“I feel like I’m a new artist.”
So says hip-hop maven N.O.R.E., whose third solo album, Grimey: God’s Favorite (Def Jam), has won back most of the crowd who had gobbled up his previous offerings as part of Capone-n-Noreaga.
Born Victor Santiago, he first picked up the “Noriega” alias while doing time on an attempted murder charge. Hooking up with Kiam “Capone” Holley while on kitchen duty at Collins Correctional Facility, the pair honed their rhymes with skill and, once they were released, were signed to Penalty Records. Capone-n-Noreaga’s first album, The War Report, was an immediate rap success, as was Noreaga’s solo debut, the gold-certified N.O.R.E.
Tommy Boy soon picked up the pair from Penalty, but both the Melvin Flynt and, with Capone, Reunion albums didn't do as well as was hoped. "I just wasn't focused," N.O.R.E. told Cdnow. “My father had just passed away. I just wasn't really feeling it. When I hear it now, I hear pain. When I hear N.O.R.E., I hear a happier man. When I hear Grimey, I hear focus."
The new album was recorded in just six weeks, symbolizing a rebirth for the artist. “This was the most focused I’ve ever been,” he says of the album, which was recorded entirely in New York — the first such time he’d taken that approach since The War Report. “When I was in Miami I went to the strip clubs. I lost focus. This time I stayed in New York, in the depths of hell. I literally had to sleep out in the hood, leave my ATM card at home, and get grimey.”
While Grimey includes some straight-ahead riffs-and-beats via “Nahmeanyaheard” and, in “Big D” — which features Akinyele and porn star Heather Hunter — a tune that can perhaps most politely be described as “ribald,” the album also has its more melodic, introspective side: witness “Love My Life,” featuring Def Jam stablemate Ja Rule, and the affecting “Love Your Moms.” Clearly this is an artist back to firing on all cylinders.
“Going to jail, your partner going to jail. . . . I’ve been through hell and back,” he says. “If Destiny’s Child didn’t take the title ‘Survivor,’ I would’ve used that for the album. Now I know certain things will be taken care of. I don’t want to be CEO of my own label, I don’t want to be president; I’m good with being an artist. I just want to make hits.”