Noreaga (now known as N.O.R.E.) from LeFrak City and Capone from Queensbridge formed the Hip-Hop duo Capone-N-Noreaga (sometimes shortened to C-N-N or C.N.N.). The pair released their début album The War Report in 1997 and it was a refreshing listen during a time filled with Pop music sampling and radio-friendly sounds. During an era of widespread crossing over by many Hip-Hop artists, this LP felt very fresh. Rappers only a few years prior, used to be unafraid to sound “underground” but thanks to Puff Daddy’s dominance, many Hip-Hop artists began to make Pop-friendly songs intended to appeal to non-rap fans. With “Mafioso” and “Jiggy” rap being the dominant sub-genres during the mid-nineties, Capone-N-Noreaga took Hip-Hop music back to its early-nineties incarnation; a time when gritty tales of realism were rife, a time when baggy jeans and Timbs were preferred over designer labels and gaudy jewellery.
Released on Penalty Recordings, Tommy Boy Records, and 25 To Life Entertainment, The War Report was a relative success making it into the Billboard charts. According to some sources this LP went gold. An album like this proved that Hip-Hop didn’t have to conform to the ever-popular shiny suit, fish-eye video, and radio-friendly production combo. This album wasn’t Mafioso Rap or 1980s-sampling Hip-Pop, this was undiluted, unashamed hardcore, East Coast Hip-Hop music.
The album begins with “Intro” with its bumping beat courtesy of Charlemagne and there’s also a sample of Royal Flush’s “Worldwide” from Ghetto Millionaire. In this introduction, we hear Capone and Noreaga talk about how many people from their block are locked up in prison, which is ironic if not apt since Capone gets sent to prison during the album’s creation.
With Capone being imprisoned for a parole violation during the album’s recording, the album was completed with the help of fellow Queensbridge artist Tragedy Khadafi (as well as Mobb Deep and a few others). With Khadafi appearing on more than half the songs, he was much more than a “featured artist”. In my opinion, The War Report was as much Tragedy’s album as it was Noreaga and Capone’s.
Because of his imprisonment, Capone only appears in five of the songs, Noreaga appears in every song with four solo joints, and Tragedy is the featured artist in eight songs. Therefore it might be more appropriate to say this album is by Noreaga-N-Tragedy-N-Capone, at least unofficially.
The first song “Blood Money” sets the tone for much of the album. This is one of Noreaga’s solo tracks, he raps over a sorrowful piano sample and introduces the listener to his sometimes abstract lines incorporating Spanish and English slang. With lines like “Yo time zone, cabron, maricon” this multilingual blend made for a very unique vocal. By missing determiners and pronouns from his sentences and rhyming words with themselves (which I think it’s called an “Identical Rhyme”) Noreaga was definitely different. Just peep these lyrics…
“Cowboy rope, choke your throat. Put the bogey out in your face, now your face laced like ash tray face. Stay with gat on my waist, give the god some space, shoot you up above waist”
This simplistic and somewhat lazy rhyming style coupled with Noreaga’s unorthodox delivery, made for a very different sound when compared to the other super-lyrical rappers out at the time (think Big Pun and Chino XL). These lyrics might sound basic when written down but Noreaga’s flow and delivery was infectious and his personality raised these simple lyrics to something special. His trademark “What What!” later became a crossover phenomenon when it was used as the main component to his Neptunes produced track “Superthug”.
“Driver’s Seat” then follows which starts off sounding like an average song but the chorus which includes a reference to Islamic punishment changes that…
“I keep it real wit’ a nigga [that] keep it real wit’ me, I cut the hand off a nigga tryin’ steal from me, 2-5 be that bomb-diggy bomb you see, black juice in the Yukon driver’s seat”
The song features I.M.A.M. Thug from Tragedy’s 25 To Life Entertainment aka 25 To Life Records bragging about the label-slash-clique in the chorus and in his verse. There’s no Capone but Busta Rhymes pops up toward the end for a quick musical cameo.
The next song is “Stick You” which opens on a rainy scene with a group planning a stick up. The track is mean, the very definition of hardcore Hip-Hop. The track includes the sometimes missing Capone on one of the verses and there’s a narrative from all involved. Tragedy Khadafi at one point talks about checking someone’s anus so they can thieve every last ounce of cocaine from them. With a piano sample making for a foreboding and moody soundscape, Tragedy steals the show with his unique blend of violence and Islamic-slash-Middle-East references…
“C.N.N., desert men, holding the chrome with gorilla grip, Sing Sing, straight convict. Strap the door, C-4, detonating shhh, blow the spot, don’t give a fuck who you go and get. We want the yay-yo, and the cash that’s in the stash, strip his Tommy drawers, yo, check the crack of his ass. (You on some homo shhh?) Nah kid, we on some real shit, since we here, we might as well get all of it. Inshallah, Allahu Akbar, supporter, C.N.N., desert men supreme order”
“Parole Violators” (which I’ll point out contains a back-masked rape lyric) is a sombre yet head-nodding track featuring Havoc of Mobb Deep on the chorus and this is followed by “Iraq (See The World)”, the only song that at least production-wise, goes along with the then-current Mafioso Rap sound. The mandolin melody feels like it’s been taken straight from a Mafia movie soundtrack but the lyrics are anything but imaginary or grandiose. Castro, Musalini, Mendosa, and Troy Outlaw all give very good verses and Troy even mentions that he “isn’t into doing [no] drugs” which was and still is an original stance on the subject.
“Live On Live Long” is another one of Noreaga’s solo offerings where he reminisces about Capone prior to getting locked up, rapping “Damn dun how you get caught? Sometimes I look back and think that the shit is my fault”. There’s some sentimental lines including the chorus; “If your heart stop beating I’ll go back in time, make your heart beat again, real niggas till the end”. I remember this song being played on Tim Westwood’s Radio 1 show almost every week. The song despite its sombre content sounds very summery, either because of Naughty Shorts’ production or because of the time it was released (but maybe only to those who heard it as a single).
“Neva Die Alone” follows and it contains some very unique lyrics with Noreaga exclaiming “Saddam Hussein, president of what I claim”. This is one of the songs where Tragedy and Noreaga rename parts of New York with Middle Eastern counterparts; Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Syria, Somalia etc. There’s the meanest production courtesy of Buckwild and the song contains a hard piano hit similar to Heather B‘s “Da Heartbreaka”. Capone has a verse as does Tragedy who brags about his “Motorola flip phone” (which was the cellphone trend back then). Trag also raps “I plant bombs where the Feds be” and he refers to himself as an “Arab Nazi” (more on that later).
Next up is “T.O.N.Y. (Top Of New York)”, a classic track that made it onto rap radio shows and even MTV. Noreaga brings some vicious lyrics and some anti-Christian sentiment (“Kid listen, die on the cross like a Christian. So fuck you, plus your weak religion”). Capone brings some drug-dealing into the mix (“I did it for the love of the cash your honour, trafficking across the Verrazano, coke and the marijuana”) and Tragedy ends the track with his usual impressive mix of violence, crime, not to mention his flawless flow…
“2-5 we on a deadline, read the headline, Noreaga blast with nines. Move fakers, get your back blown in Jamaica, lay you in the earth and curse you and your maker. I told you fools to stop fucking with the Mahdi, Arab Nazi, blow holes in your Versace. This squad’s mega, with the arm legga legga, been doing this, since Mobb Six with Cormega. Gorilla, animal thugs be trife looking, your hearts tookin’, and got blown in Central Booking. I’m mad iller, organized thug killer, now you little monkey niggas wanna play gorilla. Officially, Mussolini, pump heme, insanity, temporarily my plea. And the jakes never worry me as long as I’m free, to my people holding packs, nothing less than a G. Crime side of life, foul price to pay, illegal life, trigger trife till we old and grey. When the flesh dry up and the world decay, reach heaven in a pearly white Acura[y]. But until then, I’m a shine to the last sin, resurrect through the birth of my son, and live again.”
There’s a very memorable chorus and the production by The Hitmen which consists of echoing snare hits, vocal samples, subtle singing, and violins all make for a head-nodding, rugged, mid-tempo, track.
“Channel 10” is a relaxed track with a never-ending string sound. It’s a short song but it includes a verse from Capone. This is followed by “Capone Phone Home (Interlude)” where we hear from Capone in prison (he mentions how many people he personally knows who are incarcerated). This is followed by “Stay Tuned (Interlude)” a second interlude that serves as an introduction to Side 2 if you were listening on cassette or vinyl. This track includes a sample from the film “The Rock” with Ed Harris’ character saying “Remember Operation Desert Storm?”. The track might feel unneeded alongside the previous interlude but there’s a decent beat to listen to, but I would have preferred if N.O.R.E. rapped over it.
“Capone Bone” is next and it’s the only Capone solo track on the album. With Marley Marl producing, he creates a very laid-back and steady beat that compliments the sexual content. “Halfway Thugs” then follows and it has a nice rugged beat with an echoing snare. It is the penultimate Noreaga solo song on the LP.
“L.A. L.A. (Kuwait Mix Marley Marl)” is a mean-sounding answer to Snoop and The Dogg Pound’s “NY, NY” video. “New York New York” if you don’t know, was a song that despite intending to be an ode to Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five’s classic song of the same name, after being shot at in the Big Apple, the Dogg Pound decided to create a video where they kicked Manhattan buildings down as a metaphorical response. This added to the East versus West beef that was occuring at the time (which many people now try to convince us didn’t take place). The Dogg Pound video was then referenced in Royal Flush‘s “Worldwide” as well as in this reply where the group are seen bundling members of the Dogg Pound into the back of a car (lookalikes of course). Okay so the lyrics don’t actually mention the beef specifically but we all knew what was inferred by the title alone.
Aside from the ever-present Noreaga, Havoc also appears in the song (along with Prodigy on the chorus) as does Capone and Tragedy. The track is produced by Marley Marl and it contains reversed clashes and scratches to hide any explicit lyrics. Tragedy’s line “the world’s rotten like the veins in my father’s arms” for me, is the most memorable lyric in the song.
“Capone-N-Noreaga Live (Interlude)” features Capone singing (sort of) with Noreaga repeating his lines. The track is catchy and in my opinion some of it could have been turned into a chorus for an actual full-length song.
“Illegal Life” follows and it contains a head nodding beat courtesy of Havoc and Tragedy Khadafi. Havoc appears on the very catchy but hardcore chorus; “We hate the law so we break it, loyal to this life there’s no way to escape it. You either make it or you take it. If the game’s in you, dedicated stay true. Illegal Life”. This is a great track all round and it’s one of the few with Capone rapping.
“Black Gangsta” features a slower tempo and a relaxed vibe to usher in the closing of the album. The chorus which contains the line “If a bitch [could] sniff a pyramid off a dollar bill she will” is delivered very well by Tragedy. Capone is on the track and he brings some more crime-based lyrics to the table…
“Never sweat D’s, I let trees blow. Get bent on benches, hopping the fences, here they come in long trenches. Crack, chase ’em, lace ’em, let the chef bake ’em, Jake, taste ’em, take ’em, wonder where we make ’em. Roll dice, and break ’em on the street corners, betting stacks, holding packs, hoping police don’t run deep on us”.
“Closer” is a cheery song in contrast to the rest of the LP. The original DJ Clark Kent version does have its problems (the chorus lets the song down a little by sounding a bit too “Pop”) and sure, many people preferred the Sam Sneed version back in the day, but I think the version that appeared on the original release closes the album on a more upbeat note. Compare the version on the original pressing…
To the version which closes the new version of the LP (and which became the single and music video)…
The album then ends with “Capone Phone Home Outro”, another conversation with Capone in prison (even Nas gets in on the convo).
In my opinion, the original pressing which I own, is a much better album (and is the version I’m reviewing). The changed tracklisting which now includes the Sam Sneed Remix of “Closer” (sometimes called “U Say”) and “Thug Paradise” (which replaces “Capone Phone Home (Interlude)”) break up the flow of the LP so much so that this new version would be an 8/10 rather than a 9/10. If you want my advice, seek out the original version of The War Report, it’s a far superior album.
Twenty tracks might sound like a lot but with three interludes, an intro and an outro, in reality there’s only fifteen songs. I’ll acknowledge that the middle of the LP dips slightly (“Capone Phone Home” to “Capone Bone”) but the rest is back-to-back rawness. Overall, the album flows very well, if a couple of the interludes were removed, this could have easily been a 10/10.
The stand-out tracks are “T.O.N.Y.”, “Stick You”, “Iraq”, “Neva Die Alone”, and “Illegal Life”. Aside from “Closer” the album has a menace which you rarely find even within underground Hip-Hop. The sound, from the production to the lyrics simply embodies hardcore Hip-Hop, this is the kind of album that just doesn’t get made these days.
With each rapper named after some of history’s most infamous leaders, dictators, and gangsters; Manuel Noriega, Al Capone, Muammar Gaddafi, Fidel Castro, and Benito Mussolini, these Queens’ representatives had the most fearsome pseudonyms to compliment their violent lyrics.
The War Report built on Mobb Deep‘s street-centric brand of Hip-Hop. This was the hardest album out of Queensbridge (until Screwball’s Y2K that is). Tragedy went from being Intelligent Hoodlum to Tragedy Khadafi with this LP and he single-handedly created a sub-genre that was both unique and influential.
According to an interview I once read online, it was Tragedy who came up with the idea of likening the ghetto to a war zone, renaming LeFrak City “Iraq”, Queensbridge “Kuwait”, The Bronx “Lebanon” (Staten Island as “Syria” I think). The concept of war and Middle East politics is not just used as a metaphor, it is also used as an audio and visual aesthetic adding to the unofficial Hip-Hop sub-genre of “Military Rap”. With the duo wearing camouflage on the album cover and with Noreaga and Tragedy referring to themselves as “Arab Nazis” (which I still don’t know whether to be offended by or not) the whole package was a unique if not strange thing to blend with East Coast Hip-Hop. Using the Five Percenter backronym “Arm, Leg, Leg, Arm, Head” and inventing Militant portmanteaus including “Islarmy”, the one thing that I am certain of is the fact that this album wasn’t afraid to use terms and topics which would normally offend the sensibilities of the mainstream. Even though the first Gulf War was six years in the past, this album inadvertently became very relevant four years later following the 9/11 attacks, after which this LP felt very risky and even dangerous.
From the liner artwork which featured a group photograph with someone erased from the picture only to be replaced with the word “traitor”, this album was undoubtedly a taste of the streets. Listening to it easily conjures-up visions of guns, concrete blocks, fatigues, violence, stick ups, drug sales, police, and gang violence. This isn’t a watered-down album for the masses, this is a slice of real life from the borough of Queens.
The War Report was once the soundtrack to my summer, it was constantly in my Discman during 1997 and 1998 and listening to it now transports me back to the late nineties in an instant. Utilising samples from Michael Bay’s The Rock, referencing Islam and war, this is an album that juxtaposes warfare with street life and the East Coast of America with the Middle East. This is arguably the best work by either Capone, Noreaga, and even Tragedy, all three have released albums and singles together and on their own but nothing compares to the magic of this collaborative release. If you want to listen to something different in a time of Mumble Rap, Drill, and Trap music, this is definitely one album to revisit.