Rap Revisited is a new series I’m working on where I take some older rap albums that shaped my hip-hop fandom and see how they held up over time in review form. I think it’s only right that Capone-N-Noreaga’s classic, critically acclaimed debut album The War Report be first up.
Growing up in the Bay Area during the east-west rivalry at the time this album was released in 1997, no one around me was checking for this album or for associated acts like Mobb Deep or Tragedy Khadafi due to the beef and regional bias, which unfortunately lead to me not discovering this album until I moved east for college in 2000 (Howard). Coincidentally, C-N-N performed at Howard Homecoming the same year, performing “Bang Bang” and other records just before the release of The Reunion the following month. I copped The War Report out of curiosity, having seen it labeled a classic by respected sources (at the time, literally The Source), and it’s remained at the top of my list of favorite rap albums ever since.
While The Reunion was decent, The War Report was special. It had an unexpected range, going from heartfelt sincerity on one record (“Live On Live Long”) to gun-toting mirth on others (“Illegal Life”). On “Live On Live Long”, Nore pens a letter for his incarcerated homie Capone and manages to, while still keeping his thug intact, bring a tear to the eye on his chorus: “So if ya heart stop beatin’, I’ll go back in time / make ya heart beat again / real niggas to the end”. Bruh. That’s some fly Quantum Leap shit that I don’t feel like Noreaga truly got his due for.
Not to take anything away from Capone, but due to his absence throughout the album (due to his upstate-ness), one could almost consider the War Report to be Noreaga’s unofficial debut album, considering the fact that some of the strongest records on this album (namely “Bloody Money” and “Halfway Thugs”, in my opinion) are carried solely by Nore. Noreaga’s boisterous, somewhat off-kilter delivery also lends to his persona all but dominating the album, not to mention later releases by the duo. This in no way means that Capone is a slouch when it comes to his contributions to the pair. Pone’s raspy delivery and prowess on the mic are nothing to scoff at. However, considering the fact that frequent collaborator Tragedy Khadafi appeared on the album more often than Capone did, it’s easy to see why his influence wasn’t felt as much on the debut as Nore’s was. Nore would go on to solo success out of necessity, considering Capone’s incarceration for some time after The War Report was released, but it’s no surprise that the more charismatic and downright interesting of the two is still to this day the most visible and beloved of the group.
The War Report excels as one of those albums that transport you to its setting without the musician deliberately trying to paint a picture for outsiders or being obligated to shoe-horn some godawful “for the ladies” record onto the album to appease the label. Where Nas’ raps depicted Queensbridge from the perspective of an observer, Capone-N-Noreaga spoke directly from the fray, reporting live from the very thick of the story Nas was narrating. Nore himself has since gone on to say “I didn’t know I was supposed to lie” in a DJ Vlad intervire regarding the candor of his early rhymes, calling out “Steele and Shame”, two neighborhood cops who “monkey-wrenched the whole game” and even putting known surveillance outposts on blast (“police watch from 12K”). The two lines actually resulted in real life pressure from local Lefrak City law enforcement, according to Nore, which is kind of unsettling when you think about how much of the duo’s exploits described on the album are more than likely also based on actual events.
Capone and Noreaga were two rappers ensconced in actual street life (they have the paperwork to prove it) who knew little of the world outside of east New York (and probably cared less at the time about it), yet managed to captivate a diverse and long-standing fan base with an album that was gritty, aggressive, remorseless, and heavily coded in Queens-specific slang and locations. This was an album that compromised next to nothing in the way of appealing to a broader audience but capitalized on authenticity, not to mention just putting together a damn good album in a time period where classics were falling from the sky like mana from heaven. Whether or not it’s your cup of cognac (and I’ve got to say that you’ve got to be smoking rocks for nothing on this album to appeal to you), this album should be a standard in any hip-hop aficionado’s collection, if only as a definitive milestone for mafioso rap, a triumph for Queensbridge and QB-adjacent MCs, and a textbook example of the grimy (Giuliani era) NYC gangsta rap of the period.
- “Halfway Thugs” is reportedly a diss directed at Prodigy, possibly related to Prodigy’s reluctance about shooting the video and including his verse on the finished version of “L.A., L.A.” (recorded in ’95 – the album dropped in ’97). While at first, the song appears to be a general diss toward wannabe thugs, once you notice the play on the “no such things as halfway crooks” line, you might get a feel for where this record was aimed. If not, Nore’s taunting “Sweet P” line (poorly warped on most versions of the record) or “the only one – 16 alphabet” (P – this line was also slightly warped) were pretty direct. The song was too good to take off the album, even if Nore and P had since settled their differences. Either way, “Halfway Thugs”, like Prodigy and Cormega’s “Thun & Kicko”, is underrated and not discussed enough as a rap beef record, likely due to the fact that Prodigy vs. Nore has been an off and on beef that never really came to a full broil.
- The tail end of the song “Driver’s Seat” finds Busta Rhymes kicking down the studio door to spit a few ad libs (“CUT YA HAND OFF!”) before the song fades out, most likely preceding a verse that would later be removed, most likely because of label struggle. Noreaga recently responded “I don’t remember” on Twitter when asked if there was a Busta verse on “Driver’s Seat”, but if a version like that exists, it needs to be released to the public as a rare gem.
- Two amazing records were kept off most versions of the album due to sample clearance issues: yet another strong Nore solo called “Married To Marijuana” (samples Marvin Gaye’s “Something”) and “Calm Down” featuring Nas and Tragedy Khadafi (samples “Superstar” by Bette Midler and “Love Come Down” by Evelyn “Champagne” King).