When CNN landed on the Hip Hop scene in June of 1997 with their debut album The War Report, the former prison mates were in a different world than the one they inhabit now. Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac had been murdered within the last nine months, with the former gunned down just three months prior. The quickest way to contact someone was still the telephone. Bill Clinton was President and accused of destroying the welfare system. Barry Bonds wasn’t even on steroids, yet.
18 years, a few more jail stints and millions of records later, CNN is now the old guard. CNN’s fifth album Lessons has the group with one foot in the streets, one foot in their past street life and the other in their future business endeavors while teetering between a throne and a rocking chair. This central tug and pull between produces revelatory lyrics on Lessons such as Songs N.O.R.E. vehemently admitting “I don’t know if I ever killed a man, cause I never stayed around to see the repercussion” on “Now.”
HipHopDX spoke with Capone on CNN’s legacy, being called old, President Obama’s federal prison visit and so much more.
Capone Talks CNN’s Legacy, Being Called Old and the story of U.M.A.R.
HipHopDX: The album is named Lessons and it deals with the past and how people should remember you. What is your idea of CNN’s legacy?
Capone: CNN’s legacy right now is definitely for our core audience. Our core audience is basically the people who grew up with us in ’97. They might’ve been shooters then, they got jobs now, you never know. But at the end of the day, the fans know we’re going to give them what they want, [and] not exactly give the radio or the newer audience what they want. Basically [just] cater to our people. Our fans. The people who stuck with us. Like the Wu [Tang Clan] fan. The Mobb [Deep] fans. We want to basically give them their feel of music.
DX: One of the parts that was interesting was the chorus of “In Continent.” In it, NORE says, “They call you OG, but they don’t mean it/they just calling you old, you gotta read in between it.” Has that happened to you?
Capone: Yeah. You look at the game right now and it’s like a lot of the new cats that’s in the game, whether it’s the rap game or the trap game, they don’t necessarily respect their elders that paved the way. It’s not that line of respect anymore. When I was coming up, I had to respect the O.G.’s. When they were called O.G.’s, we meant it. Now it’s like the younger dudes are like “get out of here, old head.” They really want to call you “old head.” They don’t respect the old shooters. It’s either you shooting right now or you hustling right now or you hot right now in the rap game. They don’t respect the used-to-be shooters. They’ll call you O.G. out of somewhat respect but in the back of their mind they’ll give it to you like you a young nigga too.
DX: So have you tried to work with some of the younger generation of rappers and been turned away?
Capone: Nah. It’s not the younger generation of artists are no respecting the older generation. It’s just that, it doesn’t pertain to them. A lot of these younger artists coming up, when me and N.O.R.E were hot they might’ve been 10 years old. They might’ve been eight years old. So, in retrospect that might’ve not been on their agenda; a Capone-N-Noreaga album, or a Mobb Deep album. Or a Nas album. Or any of that sort. That might not have been on their agenda. Now their parents, that’s what they were rocking. A lot of times, you’re swayed into the music your parents were listening to in that generation. I know when I was coming up, Hip-Hop wasn’t as big as it is now, but it was on the rise. I know my parents didn’t listen to Hip Hop. I listened to Hip Hop. But that don’t mean right now I don’t respect Big Daddy Kane. That don’t mean right now I don’t still think Brand Nubian and a lot of groups that I was influenced by still got it. They’re OUR O.G.’s. But we respect them. We respect them. We feel that they should have a lane too. The newer guys sometimes feel like we had our chance or say the music is not relevant. But in all actuality, it is relevant, because you might be listening to one thing, your parents are rocking to CNN though. If your parents are 40 years old or 35, they in that age they going to rock out to CNN.
DX: Back to the album and how you explore the idea of the old generation not being recognized how it should be. That idea was shown in the song “U.M.A.R.” with the chorus “you only get the flowers when you can’t smell them.” Explain your verse in that story because it is VERY emotionally charged.
Capone: That’s based on a true story. It’s only right that I was emotionally attached to that record, because the person we’re talking about, I felt his pain. I was in jail with him. He did something real for the team and just for me to be bitter and to run into him in jail and we be in the same house and all that…just to take care of him the best way I can, it felt good to me. I couldn’t give him the world, but I gave him the flowers while he can still smell them. I made sure he ate. I made sure he was straight. The little things I could do. On the other hand, it’s obviously about a situation where we feel that he didn’t get his flowers. He didn’t receive those blessings and we were just trying to give him the gratification while he here. Not while you’re gone or when we were not fucking with each other. For me, people don’t make records like that no more. People talk about what they got and things of that nature which is all cool, but sometimes you have to big your people up and more than just shouting their name out in the beginning or end of the record. Sometimes them SONGS make a difference in people’s lives. We were trying to make a difference in UMAR’s life and show him we got your back, bro. You did something real. Some people aren’t taking two days for their man, let alone 3 1/2 years.
Capone Explains What TV Gets Wrong About Prison & Obama’s Prison Visit
DX: Your relationship with jail is very storied. You and N.O.R.E met in jail. How do you feel jail is being portrayed on T.V.?
Capone: When Oz was out it was significant because I think people fail to realize there’s levels to jail. You got medium, minimum and maximum. I think, on TV, they try to show the maximum level of jails. They don’t necessarily show the camps and the medium jails and a lot of shit go down in them jails too. A lot of people that are incarcerated are drug dealers. A lot of them don’t even make it to the maximum. Everybody don’t catch bodies. Everybody don’t serve life. I think a lot of the shows are good when it’s relatable. You have brothers doing real shit and that might be their next stop, the maximum state pen. But, the average drug dealer is not going to see that far. He might go to a camp and live in a dorm house and you know a lot of shows don’t really show that when it comes to a jail movie or a jail show. It’s different levels. Everybody doesn’t go to jail and be in a Scared Straight program jail. Jail is not like that everyday. I’ve been in a max, I’ve been in a medium. Jails is not like motherfuckers are wilding everyday or talking loud in your face .It’s not like that. The C.O.’s don’t even allow that. Scared Straight scares them, but if they go there and sneak into the jail and see it on a regular day, they might be comfortable. They might be like “this is like a resort.”
DX: How do you feel about Obama becoming the first sitting President to visit a federal prison?
Capone: In actuality it made me feel good, but what made me feel great was him exonerating them 36 people that he just let out of jail. One of them was the football player’s mother [Demaryius Thomas]. It’s different when you visiting jail… That’s just like going back to your hood and you just showing off your new car and don’t do nothing for the community. There’s people that go back to their hood and do right by their hood. I think that was Obama’s backdoor. That was his hood for that moment. He looked and seen that there’s a lot of people in jail excessively charged and things of that manner and he turned around and made a move. He made a big move. [ ] people. That don’t sound like a big number, but if ONE get out that’s a big number. It rarely happens.
DX: So explain to me the recording process of Lessons. Some songs are just N.O.R.E. songs and some are together. How did you put this album together?
Capone:At the end of the day, some songs we sent each other. A lot of songs we did together. Even when we weren’t together we were Face-timing. We were making sure that we were both in the element in that moment. To get the feel. He lives in one part of the map and I live on the other part. But it’s like we’re right there when we record because we FaceTiming and do things that make the atmosphere feel like we’re right there with each other even when we’re in different places. So the album got done kind of quick but we added a lot of elements to it. Like when Tragedy came aboard, he added a lot of different elements. We just wanted to make it NOT a War Report feel.
DX: Last year, in a Breakfast Club interview, NORE said he’s still hood but he’s not the type to hang out in the hood all the time. Then he said Tragedy gives him that inspiration and energy of the hood. What does Tragedy give to Lessons?
Capone: He always brings the veteran element, of course. But he’s also that other mind. A lot of times with me and NORE, it be one track mind. With Tragedy coming to the table, it was like “nah, y’all can’t do that. Nah, nah. That’s not cool. We going to do this. We going to put feelings to this.” Sometimes we need that because we’re so far off in our own zone. It could be an intellectual element or it could be a straight hood element to the table and we be like “damn, why didn’t we think of that?” That’s why Tragedy is here.
Capone Talks Foxy Brown Writing Lil Kim Diss In Bathroom, CNN vs Junior M.A.F.I.A & Rapping At 50
DX: CNN is one of the few rap groups that have been around before YouTube. Before you could instantly call up decades of video history on a computer. Could you detail some classic recording stories that fans would not be able to find on YouTube?
Capone: You know what? One incident was when we were recording “Bang Bang” and Foxy Brown came to the studio and she was hype. She was super hype. So, I’m like “oh, she about to rip this.” So she said “I’ll be right back. I’m going to the bathroom.” I was like “Aight, bet.” So she didn’t come out the bathroom for like 40 minutes. I’m like “I hope everything Aight.” [Laughs] I’m like “what the fuck is she doing in there?” So she comes out the bathroom, “I’m ready.” I’m like “ooh shit” I thought she was using the bathroom, she was writing her rhymes to get busy. She came out and bodied it. That record sparked so much unnecessary beef. She put a flame to that record. I was amazed. I didn’t know what was going on. She just came out and bodied it. I’m sitting there looking at her like “damn, she just crushed that shit.” But you know, in retrospect, that record sparked a lot of controversy, a lot of beef that was unwarranted. The good thing about it is everybody still here. Everybody still in the game. Foxy still in the game. Kim still in the game. Junior MAFIA still in the game. I respect all of them, man, I’m just glad we all made it out that situation. But, Fox, she lit a flame to that shit. When she came out the bathroom. [Laughs]
DX: Did you know it was going to be controversial while she was recording the verse?
Capone: You know what? I didn’t think about it like that. I felt, honestly, not saying that Junior Mafia or Kim wouldn’t care, I just thought at that point in Kim’s career she would’ve been used to that. You know what i’m saying? I thought her skin was tough enough to know that was just Foxy and it didn’t have nothing to do with me and N.O.R.E’s outlook on things. There whole thing is [Foxy] mentioned B.I.G.’s name or whatever. But, in retrospect, I’m looking at it like “Yo, we didn’t say nothing about Junior Mafia. We didn’t say nothing about Kim.” Somehow, someway it went from Foxy and Lil Kim catfight on record to CNN and Junior Mafia. I don’t know how that happened. It was like, damn, we just inherited beef. It was cool, because [Foxy] was our girl. We were going to ride for her whatever way it turned out but at the end of the day, the first rapper I felt like I was amazed by was B.I.G. I ran up on B.I.G. I waited for him on HOT 97. We came downstairs. I rapped for him. I really had love for that movement.
DX: How long do you see yourself rapping?
Capone: As long as I can put words together and in a dope manner and I’m not going bored with writing or I’m not bored with the game. A lot of times I be bored with the game. That’s just me. I like to move. I like the elevate. I’m constantly doing different things. As long as I can rap. I’mma keep going in. I could be 50, 60 years old and be tearing these little cats ass up [Laughs].
DX: I was hype when you guys did “Not Stick You part 2”, sequel to War Report’s “Stick You.” What made you want to do a sequel and what’s the story behind it?
Capone: It was a funny concept, that’s why we called it “NOT Stick You, part 2”. It was not meant to be a Stick You part 2, but at the same time, we did it in a pun intended way like “this is not Stick you part two” because it’s basically like a Stick You part 2. Trag came in the studio and he was basically telling us a story that was going on and we were like ‘oh shit, yo I’ve been through a similar situation.’ Then NORE was like ‘word, Ive been through a similar situation’. So we just combined our situations into one situation and made “Not Stick You, part 2”.
DX: What’s coming up?
Capone: I want everybody to cop that album. July 24th, the album is out. I want the fans to know I’m coming with my solo after this. You know, we going to keep moving.
DX: How far are you into your solo album?
Capone: I’m halfway done right now. I’m probably going to drop the mixtape in a few weeks, because I’ve been quiet. So I’m going to shake the game up a little bit.