Of New York City’s five boroughs, Queens has produced Hip Hop flavors that rival the bottled confection syrup selection of a shaved ice cart rolling through the park in the summer.
(Capone-N-Noreaga, Photo Credit: Rap Dose)
Run DMC to MC Shan to Nasty Nas, they are so dissimilar yet so familiar, from the hunger bleeding through each artist's recorded vocals. Enter the duo Capone-N-Noreaga, who in 1995 were featured in The Source Magazine’s coveted Unsigned Hype column, which branded who was up next in the Hip Hop world.
The group represented Lefrak City, the 40-acre stretch of 16-story buildings that comprised the southernmost region of Corona, Queens and birthed other notables like New Jersey Nets great Kenny Anderson, Houston Rocket and current TNT analyst Kenny Smith, and storytelling wordsmith Kool G. Rap, among many others.
With an of-tempo flow that often seemed disjointed and definitely “super thug,” Noreaga became the unofficial frontman of the duo in 1996, as they recorded their debut, “The War Report,” when Capone was incarcerated for a parole violation.
(Tragedy Khadafi, Photo Credit: rap.ru)
Collaborator Tragedy Khadafi, formerly known as the Intelligent Hoodlum, would fill the void, as he actually is on more songs than Capone, along with solo cuts by Noreaga.
The album became a certified street classic with raw production from Marley Marl of Juice Crew fame, Nashiem Myrick and Carlos “6 July” Broady for Bad Boy’s The Hitmen, EZ Elpee and Lord Finesse of Diggin' in the Crates Crew.
New York was taken over by the anthem “T.O.N.Y. (Top of New York)” and reveled in the griminess that the duo brought. Noreaga’s mix of Spanish with street slang bespoke the east coasts Puerto Rican struggle while Capone waxed poetic with Islamic cultural perspectives.
With the ominous sample and chorus, Capone-N-Noreaga jointly proclaimed how they collectively gave no f%&ks about everyone from law enforcement to the block knucklehead:
“T.O.N.Y. invade N.Y.
Multiply kill a cop
Me and you
You got beef
I got beef.”
But the world stood still when they dropped the diss track to the Death Row Records dominance in “L.A. L.A.”, produced by Marley Marl and featuring fellow duo Mobb Deep and Tragedy Khadafi. The hook was a direct call-out to an entire city’s music scene, and was held up by New York like a dirty snow flag of defiance to palm trees and year-round sunny weather.
Mobb Deep’s Prodigy bellowed:
"L.A., L.A. big city of dreams
But everything in L.A. ain’t always what it seems
You might get fooled if you come from out of town
Cause we coming from Queens, so get down..."
Everybody took turns weaving unsavory tales of Queens’ true grit and it was a dangerously refreshing statement that made it clear that a line was being drawn in the cultural sands of Hip Hop.
With other classic album cuts like “Bloody Money,” “Halfway Thugs” and “Stick You”, the group gained a cult following that catapulted Noreaga into his solo personality of N.O.R.E., an acronym for Niggaz On (the) Run Eatin’ and larger fame.
In 1998, N.O.R.E. would kill the charts when he linked with then rising production duo of Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams known as The Neptunes releasing his self-titled debut. Singles “Super Thug” and the NYC regional posse cut “Banned From T.V.” featuring fellow Queen’s artist and Nas affiliate Nature, Harlem’s Cam’ron, Big Pun from the Bronx and Jadakiss from Yonkers.
The song was produced by Swizz Beats and the entire album cemented Noreaga as the affable personality driven artist capable of relating to all people by his sheer street-honed charisma.
It took four years but in 2000, CNN released their second album ‘The Reunion’ to mixed reviews, but it was clear that Capone’s time away and Noreaga’s solo fame had diminished the spark the collective had early in their careers together.
(Noreaga and Capone, Photo Credit: XXL Magazine)
Also, Noreaga’s famous falling out with producer and rhyme collaborator Tragedy Khadafi, which spawned diss tracks like “Halfway Thugs Pt. 2” saw a loss to a particular sound he brought to the team.
The group would drop two more albums between 2009 and 2010 but decided to work their solo projects after little to no fanfare for the material.
Still, we all bore witness to one of the 90s raw Hip Hop commodities, the other C-N-N that was hood televised and approved.