The year 1998 was colossal for hip-hop.
Over the span of 12 months, fans received Jay-Z’s Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life, Big Pun’s Capital Punishment, DMX’s back-to-back hit albums It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot and Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and Outkast’s Aquemini.
Still, N.O.R.E. maintains that he was “the hottest rapper” that year.
The “Superthug” MC said exactly that on the I Am Athlete podcast, hosted by former NFL pros Brandon Marshall, Chad Johnson, Channing Crowder, and Jared Odrick. “I was the hottest rapper in the world!” he said around the 12:15 minute-mark of the video above. “I could’ve held out, but I wanted a million dollars,” Noreaga said when discussing how artists want to own their masters. When Marshall questioned the rapper’s statement, N.O.R.E. didn’t waver.
“I was!” he said. “In 1998? Who was it? Me, DMX, Big Pun, Cam’ron. I was the hottest at the time I signed. And, other than DMX, I sold the most in my first week. DMX did 220[K], I did 163[K]—plus the other 18,000 that they pre-sold from me! Because they bootlegged it and they still counted it!”
Noreaga was referencing his self-titled album, which dropped in July 1998 via Penalty and Tommy Boy Records—and is now certified platinum. He found success with album cuts “Superthug,” “Banned from T.V.,” and “N.O.R.E.,” with “Superthug” making it to the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100. “Banned from T.V.” is also a fan favorite, with features from Pun, Jadakiss, Cam, Styles P, and Nature, and a song that Jada revisited during The Lox and Dipset Verzuz.
Elsewhere, N.O.R.E. spoke on the “disturbing” nature of label contracts. “Hip Hop is not meant for the artist to win,” he said. “It’s never been meant for the artist to win and the more and more you learn, the more and more you read your contracts, the more and more it’s disturbing.
“And that’s why labels like [Quality Control] is winning, because they own it and they’re trying to put their artists on the game,” Noreaga continued. “That’s what a real—like when you hear that Jay-Z gave Rihanna back her masters, that’s a real move, ‘cause that’s sayin’, ‘I don’t only want my own sh*t back, but I want something, I want other people to have it back as well.’”