20 Years Later: A Ranking Of Capone-N-Noreaga’s Classic Debut ‘The War Report’
New York City’s history of producing seminal rap talent and albums is by far the most illustrious, with many of the bodies of work deemed as the greatest of all time having been birthed within the confines of the five boroughs. However, of those five boroughs, Queens boasts arguably the richest legacy of them all, with countless pioneers, game-changers, and crown-holders having called the borough home—among them being rap group Capone N Noreaga. While Run D.M.C., A Tribe Called Quest, and G-Unit may be some of the first names that come to mind when mentioning the greatest rap groups to come out of Queens, Capone N Noreaga have undoubtedly earned the cache to be mentioned in that pantheon when it comes to contributing masterpieces that have managed to stand the test of time and resonate across generations of fans.
First meeting while both were incarcerated at Collins Correctional Facility, Capone and Noreaga would find kindred spirits in one another and form a rap duo, with plans to pursue a career in music following their respective releases. Staying true to their word, Capone and Noreaga would link up with Tragedy Khadafi, a member of the iconic rap collective Juice Crew, who would take the pair under his wing. Recording a demo that would earn the duo a spot in The Source’s Unsigned Hype column in 1995, which would lead to a record deal with Penalty Records. The duo would release their debut single, “Illegal Life” in 1996 as they began to craft their debut album, The War Report, but a roadblock would occur in the form of Capone’s untimely parole violation during the making of the album.
However, Noreaga and Tragedy would salvage all of Capone’s material as they could and complete the album, which arrived on June 17, 1997. Despite lacking a bonafide hit single, The War Report would ride off the strength of its buzz on the streets, peaking at No. 4 on Billboard’s Hip Hop/R&B chart and would ultimately be certified Gold by the RIAA. The War Report, like Illmatic, Doe or Die and Reasonable Doubt, which were other debuts whose legacy would exceed their commercial success, would be hailed as an instant classic by rap aficionados, who praised its production, as well as Capone and Noreaga’s individual performances. Loaded with quality material that has come to define the era in which it was released, The War Report remains a crown jewel and required listening for any fan of quintessential East Coast hip-hop.
In celebration of the 20th anniversary of this masterpiece, VIBE dissects The War Report from top to bottom, ranking the songs on the album from “Worst-To-First.” How does your favorite stack up?
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16. Drivers Seat
Noreaga is joined by Imam T.H.U.G on “Driver’s Seat,” a brooding selection that helps get The War Report off to a serviceable start. Produced by Carlos “6 July” Broady & Nashiem Myrick, the boards men employs a sample of “Do the Thing That’s Best You” by Willie Hutch, with Nore and Imam professing their loyalty to their comrades, as well as their Queens stomping grounds. “I keep it real wit a n***a keep it real wit me/I cut the hand off a n***a tryin steal from me,” the two lyricists rhyme, as they cook up what is ultimately one of the lesser inclusions on Capone N Noreaga’s debut in “Driver’s Seat.” However, having Busta Rhymes lending his frenetic energy at the end of the track is a welcome wrinkle that makes for a favorable consolation, if we must say.
15. Parole Violators
Tragedy Khadafi plays double-duty on “Parole Violators,” serving up a sparse soundscape, powered by kicks snares, and an eerie voice sample, as well as turning in a potent stanza that anchors the track. Havoc of Mobb Deep tackles the hook, while Noreaga contributes one of his more underwhelming verses on the album, making Capone’s absence more glaring than on most occasions. Despite Tragedy Khadafi’s admirable effort, it’s ultimately not enough to make “Parole Violators” resulting in it being one of the songs with the least replay value and falters when placed alongside the superior cuts on The War Report.
14. Capone Bone
Marley Marl throws a bone to the Juice Crew offspring by producing “Capone Bone,” Capone’s sole solo offering on The War Report. Doing his bidding over a samples of “Step into Our Life” by Roy Ayers and D’Angelo’s “Cruisin’,” Capone turns his attention to the ladies, charming ‘em with promises to “Thug you out, take you on tour, to all the weed spots” as he lays his mack down. While Capone would never be appraised as the Casanova type off face value, he certainly fits the bill on “Capone Bone,” one of the more slept on ditties from The War Report.
13. Thug Paradise
Produced by Charlemagne “Thug Paradise” was originally a Tragedy Khadafi song featuring Capone N Noreaga, but was tacked onto The War Report’s tracklist upon its release. Coming across as more of a rehearsed freestyle routine than a album cut, “Thug Paradise” is a welcome change of pace, as it features one of the more upbeat instrumentals on the album, which the three MCs navigate with prowess, particularly Tragedy and Capone, both of whom deliver riveting outings. With the three convicted felons celebrating life, “Thug Paradise” is another tune from The War Report that is worthy of being in rotation, even two decades after the fact.
12. Never Die Alone
One of the hardest beats on The War Report is undoubtedly “Never Die Alone,” a hard-boiled number that appropriates Middle Eastern and Arabic culture, as Capone N Noreaga run roughshod over the intense instrumental provided by Buckwild that’s as steely as the bars in Collins Correctional, where the duo originally met. Joined by Tragedy Khadafi, CNN crafts another slice of quintessential Queens rap, with Capone making his presence felt with couplets like “No love for a got civilian/Make salat, in the spot, kneelin’/For a second, freeze dealin’,” a testament to the conflict between their spirituality and illegal lifestyle.
11. Stick You
On “Stick Up,” Capone N Noreaga link up with Tragedy Khadafi after discovering that they’ve purchased fake narcotics from a shiesty connect, and the only conclusion the trio can come up with is pull a stick-up to even the odds. “It’s the money or the morgue son, ready to die/Black Infiniti, yo, Papi, call Ki” Tragedy barks, as the trio concoct a plan to rob the Dominican dealer of his cocaine and cash, however, Noreaga’s descriptive verse, which sets the scene with mentions of Cuban disguises and Power Rangers, is as inventive as it gets and stands as the track’s highlight. In addition to it being one of the many notable cuts on one of the more notable albums of its era, the irony of “Stick You” being produced by a guy named Naughty Shorts, giving the fact that Capone N Noreaga are rhyming about getting shorted on a crack transaction, is not to be overlooked and makes for a humorous tidbit, giving the track additional character.
10. Channel 10
Capone’s appearances on The War Report may be sporadic, but of the tracks he appearances on, “Channel 10″ is one that captures the core of his essence, as the QB hard-rock turns in a steely performance and steals the show from the outset. The lines “It takes nothin’ but a hot slug to fill a villian/Crook I’m about to make a killin’ so weed to escalate the feelin'” are as menacing an opening couplet as there is on the album, but Capone builds on that lyrical first step with a string of couplets that perfectly compliment the murky Lord Finesse production. Tragedy Khadafi commandeers the hooks, rhyming “Microchips in the celly the game don’t stop/Tappin’ in your bank funds with the laptop/Wanna own a block before the ball drop,” a sly reference to the Illuminati, a trend that proved to be a decade ahead of its time. Noreaga’s performance on this number borders on pedestrian, but quotables like “Bold face gat in your face stay in your place/Yo crime-laced, catch more beef than Scarface” and his infectious energy is enough to account for any missteps on his part.
Aside from guest vocals from Smoke of R&B group Complexion, Noreaga flies solo on “Closer,” one of multiple cuts on The War Report that finds him tackling all of the rhyming duties. While the version that appeared on initial pressings of the album featured production by Clark Kent and female vocalist Nnkea, the Sam Snead remix is the more popular and recognizable of the two and is by far the most glossy and radio-friendly offering on the album. “Yo I started out in Iraq the wrong route/More b***hes to doubt, more money to count,” Noreaga raps, as he looks back on his youth as a delinquent and Queens, as well as his newfound lifestyle as an entertainer and the perks it brings. Although Smoke crooning “You say you never leave the thugs alone/You wanna be wit Nore or Capone/You say you like the way he holds his chrome/But you will never leave him lonely” is geared towards the ladies, they’re an afterthought on Noreaga’s part, but does nothing to diminish this early showcase of Nore’s star appeal.
8. Black Gangsta
Gary Burton’s “Olhos De Gato” gets flipped on “Black Gangsta,” a Buckwild produced salvo that finds the Nore, Capone, and Tragedy all rising to the occasion, making it one of the more complete offerings on The War Report. “N***as scared to pull a hit for s**t, my team will/Know a b***h sniff a pyramid of a dollar bill, she will,” Tragedy boasts on the hook, setting the stage for Noreaga to land an efficient opening verse, before Capone swoops in for another electric string of rhymes. “Never sweat D’s, I let trees blow, get bent on benches/Hopping the fences, here they come in long trenches,” he flows, painting a scene of him on the run from narcs and homicide detectives, and dropping witty zinger like “I’m a score, flip more raw than Dominique Dawes,” capping off a highlight-reel worthy performance that only makes you wonder how much better The War Report could have been with him around for the entirety of the recording process.
7. Illegal Life
The first single released from Capone N Noreaga in support of The War Report, “Illegal Life” also doubles as one of the album’s best songs, as it features the 25 to Life core of Noreaga, Capone, Tragedy Khadafi, and Havoc all coming with their A-Game. “Yo, I was in Ramada, laid up with Goldschlager/Jungle room, cowboy hat around June/Monaga, had the 45th draga/Capone-N-Noreaga, the saga, sega, mega,” Noreaga raps, sprinkling one-liners like “Run through, hard-boil you like John Woo” for good measure, before Capone catches wreck of his own. Co-produced by Havoc and Tragedy Khadafi, “Illegal Life” wouldn’t have hurt having a verse by Prodigy being that it essentially comes off as CNN channeling the spirit of the Mobb, but nitpicking aside, the song is another winner on one of the definitive albums of its era.
6. Live On Live Long
Taking a page out of fellow Queens native Nas, Noreaga pens an open letter to an incarcerated friend on The War Report track “Live One Live Long,” however, in this case, the friend happens to be Capone, Noreaga’s partner in rhyme. Recorded following Capone’s parole violation in 1996, “Live On Live Long finds Noreaga, who was forced to finish their debut album without his group-mate, getting candid on what is one of the more sobering additions to the album. “Yo Pone I know you left and goin up creek soon/You know my address God write me letters keep me in tune/I still remember when we first met/Yo it was up north I had the Iraq flag your comrade,” the Lefrak native reminisces, as he sends out a kite to those behind the wall on this G-Money produced classic.
5. Iraq (See the World)
“It’s laundry mat track, keep the loot in Iraq/Iraq, see the world, the world see Iraq,” Noreaga shouts on The War Report posse cut “Iraq (See the World),” which features appearances from CNN affiliates Castro, Musaliny (From Musaliny-N-Maze), Mendosa & Troy Outlaw, all of whom attack the EZ Elpee produced backdrop with vigor. Castro comes out strong, rhyming “It’s cream on my land, original man, cross water/My team break border and court order,” with his cohorts following up with verses of their own, before Noreaga closes things out with a finale verse of his own. “Since 93, locked up, I did three/Got 85 percent of y’all worshipin me,” the rapper spouts, taking note of his growing buzz and popularity on one of the stronger compositions on The War Report.
4. Halfway Thugs
As soon as the haunting voice sample comes in, you already know that “Halfway Thugs” is gonna be a sonic experience of the highest order, and Noreaga backs up that notion with a composition that ranks with the best that The War Report has to offer. Produced by Charlemagne, “Halfway Thugs” captures Nore at his most menacing, sneering he’s a halfway – thug that he portray/If you got locked that ass’d probably come home gay” over a grim bassline and solemn keys as he sends veiled shots in the direction of Prodigy. Assessing him as a fraudulent rapper and questioning his street resume, Noreaga doesn’t attribute his words to a specific target, however, regardless of the nature of its intent, “Halfway Thugs” is essential QB music and near the top of CNN’s catalog of street bangers.
3. L.A. L.A. (Kuwait Mix)
At the height of the war of words between the East and West Coast factions in hip-hop, among the more vocal acts out of New York to clap back were Mobb Deep and Capone N Noreaga, who made their sentiments known with “L.A. L.A. (Kuwait Mix).” A response to Dogg Pound’s “New York, New York” single, which was released with an accompanying video depicting Snoop Dogg stomping and toppling over New York City landmarks as a perceived slight to the five boroughs, “L.A. L.A. (Kuwait Mix)” features production by Marley Marl and the five MCs finding solidarity in warfare. One of the greatest subliminal diss records of all time, “L.A. L.A. (Kuwait Mix)” helped put Capone N Noreaga on the map, as the helped wave the flag for Queens and NYC as a whole.
2. T.O.N.Y. (Top of New York)
“From Iraq to Kuwait word up, Desert Station, regulation,” Noreaga states during the calm before the storm that is “T.O.N.Y. (Top of New York),” the second single released from The War Report. Being the King of New York has always been a lofty goal, but Capone N Noreaga decided to take it all the way to the top on this seminal single for New York City rap, which has become one of their signature cuts to date. Produced by Carlos “6 July” Broady & Nashiem Myrick, the two alumni of Bad Boy’s Hitmen production squad utilize a sample of “Speak Her Name” by Walter Jackson, chopping it up to piece back together what is a masterpiece of an instrumental. “T-O-N-Y invade N.Y/Multiply” is Capone N Noreaga’s mission statement on this timeless record, which is one of the hallmarks of the duo’s debut LP, and a staple of East Coast hip-hop that has yet to be forgotten.
1. Blood Money
The War Report’s finest moment comes in the form of the album’s opening selection, the EZ Elpee-produced “Bloody Money,” a cut that features Noreaga taking the onus from start to finish, and walks away with one of the definitive records of his career. Barking “New York get the Bloody Money, dirty cash/Live n***as who smoke weed, car seat stash,” the voice of Lefrak keeps it unabashedly grimy on this outing, threatening to “put the bogey out in your face,” and downplaying his alcoholism while shamelessly copping to be a crack dealer. Capone, giving his legal issues, was unable to contribute to “Bloody Money,” making it yet another record devoid of his presence, however, the song remains the pinnacle of The War Report as an album and Capone N Noreaga as a whole, making it the best song on one of the greatest albums of all time.