Chemistry between artists is elusive. Sometimes it's there. Sometimes it's not. It can’t be manufactured. It can’t be bottled or packaged for mass consumption - there's no formula, only a feeling.
And when two talented artists find that feeling -- that emotional and psychological groove that transcends superficial partnership and shallow agreement and lands in the empowering trust known as brotherhood -- the end product is potent enough to quake The Industry.
Capone-N-Noreaga found that chemistry on their seminal debut album, The War Report. Thirteen years later, CNN is poised to recreate that feeling.
In an interview with HipHopDX in EMI's New York offices, 'Pone and N.O.R.E. discuss their highly anticipated sequel album The War Report II, collaborating with executive producer Raekwon The Chef, and why getting “shit faced” helps resolve their disagreements.
HipHopDX: “Who would’ve thunk it? / Militainment, Ice Water / So big the collaboration author...”
N.O.R.E.: [Laughs] I like that line. Where you get it from? I heard it somewhere. [Laughs]
Capone: It's a blessing to have two powerful clicks come together and just make a movie. There's really no conglomerates out there that's two strong entities that's moving together as one.
DX: So whats the one-two? How’d you guys get down with The Chef in the first place?
Capone: Me and [Raekwon] always been friends. So it's like, once the business came into effect, it was like -- from my point of view -- it was like “why not?” you know what I’m saying? We been cool all these years, why not try to make some bread together and help each other out in any way we can. And that's what we’re doing.
DX: That's a great thing that's happening in music right now -- in Hip Hop specifically right now -- people deciding to work together. This is a great example of that.
N.O.R.E.: Yes sir.
Capone: You know, it's good for New York right now. Because if we can do it, a lot of other people can do it, man. You never know, New York could just make one super group, you know what I’m saying? We just need to come together. And I think by IceH2O/Thugged-Out/Militainment coming together, that just shows that no matter how big of an artist you are, you can always merge with other big artists and make magic. And that's what we’re doing, making magic.
DX: Heads were already excited about the idea of Report The War. I know you guys are going in a different direction now, but just the buzz of you coming back out again and going in the direction of [The War Report] got a lot of people excited. With Rae executive producing this one, and considering how the production on OB4CL2 pointed towards the original purple tape in sound and feel, can we expect production from D.I.T.C., and 6 July, and Clark Kent on your sequel?
N.O.R.E.: I’m looking for 6 July. I’m looking for Nashiem Myrick. Other than that -- we didn’t get Clark Kent this time -- but we got Havoc. Havoc was on the original. We got a lot of people who have the sound of the original, like Alchemist. We have a [DJ Premier] track that we haven’t finished yet. [We have] Scram Jones. We went for the sound. We absolutely went for the people that were a part of the original project, you know what I’m saying? We’re so in tune with the original project that we’re dropping it June 15, 2010 and the original project was originally released June 17, 1997. That's how in tune we are with it. So we definitely tried to get those people. But even if we didn’t get everybody, we definitely got the sound. We captured that sound.
DX: That's whats up. So you guys are paying attention to the details on this...
N.O.R.E.: Yeah man, I had to Google myself. [Laughs]
DX: So I read recently that Tragedy will make an appearance on the album despite being incarcerated.
N.O.R.E: Yep. Wanna hear it?
DX: Of course.
N.O.R.E.: Nobody heard this yet. Got a treat for you, kid.
[Plays Tragedy Khadafi’s verse on upcoming track on The War Report II]
N.O.R.E.: It was important for us to get that, you know what I’m saying. To go out there and look for a verse. We actually did “Live On, Live Long Part II”, [Part I] was a song I dedicated to ‘Pone during his incarceration. And we did it over, and we dedicated it to Tragedy. So you know, we keeping it real.
DX: It's hard to imagine a sequel without having Tragedy on it somewhere, despite his situation. So the word is The War Report II is going to be the return to that gritty, rugged sound. But a lot of fans felt that way about Channel 10. With Alchemist on production, it kind of did that for them.
N.O.R.E: Yeah but you know what it is? I can’t just fully just blame [SMC/Fontana] because they sucked balls. But, you know, they did suck balls. But I’m not sure if the fans were ready. I’m not sure if the people understood. One thing that hurt about Channel 10 -- I’m in the airports all the time -- and when you have an album, and on the day of the album people are coming up to you like “yo, when you dropping some shit?” you’re like, “Aw, shit.” Like, nobody fucking knew that shit was out, you know what I’m saying? Some of the real fans do. But how about some of the real fans that just didn’t open up a computer? Or just didn’t walk in a record store? I felt like we cheated them, know what I’m saying? The good thing about The War Report II is that it's being spread through word of mouth. You ain’t seeing us on BET. You’re not seeing us on MTV. You’re seeing us on the Internet. You’re seeing us on Twitter. You’re seeing people ReTweet our things. It's just about word of mouth. And right now we’re starting off on a way better note than we ever came to on Channel 10.
DX: You guys sound energetic about it, that's a good sign already, especially with how your last album played out. That's kind of like how Hip Hop was in the beginning. Before it was on TV and on the radio, everything was word of mouth. It's effective.
N.O.R.E.: Absolutely. Absolutely.
DX: I grew up down south in South Carolina. And when you guys dropped back in 1997, it was a big deal. “T.O.N.Y.” was a big deal. “LA, LA” was big deal. Every car I hitched a ride in had that disk in it. It left a big impression where I was at that point in time. One of the stand out tracks on that album for me was “Closer” featuring Nneka.
N.O.R.E.: The Clark Kent version or the Sam Sneed one?
DX: The Clark Kent version.
N.O.R.E.: Okay. Alright.
DX: Nneka’s having a big year right now.
DX: Nneka’s having a big year. She dropped an album that's really popular right now, Concrete Jungle.
DX: She’s doing a lot things right now.
DX: My next question -- I don’t know if it works now -- but did you have an idea that she would be a successful solo artist, and will she make an appearance on Part II?
N.O.R.E.: Yo, you want me to keep it all the way real?
DX: Keep in one hundred. One hundred.
N.O.R.E.: I don’t even know who that is, man! Sorry! [Everyone laughs] For real, you’re telling me the chick we had on “Closer” is big right now?
DX: Yeah man, I’m serious. I believe she charted on Billboard, if I’m not mistaken.
N.O.R.E.: And what's her name?
N.O.R.E.: I feel so unloyal right now.
DX: You might want to get her on this album if it's not too late.
N.O.R.E.: And I had her on the first album?
DX: You had her in 1997.
N.O.R.E.: That's crazy! Damn, I didn’t know that, B! Word. I didn’t know that.
Capone: We make legends, baby! [Laughs] The thing about it, she couldn’t get a deal probably without saying what she did before. “I was on The War Report.” How would that look on her discography? On her resume.
N.O.R.E.: I like how you used disc-ography.
N.O.R.E.: How you say? Disc-cography.
N.O.R.E.: The fan inside takes control some times. I can’t even pronounce that shit. [Laughs]
Capone: I got two words, baby. Disc-cography. [Laughs]
N.O.R.E.: Yo, that's ill. So now, see you just blessed us. We let you hear the Tragedy verse and you gave me a jewel. That's crazy because I would’ve had no idea.
DX: I guess it's a crazy coincidence. I’d talk to her right now. Bring that magic back. Y'all did it right the first time.
N.O.R.E.: That's right. We got a record for her, too. Word. Right now. Word.
DX: Going in another direction, over the years its become clear that having an artist executive produce your album can be a gift and a curse. There can be growing pains along with that when you have someone else who does what you do putting out your project. You touched on this a few minutes ago. But what, if any, are the differences between working with Jay-Z’s Def Jam and Rae’s IceH2O/EMI imprint?
N.O.R.E.: Well, it's a big difference because first off, the main executive producer is gonna be the hood. When you look at the package, it might say "Lefrak and Queensbridge is the main executive producer." And then us and Rae are going to share the co-executive producer, you know what I mean? But really, it's really nothing. As long as we stay who we are, no one can direct us into a right or wrong situation. It's really about us making the music that we love. Point. Blank. Period. So who's executive producer, or who's A&R, or who's whatever, it doesn’t matter as long as we be us. So I don’t even pay attention to things like that. That's specifically why I made Capone Executive Producer [on The War Report] while he was in jail. It means a lot to certain people, and sometimes it just means nothing. In ‘Pone’s situation, it meant the world. In other situations, it just don’t mean nothing. When you see any albums that came out on Def Jam, I seriously doubt -- when you see Lyor Cohen as executive producer or you see Jay-Z as executive producer -- I’m pretty sure those guys were never in the studio. So don’t let that wrap you up, you know what I’m saying? The thing about The War Report II is that we’re going out there making The War Report. So as long as it sounds like The War Report, that's the major part that really counts.
DX: “The Argument” is one of your most potent cuts, in my opinion.
N.O.R.E.: It was real. “The Argument” was actually real. Instead of us letting it takeover, we just put it into the music. That's what we both do best. I always had an idea for that. Like what if Nas and Jay-Z did diss records in the same room, you know what I’m saying? Maybe it's my weird thinking, but I was like “Yo, let's have an argument.” We just had an argument the night before. We went to the studio and said, “Let's talk about something. Fuck it, let's talk about everything you said last night.” But last night we said a lot more that's not on the record. But you know, it's pretty much as close as you could get to keeping it 100%. And the crazy shit is, people love that shit when we perform it! Because the crowd really just loves saying that “Fuck You” part - especially overseas. They love that shit over there. I don’t think we actually performed that record in America...
Capone: -- Yes we did.
N.O.R.E.: You's a liar.
Capone: We did.
N.O.R.E.: We never performed it in America.
DX: It's not on YouTube.
N.O.R.E.: I wouldn’t call it “Part II,” but we got an answer record to that called “Brother From Another” on this record. And it's like “The Argument’s” evil twin. So look out for that. You’re getting a lot out of us -- you’re getting song titles, you’re listing to music -- you’re a good guy. [Laughs]
DX: Respect, man. It's mutual. Y'all are good guys too. [Laughs] But like you were saying a second ago about having a diss track at each other on the same song in the same room, it seems like the emcee way to go at some point, right?
N.O.R.E.: I mean, that's what it was back in the days. Back in the days, a person didn’t go to their studio and diss somebody and the other person go to their studio and diss somebody. They were dissing each other in their face. They would battle rap. So I always had the idea, if someone diss you then why don’t you do it in the same room and shit? Let you get it all out. I know how you feel. You said it in my face. Now its my turn.
DX: With being brothers and being around each other most of your life at this point, over the years, how has your personal relationship changed and how has that affected your creative process?
N.O.R.E.: I think it all is hand in hand. It all intertwines. If I’m mad at ‘Pone, unfortunately I wouldn’t be able to make a good record with him. I’m sure he has his own thing. Like, we brothers, so I don’t like him everyday. And I’m sure he don’t like me everyday. He smokes joints, I smoke Philly's. I smoke cigarettes. He don’t like cigarettes. But I knew the nigga when he used to smoke bogeys. [Laughs] You know what i’m saying? We’re brothers. The dope thing about it, we’re grown now. As before, when you’re young, you argue with your man, you don’t speak to him for two or three days. We argue or we have disagreements and then we sit down and we talk about it. The messed up part about that is every time we sit down and talk about it, we always get shit faced! We always get messed up. We always get the highest we can possibly get and the drunkest we can possibly get. We mix anything. Yo, the last time we were in Miami, we were drinking Patron. I had Patron a bottle that I had brought from Mexico or something. It wasn’t even really meant to be drunk! It was like for decoration. We were drinking the damn decorations! You know what I’m saying? Drinking on the terrace and smoking. But it was necessary because, as a man, when theres certain things you don’t agree with, you have to talk about it. You can’t let that stay in your heart because if you let anything stay in your heart, it's going to explode. So you gotta address it and you get over it as a man, and you continue.
DX: “Came up with the realest niggas with a name / Ten years later we’re still in the game.”
Capone: Yep. Thats what it is. Coming in the game in my era, it was hard. I’m from Queensbridge, first of all, man. I gotta keep a few notches on my belt. I had to go against Nas, Havoc, Nature -- there's a lot of spitters out there. But other than that, we got the mixtape coming out, Camouflage Season, on [April 20], man. That's gonna be crazy.
We’re like 40 songs in on The War Report II, so you know only a few are going to be used for the album. We’re going to keep it moving on the mixtape circuit and put out as much quality music as we can because it's been a minute.
DX: You guys are in an elite club. You guys were impactful artists at arguably the commercial height of this music. You’ve seen legends come and go and cemented your legacy side by side them. So after 13-plus years in the game, what still surprises you about Hip Hop?
Capone: The only thing that really surprises me about Hip Hop is that it gets scrutinized so much -- saying that its the cause of other things in life. It's not all like that, man. Just because we made The War Report, don’t mean we were in Iraq or we were in Desert Storm. Other than that, I love Hip Hop. I’m a fan of Hip Hop. I’d die for Hip Hop. I live right now for Hip Hop. So you know, there really isn’t nothing else that surprises me. It's a game, man. You just gotta learn to play it the best way you can.
DX: In a 2008 interview with DX, I know N.O.R.E. stepped out for a moment, but he mentioned that he works better with his back against the wall. As you guys approach the release of The War Report II, do you feel pressure at this point? Or is it back to basics for you guys?
Capone: It's a little pressure because at this point, it's like all or nothing. You can’t go back in on a classic and it don’t work because then everything else looks like its not gonna work. We can’t say we’re coming out with The War Report II and it don’t work. It's like, where do you go from there? So it's definitely a lot of pressure. But hey, I like working with pressure, man. It's no problem.