As record sales relatively dwindle for rap artists, it’s safe to say that N.O.R.E. will endure industry changes, given that he sold millions of albums based on talent, innovation, and by appealing to a core fan base. This was done through music rather than gimmicks. In 1997, he produced a legitimate classic with partner Capone in The War Report, which defined ‘90s New York griminess. Along with the Mobb Deep and Duck Down releases of the time, it stands as an essential document of a Hip Hop era. Since then, N.O.R.E. became one of the first artists to work with the Neptunes, their production propelling his hit “Superthug”. In addition, the half Puerto Rican emcee became the first rapper to attempt reggaeton, showing and proving with the international radio and club anthem “Oye Mi Canto”. This brings us to Noreality, a start-to-finish album that celebrates these accomplishments, as well as life and friends, albeit in a raw and juvenile way.
Noreality offers a first, in that it portrays a ‘90s New York gangsta not growing up at all but moving on from the streets and living happily with hedonism. This is in contrast to Mobb Deep trying to cash in with G-Unit, the Lox staying in murder mode, or Wu-Tang promising to regain past glory. Noreality’s best foils are the last two Sean Price albums, Monkey Bars and Jesus Price Superstar. A former member of Heltah Skeltah, Price paints pictures of a grimy ‘90s rapper who, instead of living comfortably now, is down like hell on his luck. Half of the songs on Noreality are about sex, drugs and partying, as opposed to Price’s selling drugs and scrounging for money. “Sour Diesel” is like a children’s song about high grade weed, “Drink Champ” is self explanatory and humorous machismo, and “Pop a Pill” is a primer on the merits of ecstasy; juvenile and hedonistic indeed, but fun if the audience chooses to surrender.
Diverse guest stars lace the album throughout: Swizz Beats, Kanye West, Tru Life, Kurupt, and Three 6 Mafia, to name but a few. Instead of coming off, though, as attempts at increasing record sales, the invites sound more like N.O.R.E.’s friends who came by the studio to visit and smoke somethin’, and then rhyme on his record. They don’t sound casual—Jadakiss and Kurupt, in particular, bring their A-game dope—but it feels like a family affair to which the listener is invited. The disc’s most immediate track, “Cocaine Cowboys”, is about the documentary movie of the same name, and it gives the impression that you’ve just watched the movie on N.O.R.E.’s flatscreen down in Miami, and now you’re excitedly discussing the film.
On the Miami tip, it shows that N.O.R.E. lives down there now, as opposed to the rather staid confines of Lefrak City in Queens. Much of the production has a breezy and nightclub synth feel, the aptly titled “That Club Shit“ and “Pop a Pill” being noteworthy examples. It’s not a dirty south synth but rather an updated Scarface the movie soundtrack synth, geographically appropriate. Don’t get it wrong; there’s still some gangsta moments—“Green Light“ and “Throw ‘Em Under the Bus”—and a Hip Hop heart in the braggadocio and storytelling of “I’ma Get You” and “The Rap Game”. But for having seen a lot of life’s gully side, N.O.R.E.’s doing okay. As a lyricist, he stays sharp and to the point and not anachronistic, and manages to often convey the wise-cracking charisma he has in person. The title Noreality is purportedly a set up for a reality TV show pilot, which, if this disc is an indication, will be an entertaining ride with someone who gets along with everyone and has weathered hard times, Hip Hop, and music industry trends to wear the status and lifestyle he’s earned truly and well.