It feels like only yesterday when my cousin Jordan came through with The War Report cassette after a day of hoops. We did what every teenager in the hood did: popped the tape into a yellow Sony and ran the streets. I had no clue who Capone-N-Noreaga were besides seeing their album ad in The Source. I'm pretty sure I had heard some of their earlier stuff because we bought mixtapes on the regular, but I still couldn't put two and two together. Even though "L.A., L.A." came out the year before, I had assumed that was a Mobb Deep track because they were the bigger group at the time. This album came out toward the end of my freshman year in high school, and it still goes like it dropped last week. "Bloody Money" grabs you like a neighborhood bully. I was hooked as soon as I heard the piano loop. Nore's flow bounced on the beat like a moth bouncing off lights, sloppy yet elegant.
Capone didn't rap until the fourth track ("Stick You"). It was weird at first because group albums usually didn't work this way. The War Report is essentially a compilation of the best rappers Queens had to offer. That, along with their chemistry, Nore's energy, and the dirty production truly make it a perfect rap album. The only joints that are skippable are the skits, except for the "Capone-N-Noreaga Live" interlude. We still annoy people by singing that song out loud. They also popularized the phrase "fatty bangin'" on that track. Fatty is still the best way to describe a big butt.
Noreaga was at his lyrical peak on War Report. The way he came on "Bloody Money" changed my life. I'm not even exaggerating. I wanted to be a thug after hearing that record. Then the album didn't let up until the "Capone Phone Home" interlude making Tragedy Khadafi one of my favorite rappers. He did to this album what Raekwon did to Wu-Tang Forever. Tragedy laced every track he was on ultimately making the album what it is, a classic. "T.O.N.Y. (Top of New York)" is basically his song. He burnt that shit. I throw my phone every time I hear:
"When the flesh dry up and the world decay/Reach heaven in a pearly white ACURAy/But until then, I'mma shine to the last sin/Resurrect through the birth of my son, and live again"
I always run back his verse on "Neva Die Alone." I do the sign of the cross after his line about being Moses in the middle of the Red Sea while leading his thugs to the promised land.
"Khadafi, I plant bombs where the Feds be/I'm like Moses in the middle of the Red Sea/
With infrared and a case full of hundred G"
CNN even had something for the ladies with "Capone Bone." That's definitely getting played at my wedding during dinner.
The backstory to this album shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who's listened to it. Capone and Nore met in New York's Greenhaven Prison, realized they were both from Queens and liked rapping, so they started a rap group. They utilized their mutual rap connects to create a street album in the jiggy, shiny suit era. In fact, members of Bad Boy's production team, the Hitmen, were responsible for two of the album's standout tracks: "Driver's Seat" and "T.O.N.Y. (Top of New York)." Clark Kent got in on the action too with the record's closing song, "Closer," which was replaced by the Sam Sneed remix on some CDs. I preferred the latter. The beat has a summertime knock to it, and the hook sounds so different from the rest of the album, bringing a different yet welcoming feel to an album that's as hard as Thor's hammer. During their promo run, Capone violated his parole and had to do a skid bid. Cinematic is the best way to describe the production. Queens was making hard-hitting rap songs while Brooklyn was making smooth, pop-rap records with hard tracks sprinkled in. Their rappers were at the forefront at least.
Capone was a better rapper technically, but Nore was the star of the show. His unorthodox, witty flow carried the album, turning him into one of the game's more popular rappers overnight. Capone didn't help his cause by getting locked, though. His jail phone calls are surreal. They had just got out of jail and recorded an album, and there he was behind bars again. All of these factors made The War Report special. Queens owned that relished New York street sound up until DMX and the Ruff Ryders came around to give them competition.
The War Report captured a moment in time. That's what makes an album classic. When you can hit play, not skip any records, and feel what you felt when you first heard it. I've been playing this album nonstop for the past couple weeks, and I feel like screaming from the mountain tops every time. When classic rap albums are mentioned in some circles this one is seldom mentioned. It was pivotal when it came out and deserves its props. CNN made a perfect rap album.
Angel Diaz is a staff writer for Complex Media. Follow him @ADiaz456.