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20 Years Later: A Ranking Of Capone-N-Noreaga's Classic Debut 'The War Report'

Listen up. 

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?

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.

9. Closer
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.

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Meet Koffee, The Rising Jamaican Star Who Is Hot Like A Thermos

Back in 1962, a 17-year-old Jamaican singer/songwriter named Robert Marley recorded a song called “One Cup of Coffee” and went on to take reggae music around the world. Fast forward 55 years to 2017, when a 17-year-old Jamaican singer/songwriter named Koffee dropped her first record, “Burning,” setting her on a path to become the most talked-about new artist in dancehall reggae right now.

Koffee got her big break when veteran singer Cocoa Tea invited her onstage at the January 2018 edition of Rebel Salute, Jamaica’s biggest roots reggae festival. “She name Koffee and me name Tea,” he quipped, calling her the “next female sensation out of Jamaica.” The artist born Mikayla Simpson doesn’t actually like coffee though—she prefers hot chocolate.

After graduating from Ardenne High, the same school dancehall star Alkaline attended, Koffee turned her focus to music. She shot a live video with new roots superstar Chronixx at Marley’s Tuff Gong Studios, then dropped her breakout single “Toast,” produced by Walshy Fire of Major Lazer fame. That video has racked up 10 million+ views and made the artist, who stands just over five feet tall, a very big name on the island. Now signed to Columbia UK, Koffee will release her debut EP Rapture next month.

“Mi only spit lyrics, don't really talk a lot,” she states on the track “Raggamuffin.” But when Koffee turned up to VIBE’s Times Square headquarters, bundled up against NYC’s February chill in a hoodie, thermals, and Nike x Off-White sneakers, she opened up about her musical journey, the power of gratitude, her surprising inspirations, and how she plans to spend her birthday.

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VIBE: I haven’t seen you since your EP listening in Kingston. Congratulations on an impressive body of work. Koffee: Thank you. I feel humble and proud at the same time. I really put a lot of thought into the EP, the way I structured it, and the content, the lyrics. It really means a lot to me, so I appreciate you saying that.

It’s amazing how much you’ve accomplished since Cocoa Tea brought you out on Rebel Salute. Yeah, and that was only a year and a month ago!

So how did the link with Cocoa happen? Actually, it happened through Walshy Fire. After my very first single “Burning,” Walshy reached out and sent me some riddims, in hopes of us working together, which we ended up doing. We were supposed to meet up at a studio in Florida and when we went there Cocoa Tea was already in the building. We were like, “Wow, Cocoa Tea!” Because Cocoa Tea is a reggae legend for us in Jamaica. Walshy actually introduced Cocoa to some of my music, and Cocoa was like, “Wha? Mi gonna bring her out on Rebel Salute next month!” This was in December, and Rebel Salute was in January.

Timing is everything. Rebel Salute made a huge difference. It opened me up to a lot of opportunities. Even today a lot of places that I go, people remember me from there. I was doing music before. I’d done a few shows here and there, but the audience at Rebel Salute is very important. It’s an epic stage to present yourself.

Were you nervous? Just before going out on the stage I was backstage pacing back and forth. I was trying to keep warm as well because it was chilly that night. But I was really nervous because it was my first time being in such a light.

Do you think being so young has helped you? Like, you may not overthink everything. I think you have a point. Because I’m young, my mind is a bit more pure, or uncorrupted. Experiences do have a way of taking away your mental space and the things you’re willing to try. Staying in “the comfort zone” is the most comfortable thing, but sometimes pushing yourself to step outside of that will help you overcome your fears. That, and just the drive and motivation. I definitely try to keep challenging myself.

Reggae has always been a male-dominated industry, but female artists are definitely on the rise. How do feel getting catapulted into that category? I feel like it’s a big responsibility, and “to whom much is given, much is expected.” So I don't look at it as, “Oh, I’ve made it.” But I acknowledge that I’m in a position where I have a responsibility now to fulfill and to pull through. It just pushes me to work harder, make more things happen, and just keep it going.

I love the line in your song “Raggamuffin” where you say, “Mi give them heart attack inna mi halter back.” Was that inspired by Althea & Donna’s “Uptown Top Rankin’” from the ‘70s? Yeah, I love that song. That’s the thing, I would say that every artist is an influence to me. Growing up, I would hear these songs being played by people next door, down the road, all around. Just in the Jamaican environment on a whole. So those songs definitely do have an influence on me, the messages from those times. Once you hear it, it’s in your head. You know it now and it really makes a difference in how you think, how you speak, and everything.

When people think of a female dancehall artist they usually think of colorful hair, long nails… But you seem to have your own swag. How would you describe your style? I would definitely say unique, but at the same time, it is natural to me and not calculated. I don't put a name to it and say, “I’m gonna be this way.” I just kind of flow and whatever you see is me doing what I feel. Like, I’m not sure what these pants are, but I bought them in Berlin. I got this hoodie in the UK—I’m not sure what brand this is either. I was just trying to keep warm. My friend Ayesha from the UK styled me with this top recently for a shoot.

There’s a line on “Burning” where you talk about “Koffee pon di street, tank top inna di heat / Jeans pants an’ Crocs / No socks pon mi feet / Knapsack mi a beat / Well pack up an’ it neat.” Was that your real-life dress code in 2017? Yeah, I remember at that time that’s how I used to roll. You know in Jamaica it’s hot, so I probably had my tank top and my jeans on, or my shorts. And I had this one pair of grey Crocs that I just wore everywhere. And I always have my knapsack. So yeah, that was my reality at that moment.

How far away does that feel, now that you have a stylist and travel the world? That’s amazing. It’s a transition that’s really beautiful and something I really appreciate.

I have a feeling you’re going to re-introduce words like “appreciate” and “give thanks” into pop culture. I hope to start a wave of gratitude. Even by writing that song “Toast,” when I say “We haffi give thanks like we really supposed to,” it reminds me to be grateful. I aspire to be humble and I pray and ask God to help me be grateful. I try to maintain it and I hope that will inspire other people to do the same.

Let’s talk about “Toast.” On the chorus, you say “We nah rise and boast.” But then again, a lot of reggae and dancehall artists are very “boasy.” That’s part of the culture. When I say “Wi nah rise and boast” it means that no matter what happens along the journey, we’re still gonna remain the same. We gonna big up we friend and hold a vibes. I’m just making it clear that we never come fe hype.

You can spit pretty fast, but I feel like some people may be missing some of the things you say. But if you listen carefully you’re talking about real things. Thank you for noticing that. When I wrote “Raggamuffin,” a lot of my musical influence came from artists like Protoje and Chronixx. Chronixx has basically been an advocate for the youths, so his message had an impact on me. When I was vibing to the beat, I wanted to cover myself, cover my country where I come from, good things and bad things, and the music, reggae itself.

Growing up, did you see inner city kids not being looked after by their own government and their own people? Most definitely. I wouldn't say that the government is responsible for the lives of everybody as citizens. But there are some general things that need the government’s attention and they don't pay the attention that they should. They'd rather focus on things that can garner income. There are roads that need to be fixed in places that tourists don't necessarily visit. And nobody cares about those roads. Minor injustices, major injustices—just things that really need to be spoken about so that people can think about it and look into it.

BDP used the term Edutainment—education and entertainment. Is that something you present in your music? Yes, it’s definitely something I aim for. I think that it’s important to keep people interested enough to want to absorb what you are saying. And then it’s equally important to present something that is worth absorbing. Something productive, something inspiring, motivating. Just mixing both so that you have their attention and you’re also delivering something that’s worth their attention.

You were still in school when you did your song “Burning.” As a new artist did you have to convince the producers to work with you? Gratefully, no I didn't have to convince them. Because I did a tribute to Usain Bolt before that. I wrote a song with my guitar titled “Legend” and posted a video of me performing it with my guitar on Instagram.

Usain came across it and reposted it, so that garnered a lot of attention. People from the music industry reached out to me, and in that group of people was Upsetta records with their Ouji Riddim. They sent it to my first manager like, “Let’s see what she can do” and so forth.

There’s this thing in Jamaica called Sixth Form. It’s like you graduate high school and there’s an extra two years that you can do as like a pre-college. I applied for it and didn’t get through. Right after that, I did the tribute to Usain Bolt and then Upsetta sent me the Ouji Riddim. I was in a state of mind where I felt disappointed. I felt the need to motivate myself, so I was like “Come with the fire the city burning!”

How does your mom feel about all of this? I started writing lyrics at 14 years old, but she didn't find out until I was 16, when she saw me perform at a competition in school. I invited her there and she was taken aback, like, “Wow! So this what you've been doing?” (Laughs) She wanted me to do academics like every parent wants. And she was little disappointed when I didn't get through to Sixth Form. But over time, as I wrote more and performed more, she began to trust my talent and just trust the process. So she started appreciating the music and now she's fully on board.

What did your mother think of “dancehall pon the street,” like you sing about in your song “Raggamuffin”? As you know I’ve been living with mommy since I was a baby up until I was 17, so being under her roof I didn't go out much. I was always in the house just chilling and stuff. I know that there’s a dance on like every corner. lf you are driving, you always hear music playing. You have the oldies dancehall, you have the new dancehall—everybody just hold a vibe. That’s basically where that line comes from.

Do you go to dances now? I’ve been going to a few parties and getting out, but I haven't been to like a dance dance. I’ve been to Dub Club, you get some really good music there. But Dub Club is like a relaxed kinda vibe.

You recently performed at Bob Marley’s 74th birthday celebration in Kingston. Do you still listen to his music? Most definitely! Bob has set such a great and amazing foundation for the music, the industry, the genre itself, the country, the youth... He’s set such a great example that you haffi really learn from it and take a lot from it so that you know where you’re coming from. You haffi understand how to execute in honor of such people.

What are some of your favorite Bob songs? Well, I performed “Who the Cap Fit” that night, so that’s one of my favorites. And I like “Is This Love” and “Natural Mystic.” That’s just a few.

I know that’s a hard question. What about a dancehall legend like Super Cat? Hmm… “Mud Up” woulda be my favorite Super Cat.

Really?! Yeah, because of the flow he has on it, not necessarily the content. See, I’m from Spanish Town. Jamaicans on a whole, we like vibes. We like lyrics that, as we would say, “it slap!” It touches you, and really hits that spot. So I listen to a lot of different things, and the lyrics that I listen to aren't always conscious. But what I derive from music is not necessarily the message. Sometimes the flow that you’re hearing, that’s the wave for the moment. It may not be the best for the youth, but that’s what people like to vibe to. So you take that vibe, put a positive message to it, and that’s the spin. So I listen very widely.

One of my favorite songs on your new EP is the “Rapture” remix. It was dope that you got together with Govana on that. When I first wrote “Rapture,” Govana had recently done a song called “Bake Bean” that took off in Jamaica. When him drop that, it’s like the flow really resonate with me. I was like, “This is dope.” So when I did “Rapture” I was listening back to it and thought I should probably try to get Govana on this track. And it turned out so sick!

That’s cool to have the credibility where other artists respond to you like that. Because I'm sure it’s not always that easy. No, it’s not always easy. Me haffi give thanks for the way people have been responding.

So no one has kissed their teeth and said, “Nah man”? (Laughs) No, not yet. (Laughs) But what I have to appreciate is just when another artist really listens and pays attention. Sometimes an artist can be good and they don't get the response or the attention that they deserve. Some people don't want to listen, so I give a lot of respect to who is willing to listen.

Well Govana has given you that “crown” in his verse, which reminds me—how did the song “Throne” come about? I remember Walshy sent me that riddim in the first batch of riddims that he sent me. The riddim for “Toast” was also in that batch, but I started with “Throne.” It was basically like a challenge for me. I was like “How am I gonna spit on this?” Because the riddim sounded so dynamic. I was like “mi haffi mash this up!” Hence the fast spit-fire kind of vibe.

What music are you currently listening to on your phone? I don’t listen to my own songs that much. I’m vibing to Mr Eazi. I’ve been going in on the Afrobeats. Burna Boy. Smino the rapper. And I’ve been going in even more on Bob Marley.

Well, it’s reggae month right now. So there’s lots of legendary birthdays—Bob Marley, Dennis Brown. That makes the month even more significant! By the way, I’m born in February also. (Laughs) February 16th.

Happy Earthstrong! Were you keeping that quiet? I just remembered. I’ll be 19!

Wow—you’re gonna be out of the teens soon. What you gonna do on your 19th birthday? Wowwwww—I dunno. I’m gonna see when I get to Jamaica which party. I’ll probably just try and go to a dance or something. That ah go be mad!

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Solitary Alignment: 5 Self-Affirming Reads For Single Ladies On Valentine’s Day

Ahh, the Feast of Saint Valentine—the Hallmark holiday that strikes us with its arrow each year, for better or for worse, depending on your bae status. While the romantic holiday is adored and celebrated by many, if you’re still reeling over, say, your ex’s refusal to commit, chances are Feb. 14 is more of a heartache for you than anything.

But as a wise woman once said, “If they liked it then they should’ve put a ring on it.” So whether V-Day has you scared of lonely or sulking over a lost love, as another wise woman once said, they “would be SUPER lucky to even set eyes on you this Valentine’s Day. That’s it. That’s the gift.” Shout out to The Slumflower.

Sure, having a bae on Valentine’s Day is cool, but so is reminding yourself why you’re just fine without one (cue Webbie’s “Independent”). In fact, single folks have better relationships overall, according to the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. You know how the old adage goes: love yourself before loving someone else.

For this Valentine’s Day, VIBE Vixen rounds up a nourishing list of books for our sisters doin’ it for themselves. Consider this your reminder of how badass you are—because you are! Oh, oh, oh. *Beyoncé voice*

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'So Far Gone': Re-Reviewing Drake's Iconic Mixtape 10 Years Later

“Draaaake?! Draaaake?! Aubrey Graham in a wheelchair... Draaaake?!”

Soulja Boy’s viral rant, while hilarious to 15 million viewers who watched The Breakfast Club interview, seems almost silly to contemplate now in a musical climate so easily dominated by the OVO frontrunner. But in 2009, at the release of Drake’s breakout mixtape, So Far Gone, Soulja’s questions of Drake’s influence and placement on the hip-hop spectrum actually mimicked the inquiries fans may have been asking at the time. Even Drizzy seemed to share those same contemplations on the project as he reflected his newfound stardom and the future that would unfold as a result.

So Far Gone, however, diminished those ounces of doubt. Ten years later, the 18-track project still comes together as one of the most cohesive mixtapes of this decade and has become the building block to one of the sturdiest foundations of a hip-hop artist to date. Revisiting So Far Gone and taking its temperature anew, we get a glimpse of how the personas of the emotional rapper came to be such inescapable and successful forces within the music industry at that time.

 

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@futuretheprince a decade ago you were Dj’ing all ages [email protected] a decade ago you were scared to share your [email protected]elkhatib a decade ago you worked at a clothing store selling someone else’s [email protected] a decade ago you were in a basement with pink insulation walls figuring out fruity [email protected] a decade ago we were handing out flyers promoting club [email protected] a decade ago you were working the makeup counter at Beverly [email protected] a decade ago your moms house was my safe place and we really ran through the 6 everyday [email protected] a decade ago you were a legend and you will remain that [email protected] a decade ago you promoted me as if you were getting a cut of my [email protected] a decade ago you were the first person to recognize potential and give me a [email protected] a decade ago you came to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and laid a verse for an unknown artist from [email protected] a decade ago you emailed me the cover art for something that would change my life [email protected] a decade ago you came to my release party at 6 Degrees and made me the biggest artist in the city off your presence [email protected] a decade ago I rapped over your beat cause you just made the best shit and even though you stay wildin on twitter these days I will never forget what you contributed to the game and my career...Portia I don’t know your IG but a decade ago you told me to rap over June 27th and bonded me and Houston Texas [email protected] a decade ago you took a chance on MySpace and introduced me to [email protected] a decade ago you took me out of Toronto and gave me the biggest blessing anybody has ever given me...I will never forget anybody involved in this journey even if you don’t fit in this caption...So Far Gone streaming everywhere for the first time ever Thursday. 🙏🏽

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With his follow-up to Comeback Season (2007), Drake interrupted the hip-hop landscape with introspective songs that played up relationships instead of violence and street life through a healthy mix of confident raps and charming vocals. The idea of “emotional rapping” was so novice that it seemed uncool or too feminine in a male-dominated genre (Lil Wayne’s No Ceilings, Nicki Minaj’s Beam Me Up Scotty, and J. Cole’s The Warm Up also created noise at the time), but Drake’s ability to reach his female audience while still resonating with the masses was irrefutable. The somber tone of “Sooner Than Later,” sung in his lower register, perfectly conveys his efforts to reach an estranged lover before she’s gone for good. “The girl or the world? / They say someone gotta lose / I thought that I can have it all, do I really got to choose,” Drake ponders on the record.

In addition to lyrical content, Drake’s audacity to sing on heavily R&B-inspired tracks is unmatched. We saw that on “Houstatlantavegas”—possibly the genesis of his infatuation with strippers (“Hey there, pretty girl/You know, exactly what you got/And I don't blame you at all/You can't resist it/Especially when the lights so bright/And the money so right/And it's comin in every single night,” he crooned)—a seductive song that listens as an open love letter to a mysterious working girl. The romanticization of this woman is reminiscent of T-Pain’s 2005 single “In Luv With a Stripper,” but it seesawed back and forth between velvety refrains and confident bars that captured the allure in a way that felt both sexy and humanizing. The girl was no longer just a stripper, but one who dreamed of making it out of her hometown.

His singing may have seemed comparable to Kanye West, who had just released his predominantly auto-tuned album 808s & Heartbreak just a year before (Drizzy actually sampled Kanye’s “Say You Will” from the same album, flipping it to be a rap track). Even so, Drake dared to pair his vocals alongside talented voices within the R&B space, proving that he could sing just as much as he could rap. “A Night Off” was an incredibly bold and ambitious move. Drake had cojones to pair his sensuous crooning with the high notes of a certified songbird like Lloyd, but somehow it worked. This was the vulnerability that would give him his “Heartbreak Drake” persona, and he won for it.

While his vulnerability would be his gateway into the industry, Drake wanted to remind fans that he was still very much a rapper and a force to be reckoned with. In comparison to “A Night Off,” Drizzy flexed his flows on “Successful,” while Trey Songz held down the chorus. The materialism that was an undeniable 2009 rap music theme stood on the forefront as the eerie harmony led into Songz’s hook, fully encapsulating the desperation of a rookie attempting to overcome struggles and bolster from nothing to everything.

A seasoned Drake would surely not equate his success to simply h*es and cars, but its message, while simple, was honest and provided insight into a naïve conversation on what fame meant to a newcomer. Drake went harder on “Uptown,” though. The rapper had no choice to flex cocky bars over the Boi-1da-produced beat in order to keep up with its A-list features, Lil Wayne and Bun B.

This reminder of Drake The Rapper was also prevalent in his sampling. He demonstrated his understanding of hip-hop’s rich history on songs like “November 18th,” where DJ Screw provided the perfect assist with a chopped and screwed sample of Kris Kross’ “Da Streets Ain’t Right” (which also borrowed from Notorious B.I.G’s 1994 single, “Warning”). Although the track held a lot of weight in its instrumentals, Drizzy forged his own story by illustrating the day Lil Wayne called him, which in turn changed the course of his fate. Likewise, a purely-rapping-no-hook Drake over Jay-Z's original “Ignorant Sh*t” on his version, “Ignant Sh*t,” is quite nice. Yes, breaking away from the usual blueprint of breaks and harmonious choruses makes it teeter on the exhausting side, but the song’s lyrical content was a time capsule of the last decade (“Rest in peace to Heath Ledger, but I’m no Joker”).

The entirety of So Far Gone set the pace for Drake’s career in the years to come, but the tape’s final track, “The Calm,” foreshadowed his position in the landscape of hip-hop the most. “Leader of the new school, it’s proven and it’s known / I’m sitting in a chair, but in the future it’s a throne,” he prophesied. The electronic and muffled beat leads in to Drake’s reflection about a sense of alienation in the industry and his personal life that surely has continued well into the 2010s. While he is now one of the most commercially sought after talents in pop culture, his artistry has often been questioned by his musical peers. But even then, like the song said, Drake has always known that things were going to work out in his favor: “Everything will be okay and it won’t even take that long.”

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