Capone-N-Noreaga broke into the underground hip hop scene as two thick-skinned emcees with nothing to prove. They flowed over tracks, they fed off one another, and they reported the ups and downs of their Queensbridge projects á la Nas’s Illmatic and Mobb Deep’s The Infamous.
Those were the days.
With the past in mind, CNN’s reunion on Channel 10 disappoints, the same way eating foie gras at a fancy restaurant disappoints when all you want is some pizza. There’s plenty of glitz and glam, but the substance of the tracks is flimsy, and at times completely absent. When you pay the bill, you’re left unfulfilled, and even a little angry.
The biggest failure for Channel 10 comes from its production. The majority of the tracks sound overproduced and pop-infused, to the point where it’s hard to believe that you’re listening to a couple of raw thugs from Queensbridge. The first few songs off the album feature an abundance of heavy bass-drum thumps and electronic noise, complimented by electric guitar melodies and weird splashes of what might pass as an Indian rainstick. This flashy-but-empty production infests a good chunk of the album, most notably on the tracks “Beef,” “United We Stand,” and “Talk to Me Big Time.”
The mainstream club sound is best showcased in the album’s first single, “Rotate”—a Ron Browz-produced joint complete with a vocoder-enhanced hook that urges listeners to “find a girl to rotate, cause the super-thug is back.” Busta Rhymes makes a guest appearance on “Rotate,” embarrassing both Capone and Noreaga with his flow and salvaging a track that otherwise sounds forced and stale. In Busta’s words he is “from a different fabric” and his bars outshine 90% of the rapping on Channel 10.
In terms of the general emceeing, nothing too interesting is happening on Channel 10. It almost seems like CNN think they can skate by on reputation alone. The track “Stick Up” is an attempt at storytelling that comes off trite, while tracks like “United We Stand” offer up questionable ideas, like Capone’s “United we stand divided we ball, and let our nuts hang like plaques on the wall.” In general, Noreaga’s flow is lethargic and uninspired, as if he took sleeping pills in the studio while recording. Capone flows well, but every verse deals with the same tired tough-guy posturing. There’s no wordplay, no true lyricism, and CNN just don’t kick enough knowledge for me to stay interested in their rhymes.
CNN gets another lyrical thumping from Clipse on “My Hood.” Clipse’s verses draw the listener in, proving to Capone and Noreaga that gangsters can still wow heads with rhyme skills alone:
“I talk it cause I live it, I ain’t storytellin’/ Read between the lines, n***a, I ain’t good at spellin’/ Writing’s on the wall, got the whole city buying vowels/ Turn them O’s over for my fortune Vanna White style”
That’s the type of lyrical venom that I love—the stuff that strikes quick then hits you a second later. Stuff that you just don’t see Capone-N-Noreaga do on Channel 10.
A lot of tracks off Channel 10 suffer from shallow themes, which slap you in the face via the painfully obvious hooks like “talk to me big time!” and “My life, my life, not yours.” The rapping is almost unnecessary when you get all you need to hear just by looking at track titles.
CNN show that they still have potential to create some interesting and poignant hip-hop with “The Argument,” which is the album’s smartest track lyrically. The two emcees express their brotherhood in an interesting way, trading off lines to say the things they can’t stand about each other. Although it has no jaw-dropping lyrical displays, this track contains the type of originality and honesty that should be expected from artists, and it was a welcome deviation from the empty-headedness that characterized most of the rapping on Channel 10.
Another ill track comes with “Wobble,” which features fellow Queensbridge staple Mobb Deep. The four rappers kick it together over a solid beat from Havoc, and the result is a hot track that doesn’t try too hard like a lot of the others.
The album’s standout track is probably “Grand Royal.” I had almost lost hope in the album after five tracks of, well, bullshit. I needed a savior. Enter DJ Premier. Primo’s beat on “Grand Royal” borders on devastating. The pulsating piano melody makes for a unique sound that puts your head in the dirtiest, darkest streets of New York. Not only is the sound dope, but Primo, as he is often capable of doing, forces the emcees to elevate themselves above the mediocre quality of the album’s other tracks. See Capone’s entrance:
“See, money is power/Power put the fear in a nigga heart/A high school dropout, but I’m mentally trigger-smart”
Premier’s contribution is certainly one of the best on Channel 10, but it’s still not enough to save face for ‘Pone and N.O.R.E. My advice: stick with The War Report and The Reunion. If you like those, there’s little for you to enjoy on Channel 10.
Lyrics: 6 Beats: 6 Overall Listen: 6
Lesson Learned: If you're gonna talk our ears off about being raw, at least have the beats to back it up.