known for keeping a biography of Manuel Noriega with him at all times, the
then 16-year old Victor "N.O.R.E." Santiago was christened after the Panamanian
General he emulated while serving time for attempted murder.
But N.O.R.E. was destined for more than a life behind bars. He took up penning raps while in jail, trading verses with future partner Capone in bible class. After his release from prison the Lefrak, Queens native found himself in the midst of an over-dramatized east coast, west coast feud, fueled by his verse on "LA, LA," the response record to Tha Dogg Pound's dis record "New York, New York." Alongside affiliates Capone and Mobb Deep, N.O.R.E. captured the attention of a reeling hip-hop underground that championed the rapper the unofficial defender of NY hip-hop. Later that year the group was signed to Tommy Boy Records and subsequently released their debut and five-mic classic The War Report. The group's unforgiving portrayal of the hard knock life tinged with their brand of explosive realism earned them instant credibility as the urban survivalists. Five years and three albums later (N.O.R.E, Melvin Flynt Da Hustla, The Reunion), hip hop's official "Whut - Whut" man has made his move to hip hop's official "Whut - Whut" label. As the newest member on the Def Jam Records roster, N.O.R.E. is armed with a rekindled spirit and the momentum of a smash summer single. He has definitely re-arrived, poised to regain his super-thug status with the release of his third solo effort entitled Grimey…God's Favorite this winter. "I feel relieved," explains N.O.R.E., who along with CNN partner Capone were both released from their contracts and picked up by Def Jam following this year's highly anticipated but commercially disappointing The Reunion album.
"I put my heart into that last CNN album and I was feeling like a failure after it dropped. But when I went on Hot 97 and announced that we were free agents, before I could get the words out of my mouth, my two-way was ringing. 'What do you mean? We want y'all.' Def Jam kept their ear to the street and bought us out of our contract. That's when I knew how important I was to the hip hop community." If it was a sense of affirmation that N.O.R.E. needed to kick start the second leg of his career, then that's just what he got. With the support of hip-hop's most successful label, N.O.R.E. confidently embarked on his new 16-track long player. Recorded in just six weeks, Grimey…is a return to the organized noise of '98s brilliant N.O.R.E. "This was the most focused I've ever been," N.O.R.E. says, having recorded the entire album in New York, the first time since his '96 CNN debut opus The War Report. "When I went to Miami I was at the strip clubs. I lost focus. This time I stayed in NY, in the depths of hell. I literally had to sleep out in the hood, leave my ATM card at home, and get grimey." N.O.R.E.'s self-initiated purge of luxury paid off. Blending the abrasively sonic creations of such familiar producers as EZ Elpee, SPK, Kyze, Swizz Beats and the Neptunes, fused with N.O.R.E.'s brand of runaway-train enthusiasm and infectious non-sequitors, Grimey…God's Favorite is every bit the jagged edge roller coast ride you've come to expect from the commanding Queens emcee.
"I love the rap game hate the business part/give a hood nigga a chance that's what they won't do/I stay up in the office and keep the toast too," raps N.O.R.E. on "Mr. CEO," proving he hasn't lost his pavement grind. But you'll also catch the other faces of N.O.R.E.. There's his unashamed honesty on songs like the reflective "Black Cloud," with lines like
"I admit Melvin Flynt my soul wasn't there/recorded in the studio my mind wasn't clear/I stepped it back up still blunts and stunts/no quotables still ain't get rhyme of the month." And it wouldn't be a classic N.O.R.E. album without the brash humor he brandishes on songs like the porno-inspired "Big D," featuring Akiynele and Heather Hunter. "Mr. Chows, no simply/but you can get Blimpies," warns N.O.R.E. to potential female followers. He even manages to change gears on songs like the heartfelt "Love Your Moms," where N.O.R.E. and cohort Capone dedicate sentiments to the strongest women in their lives. Leave it to N.O.R.E., to reinvent himself amidst an overcrowded category of self-proclaimed thugs and gangsters. His dimensions run deeper than just gun braggadocio and criminal rhetoric. His matter-of-fact viewpoint an intricate ghetto social commentary simplified to rhyme pervades each of songs, demonstrating his tenure of struggle and survival. "If Destiny Child didn't take the title "Survivor," I would've used that for the album," explains N.O.R.E.. "I've been through hell and back. Going to jail, your partner going to jail. Then coming back, making a hit and have that shit not be appreciated.
No matter who you are that shit lowers your self esteem." However, all of that seems to be in the past. Aside from his solo effort, N.O.R.E. is also working on another CNN album, a straight to video movie, which he shot himself and the long-awaited follow up to N.O.R.E tentatively titled N.O.R.E.…Again. With a new company at his back and a new outlook, N.O.R.E. is feeling pretty good about his future. "I feel like I'm a new artist," he admits happily. "I'm relaxed, there's a freedom now. I know certain things will be taken care of.
I don't wanna be CEO of my own label, I don't wanna be president, I'm good with being an artist. I just want to make hits." A free soul is a happy soul indeed.
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