Thirteen seems to be a lucky number for classic Queens Hip Hop duo Capone-N-Noreaga, as it was 13 years ago that the noteworthy The War Report dropped, and July 13 now marks the release of the sequel. As diehard fans of the original braced themselves for what could be a disaster, it seems that N.O.R.E. and ‘Pone were busy in the studio cooking up an album worthy of the name.
In many aspects, The War Report 2 is indeed a continuation of the original, unlike some Rap sequels (what did Jay-Z’s Blueprint 3 really have to do with the original Blueprint anyway?). Littered with references to the past throughout bars on almost every track, it’s as if the late ‘90s have returned with a vengeance. The matured pair is still street stuck, still spitting their unique slang, and most importantly they are still executing it well. Perhaps the biggest difference between part one and part two is the absence of Tragedy Khadafi, who in fact was released from a period of incarceration just prior to the LP’s release date. But with age comes maturity, and even CNN are man enough to admit the shortcomings on their most recent effort, as evidenced by their verses on “Live On Live Long Pt. 2.” “Trag got locked up / I really can’t believe it / The War Report one, he was like the heart of it / The War Report 2, you know we want you to be a part of it / Wrote letters, reached out, and lost mad contact,” Noreaga admits, as the track boldly boasts the exact same chorus as the standout track from 1997’s War Report. Producer SPK even lets the original’s beat ride out for a few seconds during the middle and end of the song.
Intelligent Hoodlum presence or not, The War Report 2 still maintains the perfect balance of features. The lyrical and production lineup will satisfy lovers of the Queensbridge trademark sound, yet at no point does it overpower the two stars of the show, despite having fellow Big Apple heavyweights such as Raekwon, Nas, and The L.O.X. showing off their skills. This is best exemplified on “The Oath” , which finds N.O.R.E. and Capone rhyming alongside Busta Rhymes and Hip Hop’s favorite Chef. Instead of a traditional chorus, each emcee receives an oath dictated to them in a language each can personally relate to (one of which is an uncredited Damian Marley), as the drums fall back to create a dramatic atmosphere. The boom bap returns to complement solid verses from all four lyrical contributors. The extremely ominous beat from Hazardis Soundz coupled with the mafioso influence of the structure and subject matter is strongly reminiscent of something that could have come straight from The Firm’s album, which fittingly was released the same year as The War Report. Addicts to the grimiest of sounds, a la “Halfway Thugs,” will revel in The Alchemist-produced banger “Pain,” which sounds like the theme song to a Horror flick and doubles as the introduction to the album. Meanwhile, the two share an exchange over a chorus revealing, “Look what happened to Haiti, it’s all crazy / Every night I go to sleep, I kiss my baby / I feel pain/every day the same story, war over territory / We just tryin’ to see the glory, you know?”
As satisfying as it is overall, The War Report 2 still falls victim to a few negatives. Unlike its predecessor, that possessed the grittiest of sounds and rawest of lyrical content from beginning to end, the sequel takes an ever-so-slightly commercial turn from time to time. “The Corner,” assisted by Avery Storm on the hook, may have benefited from a different choice of singer. Storm’s voice, that conjures up thoughts of Colin Munroe when his accent and vocal style are taken into consideration, just seem out of place within the overall context of the Capone-N-Noreaga sound. Additionally, that particular track boasts one of the least hard-hitting instrumentals on the album, as a military-style drum roll pairs with a melodic whistling to create the visual of a Western movie rather than the project buildings surrounding the Queensboro Bridge. On the warm and fuzzy front, “Brother From Another” is a bit too heavy on the platonic affection, and not “Illegal Life” enough to deserve a spot on a lineup of their former classic. The DJ Green Lantern-produced “Obituary” is annoyingly sluggish as the duo namedrops friends of theirs who have passed, taking it to a personal level that may render it tough to relate to for some listeners. Although in concept it would be the logical track with which to end the album, it seems a bad organizational move to end such a strong effort with one of the weakest links of the project.
Fortunately, and in rare fashion with many sequels, these shortcomings are not enough to be a significant detriment to the overall success of The War Report 2. Transcending subpar sequel syndrome, the follow-up LP isn’t going to be perfection in anyone’s eyes who considers the original one of their favorites, but it’s a definite step up from much of Noreaga’s solo work, or even Channel 10. Sure, the guy who tried a random Reggaeton crossover and his oft-incarcerated friend aren’t the most amazing lyricists, but were they ever? They haven’t declined in quality or even gotten noticeably better this time around, but that’s just proof that one need not spit creatively multi-syllabic hot fire every second of the day in order to create high quality Rap music. That held true for The War Report, and over a decade later, it’s shockingly refreshing to be able to say that it still holds true now.