The lore of Queensbridge Hip Hop has lived on for over a quarter century. The early days saw the glorious beginnings of the Juice Crew, setting off some of the culture’s greatest battles and setting up just as many memorable moments. Names like Roxanne Shanté, Big Daddy Kane, MC Shan, and Kool G Rap stand as pillars of modern Hip Hop’s foundation and bred those who bred greatness. But perhaps it was the Crew’s misfit that really set up a path for others amidst the trials and tribulations he went through.
The Intelligent Hoodlum (a.k.a. Tragedy Khadafi) oversaw all of QB’s greatest moments in the post-Juice Crew Era. He presided over his own legacy and the release of the Queenbridge classic, Intelligent Hoodlum. However, his influence beyond could be one of Hip Hop’s most under appreciated assets.
Tragedy presided over the making of what was to be one of Hip Hop’s all-time greats in Nas during his era in the early ‘90s. Tragedy was the link between the Juice Crew era and what became Illmatic; Trag gave Havoc his name and helped usher in an even newer protocol with Mobb Deep. From an outsider’s view, perhaps a more casual fan’s perspective of the Mobb-era is where the legacy of Queensbridge was completed.
But then there was Capone-N-Noreaga; Tragedy’s work had just begun–dawning the age of the 25 To Life movement and solidifying QB’s first major enterprise since the one the Intelligent Hoodlum had been a part of over a decade earlier. CNN’s debut album The War Report oozed inspiration from Queensbridge’s yesteryear and made the borough’s illustrious history come full circle.
Some 16 years after CNN’s debut release, a drop that created songs of triumph like “T.O.N.Y. (Top of New York),” tracks of traditional terror in “Parole Violators” and “Illegal Life” and an exclusive retaliation to Tha Dogg Pound’s “N.Y., N.Y.” with “L.A., L.A.,” Capone-N-Noreaga is on a current hiatus–one that may come to an end sooner rather than later.
“Well I’ve been speaking to Trag all the time.” P.A.P.I. said. “I’ve been speaking to Kiam (Capone) often, so hopefully we can get it going our self. Hopefully we can get the Capone-N-Noreaga, Tragedy, Imam Thug, Mussolini and we can get together and make a 25 To Life or a Thugged Out Entertainment album…”
HipHopDX recently talked with one half of CNN, as P.A.P.I. (formerly known as Noreaga) spoke on a possible reunion album with longtime partner Capone, his newest upcoming solo release Student Of The Game and the days in which he helped carry on one of Hip Hop’s richest legacies.
P.A.P.I. Gives The Origins Of His Name Change
HipHopDX: What’s been good with P.A.P.I. recently?
P.A.P.I.: I’m just chilling, doing the same thing that N.O.R.E. doing and N.O.R.E. doing the same thing P.A.P.I. doing, P.A.P.I. doing the same thing N.O.R.E. doing because it’s all one person but there are different persona’s and different swags alike, but it’s all the same though you know?
DX: Student Of The Game is next on the docket for you in terms of album releases. How is this one going to sound in comparison to past releases from you and/or CNN? And what should fans be listening for on it?
P.A.P.I.: Well this is a whole different entity in itself, because I’m trying to do the new era-sounding of music. I’m trying to do the old school-sounding music, like the ‘90s wave, and I’m trying to mix them both together to try to bridge the gap between the two—so this is why this is a different project all in itself because of that.
DX: You went from N.O.R.E. to P.A.P.I. or Noreaga to N.O.R.E. to P.A.P.I. and you’ve already explained that in different entities, but why was now the time in your career to change it up to P.A.P.I.?
P.A.P.I.: Ah, you know I was in the middle of shooting the movie and P.A.P.I. has always been my nickname in my hood. But during the process of filming this movie, my name in the movie was P.A.P.I., and everyone started calling me “P.A.P.I.” I wasn’t used to people who don’t know me, whoever didn’t go to school (with me would be) calling me “P.A.P.I.” When I did get used to it, I was like, “You know what?” It did feel more natural, it felt more realistic and more natural than even N.O.R.E. did, even though I’ve been called “N.O.R.E.” for 15…16 years. It’s just that I’ve been called “P.A.P.I.” for 33, for 35—I’m 35 years old—and so I just feel like I was just returning back to the essence, and that’s what it was.
DX: You’re right, it was the original thing but you used to be Poppy Mason.
P.A.P.I.: Yep, yep, you know your shit.
DX: And then didn’t you go from that to LeFrak after that?
P.A.P.I.: Uh, nah. Well, people used to call me LeFrak, that always used to be my nickname. That was my nickname when I was in jail, because I always talked about LeFrak so much. People always called me “LeFrak,” but it wasn’t a name that stuck with me other than jail.
DX: Right, but yeah does the new P.A.P.I. name have anything to do with the original Poppy Mason name, which actually comes from Pappy Mason who was from Southside Queens?
P.A.P.I.: Yep, well…nah, because P.A.P.I. has just always been my nickname in the hood. So, when I was Poppy Mason at the time, obviously I was combining my nickname with the hood with Pappy Mason, obviously. But yeah, it has nothing to do with Poppy Mason.
DX: Ok [laughs], I was just kind of wondering about that cause they’re similar names. I was listening to The War Report the other day, the first one, and this was even before I knew that I was going to do this interview…
DX: I think a lot of people outside of Queensbridge don’t really remember how big not only that album but also the whole 25 To Life movement was and you guys along with [Tragedy Khadafi] and others were the street reporters, CNN. Last year was the 15-year anniversary of that album. What were some of the moments during that time that you maybe kept with you both musically and personally?
P.A.P.I.: A lot of people always tell me how much they love The War Report, and to tell you the truth I can’t really listen to The War Report like that so much. It brings up so much pain (because) you know at the time Capone was going to jail. We didn’t know for how long; we didn’t know when he was going to be sentenced, and we didn’t know what he was going to be sentenced for. We just knew he was going to jail, so a lot of times when I listen to The War Report, as opposed to adapting the good feelings from it, mostly bad feelings come up about it. It’s like, “Wow, there’s a lot of things that went on that led to negative things.” Now if it wasn’t for The War Report, I probably wouldn’t still be in this game, so of course there’s a lot of positivities that come with The War Report. But it’s just a lot of times that I listen to it, the negative part comes up—me thinking about Capone going to jail, me thinking about how me and Trag relationship started to get shaky, and me thinking about how I’m going to maintain now that Capone’s not here. Capone was actually the nucleus of CNN, so how do you maintain without the nucleus?
DX: I mentioned 25 To Life. I see a lot of New Yorkers kind of doing their own thing with movements whether it’s the A$AP Mob or Beastcoast with Joey Badass. Do you think message and movement in New York has evolved well and holds a place of relevancy in New York?
The New York Sound And P.A.P.I.’s Thoughts On A$AP Rocky
P.A.P.I.: You know it went somewhere different. I applaud A$AP Rocky for taking it somewhere different and taking it somewhere that we didn’t expect. He’s a Harlem dude who actually, you can hear his Houston influence off of his music. Back in the days I’d be like, “What the fuck is his problem, he don’t know where he come from?” Nowadays, I understand that. You can be influenced by anywhere. It don’t matter where you getting influenced from, as long as you’re being influenced to keep this music going. It’s not just a New York thing right now, it’s a global thing. We gotta keep Hip Hop going. So I applaud A$AP Rocky, and I applaud most of these new artists. I respect them.
DX: I also mentioned Queensbridge. On a wide scale, it doesn’t seem to spit out the same big names that it used to with only veterans to hold down the flag…
P.A.P.I.: Well, let me be clear. I’m from LeFrak City, so hopefully it’s our turn; hopefully we can be introduced to some new LeFrak City artists. I’m not from Queensbridge, but I have extra, extra, extra, extra, extra love for people from Queensbridge. Those are the people that helped me at the beginning of my career, and I still have a lot of Queensbridge people around me. So I love them, but maybe it’s time for LeFrak to come out…LeFrak City, word.
DX: Do you see anything coming from that area right now?
P.A.P.I.: Well I’ve been speaking to Trag all the time. I’ve been speaking to Kiam [Capone] often, so hopefully we can get it going our self. Hopefully we can get the Capone-N-Noreaga, Tragedy, Imam Thug, Mussolini and we can get together and make a 25 To Life or a Thugged Out Entertainment album or whatever type of album. I’m with that.
DX: So that trio is still really strong with you, Capone and Trag?
P.A.P.I.: Well I’ve been speaking to Trag, and I’ve been speaking to Capone. I haven’t spoke to Trag and Pone together in a couple of months, but that’s how we used to do it. We used to all get on the phone and just crack jokes. Because I sincerely believe that before we get into the business realm again, it would benefit us more if we’re more [like] friends.
DX: You mention being from LeFrak. I think Capone was really down for you in the beginning when they started the whole 25 to Life movement. And ironically, a lot of people didn’t originally like your style but of came around, which eventually made CNN so dope. Also I remember that Tragedy had a big role in helping you shape and capitalize on that unique style, maybe, take me back to that time…
P.A.P.I.: I just remember hanging out in Queensbridge, being in Queensbridge and seeing how the guys were just like me. But most of they rappers that were representing them were just smooth people. If you look at Prodigy, he’s a smooth guy. You look at Nas, Havoc, Capone—he’s a smooth guy. The one thing that I noticed is that I’m not a smooth guy. I’m not a guy who can wear a Kangol hat and a trench coat; I’m not that guy. I’m an enthusiastic and energetic kind of person. So instead of downing that and working against that, I worked with that. That’s how I got over it. That’s how you got [the N.O.R.E. style], because I was just trying to be different from what Queensbridge was presenting and how they were presenting themselves at the time. I was the only dude from LeFrak period, and I just wanted to represent my hood. That’s just really how the different styles developed and came about.
P.A.P.I. Shares Advice For Mobb Deep’s Reunion
DX: You mentioned Prodigy and Havoc, those two have kind of reconciled I guess, at least from a business perspective. What’s your relationship like with them and maybe that whole crew of affiliates relevant to your past?
P.A.P.I.: Me and Prodigy got together…we squashed it and we talked about it. He’s actually in my upcoming video with Large Professor that should be coming out either this week or next week. Me and Havoc got together, and Havoc blessed my album. You can be on the lookout for that. He’s on Student Of The Game, so I spoke to them both, and when I heard they were reconciling I actually called them again both separately. I gave them both advice and told them, “Now listen, if ya’ll going to both do it again, ya’ll need to make sure ya’ll friends first before ya’ll indulge into the business.” They both agreed with me, and that’s pretty much it. I really can’t reveal any more else to the conversation, because it’s private. But I told them I was proud of them, and I told them that I hope everything works out, ‘cause I do.
DX: Does that maybe give you some inspiration to get back into the studio with Capone for another album?
P.A.P.I.: I mean, I’m ready to do that. But the only problem I’m having is, I just want Capone to be ready to do it as well. I don’t want to be the only one to do it because I’m energetic. I want Capone to hit me and say, “I’m ready now, I’m going to fly to wherever I need to fly to.” And I’ll fly to wherever I need to fly to, and we can be excluded for two months and just finish our album. I’m with it.
DX: What’s coming up for you in the immediate future?
P.A.P.I.: Well right now just with me is Student Of The Game, April 16th. We rolling with that. My next single is going to be with Pharell, and it’s called “The Problem,” and that’s really it. After that we have the movie Superthug, we’re going to finish filming it in the summertime and it should actually hit the DVD either in late December or early next year.