably heard that the murders are off the chain this year. It’s a lot of gun violence. How would you change that now? Like you said, a grown man doesn’t know how to fight, well he’s not going to learn how to fight now — he’s still using a gun. How can we change that end all the violence?
N.O.R.E: Geographically it’s always different. I can probably give you a solution to how we could do it in New York probably ten times before I could give you a solution to Chicago. Chicago is so gang oriented. When people say L.A. is the gang capital of the world, I salute them with two of my hands. But those gangs that derived from L.A., most of those people are from Chicago. Even down to the Black Panthers which really started the gang epidemic. When you think about places like Chicago and L.A., in order to stop what’s going on, I basically don’t really have an answer or comment toward that because it’s so deeply rooted in the blood stream of those people. As opposed to New York where the gang scene is actually becoming pretty bad. At the end of the day for people in New York it’s very easy. You take a gang member, from a Blood, a Crip wherever they are from, and you put them with a gang member in L.A. and pretty much the people from New York might not be the same. They don’t really know what they’re claiming. The same thing with the Vice Lords and Disciples and the Folks and all that. If you take those people from Milwaukee and bring them to Chicago they’ll probably have a whole total different outlook on life because it’s a totally different aspect. I guess that’ll be my answer. I was getting real deep, I was getting real deep.
TRHH: [Laughs] The first time I heard you was in ’96 on the L.A., L.A. joint. I still can’t find that original version anywhere. I won’t say that song set off the East Coast/West Coast stuff but it was a response. Since then have you talked to Snoop and Tha Dogg Pound?
N.O.R.E: Those are my peoples. The funniest shit in the world from Dogg Pound doing New York, New York, and us to respond with L.A., L.A. is the closest artist to me on the West Coast is Kurupt. I speak to Kurupt a lot. It’s crazy because it’s just ironic that that’s how life happens. Obviously it’s no drama now. I was just in Long Beach and I performed L.A., L.A. and everybody got a crack out of it. Everybody thought it was funny. We all sat and got drunk. It’s all love. It’s just like said with the trick or treat thing, everybody’s over it, let’s all get money. I think that it’s funny that those are my closest friends on the West Coast.
TRHH: What can we expect to hear on the new album?
N.O.R.E: Right now we’re really 75% in. I blew up the Macy Gray, Im’ma hold everything else in for surprises. This is something different. It’s still who I am and in line with N.O.R.E. but it’s something special. I can’t pinpoint it. It’s definitely something that you’re used to from me with a touch of something that no one is used to from me. I gotta try something different. I been in this game for quite some time and I don’t want to keep doing the same thing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty much sticking to the script but instead of the script being black and silver I’m using a little bit of blue, a little bit of red, a little bit of sky blue and a little bit of orange in there. I’m making it bright. At the end it’s going to always be what you wanted.
TRHH: Do you have a title?
N.O.R.E: Right now it’s Super.Thug because we’re gonna make it make sense. We got Scoop DeVille, we’re waiting on Swizz, we got a couple with Scott Storch, we got Neptunes, it’s my first time working with Neptunes in years. Thank you my brother. Thank you for being on point. I like doing interviews with people on point.
TRHH: Thank you, man. I appreciate it.
N.O.R.E: Okay then my brother, peace out.
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