The Underrated: Noreaga- N.O.R.E.

By @CherchezLaPorsh 

1. The Jump Off 
2. Banned From TV
3. I Love My Life 
4. N.O.R.E. 
5. Hed Interlude 
6. Hed 
7. It's Not A Game 
8. Fiesta 
9. 40 Island 
10. The Way We Live
11. Animal Thug Interlude 
12. The Change 
13. Superthug 
14. Da Story
15. Mathematics (Esta Loca)
16. The Assignment 
17. Body In The Trunk 
18. One Love 
19. Outro 

Let's take a look at some hip hop history for a second, shall we?

June 1997: Capone and Noreaga drop “The War Report” and this album instantly puts these two on the map. In fact, it was so successful, that hip hop fans were thrilled at what seemed to be the start of a brilliant rap duo right?....wrong! Shortly after the release, Capone gets caught up on some “assault with a deadly weapon” charges and gets sent to jail for some years. This is what ultimately drives Noreaga into a solo career and thus “N.O.R.E” is born. Since his previous project with Capone was great, the bar was set high and the hip hop industry had an expectation which was never quite met upon its release in 1998.

Had this album dropped in ’97 or ’99, I think it would have been better received commercially, but Noreaga wasn’t seasoned enough in the industry and got in the ring with some heavy weights. 1998 was the same year that Pun dropped “Capital Punishment”, Cappadonna dropped “The Pillage”, DMX dropped “It’s Dark and Hell is Hot”, Tribe dropped “The Love Movement”, Tupac’s greatest hits album was released, Lauryn Hill dropped “Miseducation...”, Hov drops “Vol. 2 Hard Knock Life”, and if that wasn’t enough Outkast dropped “Aquemini” and that’s just to name a few from a very very intense year (and another article topic entirely).  Needless to say, Noreaga didn’t stand a chance, and as a result his debut album definitely gets listed as “underrated” however, it did have some huge success for that time. “Superthug” would make it to no. 36 on Billboard's Top 100(no. 1 on the Rap/Hip Hop charts) and be widely considered the best track on the album.

Noreaga starts off this album with the “The Jump Off”, and this would serve as a 50 second spoken introduction to the album. A soft piano instrumental in the background against Nore’s voice. He alludes to the album being street, obviously since “that’s where it all originate from, the streets” (there’s a dash of sarcasm here I believe) and also goes on to dedicate this album to Capone, who was serving a jail term and then he gets right into it.

“Banned from T.V.” in my opinion is one of the best tracks on here and a good choice to have as the first real song. Teaming up with Swizz Beatz to produce this and throwing Nature, Cam’ron, Jada, Styles P AND Pun on this track just made it amazing. The beat on this track is suspenseful, fast paced, climactic, but complimentary to each of their styles. There is no depth to the lyrics and that’s perfectly fine because it’s an incredibly easy listen and truly a banger. The track is fun and reflective of their personalities. If there was such a thing as putting a whole house party on a music track, these guys did it right here...there’s no denying the “fun factor” here take a look:

“I get pussy with my fathers features..../
make it seem easy so tell a friend to tell a friend that it’s them again/ Nature, Noreaga wild gremlin/"

*Big Pun
"My passion is money/
a stash and a honey/ 
that won’t ask questions but will blast anybody/
that’s my kind of girl...”

“...thought the Lox told y’all the key to life asshole...
yo I don’t play around/ 
I lay it down, fuck around, I spray around/ 
flick a biscuit/ 
nigga risk it/
my ass, you can kick it or kiss it.../”

*Styles P and Jadakiss
"Kiss the crystal white fluffy part in the back of a whip/
See the plan is to stash all/
and cash y’all/ 
the weed is so strong...”

"ay yo let’s get loose/
Hennessy straight with tomato juice/
Queens stallion/ 
my guns, fully italian.../” 

So now that the party is over, Noreaga partners with Carl Thomas on “I Love My Life”. This is an interesting track, it definitely has an R&B flavor, with a smoothed out yet a head bopper instrumental and Carl Thomas’ silky voice. Once again, 2 complimentary sounds. From the title and the opening line “Can’t stop thinking of the game, y’know what I mean?”, he lets the listeners in to his life and experiences, the street content he mentioned in the introduction. His second verse on this track touches on this:

"Had to learn how to slapbox, instead of a gat/
I never knew rap, all I knew was crack/
Yo there's rules to this game, and people to blame/
When you see another little brother doing the same/
As you used to/
Growing up like you/
Palyin skully, with his heat out, cellular phone/
Getting little drug money, but got the world sewn/
I recall, cause he gonna die/
Yo, I cry/
It's hard to/
get tarred up with God jewel.../"

The chorus on this track piqued my interest a little. I find it puzzling (in a good way) how he can say “I love my life” and continue on with “sold drugs my life, it’s my whole life I sacrificed, the game we play, I live and pray...” Some rappers do this, paint a seemingly positive image within negativity and that’s what makes me love this track. I think Nore did it well here. As a listener, I sympathize with a struggle and choices and almost feel bad, but am calmed by the fact that he seems to be happy with life as such. I’ve always appreciated when artists give their listeners glimpses of their personal experiences, even if we can't identify with that harsh reality. It’s a connectivity piece that shows a sense of realness, regardless of whether or not the person experienced the same things.

To liven things up again, Noreaga gives us the title track “N.O.R.E”. I love everything about this song, the way it starts, the beat, the light lyrics and of course, the catchiness of the chorus. I think this song best features his style and flow. The uniqueness of his intonations and his voice in general. This song to me is the epitome of Noreaga and his trademark. Walk up to any “hip hop head” and say “N-O-R-E”, I can almost guarantee they will respond by saying “Niggas On the Run Eatin” as he definitely solidified.

Let’s fast forward a couple tracks and take a look at “Fiesta”. This is another one of my favorites and that is primarily because Kid Capri and Trackmasters add just enough flavor on this song that again allows Noreaga to come out of that serious tone we would have just heard on the track before it. Again, no need for anything other than a good time, light lyrics, great beats, pure fun. What I like about his banger tracks the most is that he has a good time with them. He enjoys it and livens himself on it as well as the listeners. Again, entirely enjoyable from beginning to end.

This is probably what I’ve been the most excited to talk about. This album has my most favorite interlude to ever be recorded and appear on an album. PERIOD. The “Animal Thug” interlude. This is 1 minute and 41 seconds of pure and utter hilarity. It’s so simple yet so amazing. This feels like I’m sitting in the room with these guys, listening to them talk a bunch of mindless shit and almost making fun of their friend. They egg on the absurdities and outlandish claims made by “Animal Thug”(I still don’t know his real name) and have him go off on tangents. You can’t help but to love his middle eastern accent coupled with his confused understanding of street slang. Absolutely hilarious and the highlight of the album for me. (I definitely recommend everyone listens to this just for pure entertainment)

Let’s get to the highly acclaimed track “Superthug” next. I think bringing The Neptunes in the mix on this album was a brilliant decision. It seems like everything the Neptunes do or have a hand in become chart toppers and they worked their same magic here. The beat is flawless and matches absolutely perfectly with Noreaga’s rapping style and intonations, with good reason:  Pharrell made this beat specifically for him. It wasn’t just something he had laying around. This was a double success, not only did this bring recognition to the rapper, but also to Pharrell as this would be his breakout song and land him opportunities with Jay-Z, Mystikal and various other rappers. Also, this would create an ongoing working relationship for the both of them. Although the lyrics aren’t profound, the repetition of “What” would be the trademark of this song and “What What” would go on to be Noreaga’s most recognizable tagline. It’s no surprise that this song was so well received in the hip hop world. The craziness of the beat is somewhat distracting, but I give credit to the track placement as it is the midway point, so it almost does a reset on the feel of the whole album. This was perfect and an obvious favorite.

Listening from track to track, it’s apparent that Nore has several people featured so it comes as no surprise that Busta would make an appearance and then Nas. That is yet another reason why I love this album so much, because how can it go wrong? “Body in the Trunk” is another song to be noted. I think the best part of this song is it is set up like a conversation between Noreaga and Nas. I give more credit to Nas for this because it seems in line with his flawless storytelling. This song flows, the whole way through. Like discussing this “body in the trunk” and justifying why someone was just killed:

"Hey yo fuck it yo, I bucked him son
Cause he was on some stupid shit/
Thinking he the real thing when he was just a duplicate/
Saying that he hate our clique/
Hate our shit/
Hate the Firm album and the CNN clique/
He said he hate you and wish you ain' have a six/
He had coliseum jewelry no tito tricks/"

That' what he supposed to get/
Nigga play you close he gets hit/ Laying in dirt/ 
For something you say you get hurt/
Fuck around though, probably with some old school shit/
How bad you hit him up god?, Yo he' ghost and shit?/"

That continues on back and forth. The only problem I see is that it was too short. I find myself wishing this conversation lasted another 10 minutes. Again, I have to say I like the track placement. It’s definitely not upbeat, but to me having Nas on the last official song is like saving the best for last. Perfect placed and delivered well.

I only touched on a few tracks, but looking at it as a whole, this album really is a great one. Trackmasters, Neptunes, DJ Clue, Marley Marl, and Swizz Beatz all had a hand in producing various tracks. Nas, Busta, Nature, Chico Debarge, Big Pun, Cam’ron, Styles P, Jadakiss and Kool G Rap all featured MCs and it made for a fantastic tracklist. I think the most obvious thing is the lack of substance, but to me Noreaga isn’t the rapper I would go to for lyrical depth and substance. He’s always been fun, upbeat, kind of crazy and meant for lighthearted enjoyable hip hop with a street flare. This is what I expect from Noreaga and with that said, he definitely met my expectations and presented a pretty good album. This stays in my library and is on rotation for sure!!



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