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The Power Behind N.O.R.E.'s "Yo, Do You Remember..."

Backseat Freestyle
The Power Behind N.O.R.E.'s "Yo, Do You Remember..."
By Jayson Rodriguez • Issue #15 • View online
Originally published April 3, 2021.

N.O.R.E. // Credit: Monogram
N.O.R.E. // Credit: Monogram
Front Seat
This is what’s driving hip-hop this week….
N.O.R.E.’s BEEN ON A GOOD RUN LATELY. Episodes featuring Pharrell last year and this year with DMX (we’re praying for you, X) have showcased the rapper-turned-podcaster’s knack for unearthing previously unknown tidbits of information and history. There’ve been some interviews in between where his shortcomings as an inquisitor come through, but when he lines up the right guests, like this past week with Cam’Ron, the LeFrak star can be as dialed in as an athlete in the zone.
Back Seat
Respect my mind or die from lead shower.
BACK IN DECEMBER, Bonsu Thompson hosted Datwon Thomas on his IG Live series, “Fan of a Friend.” Their chat was deep, both personally and professionally, as the title suggests, but among the many standout moments, there was one in particular that has stayed with me. B asked about the state of hip-hop journalism and Day replied with something along the lines of trying to differentiate between writing and some of the rapper-led podcasts. “That’s peerism,” Day said, giving a nod to the success of numerous pods while also noting its own set of skills. 
Datwon detailed in a much more pithy way what I once felt about the responsibility I had while conducting an interview versus what Sway had. When I was a reporter at MTV News, I learned a couple things about doing interviews that were unlike what I endured in past positions. The main thing was the majority of my interviews were filmed on camera and as a result I had to learn to avoid cross talk with my guests to ensure clean audio since I would be cut out of the clip that ultimately aired on TV. For my previous interviews I recorded on a cassette, that I would only hear later while transcribing, a conversational style would lead to interruptions, debate and a flow that was more normal in its exchanges. For Sway it was much different. Initially, I envied that. 
Hip hop writers are often accused of being too close to the music, to the artists, and to the scene. Hell yes, we’re close to it. We love this shit.
Sway could walk into any interview with his history as The Wake Up Show cofounder and host. It put him on a pedestal that made him a peer to most rappers, instantly relaxing the conversation and putting them at ease. He prepped like I did, but he didn’t have to worry about formulating his questions as exacting as I had to. That was the difference between my task that was more of an inquisitor as interviewer versus his as a host as interviewer. I thought: He has it made! 
But that position as peer also comes with challenges. There were expectations for “The Sway interview.” As he once joked to me, They wanted the candles and the studio set-up ala his famous Jay-Z and Nas joint interview
Charlamagne, Angie Martinez and a handful of radio broadcasters face this as well. I’d add Elliott Wilson to that list, too. Joe Budden’s success is less interview dependent and Gillie Da Kid (I’m of a certain age where I remember Da Kid instead of Da King) is scoring major points with his interviewing of top young acts. The Million Dollarz Worth of Game episode with Pooh Shiesty is a strong example. 
Hands down, though, when it comes to peerism, Noreaga is the king. 
His “Yo, do you remember…” line of questioning is undefeated. NORE has managed to weaponize his presence in the lives of many of his best guest bookings for the purpose of public conversation. The root of his success lies in his mission to move like a journalist while also feeding on his friendships. 
It’s not a new notion, but he executes it to the extreme. 
As Danyel Smith once wrote in the preface to “The Vibe History of Hip-Hop”: “Hip hop writers are often accused of being “too close” to the music, to the artists, and to the scene. Hell yes, we’re close to it. We love this shit.”
Close, though, isn’t peer. 
Take the Cam’ron episode, for example. NORE repeatedly mentioned he researched, went back and listened to records, crowdsourced questions from his nephew. But toward the end of the interview, he mentioned additional prep he did. He and Cam hung out in advance to reinforce their rapport before the taping. That’s not on the table in the usual booking negotiations. 
Jayson 🇵🇷
Just listen to how they bounce off each other speaking about Body in the Trunk. When is Nas every this happy? This is so great. https://t.co/7D1RVQzhxn
One of my favorite exchanges NORE ignites with “Yo, do you remember” is during his Nas interview in 2019. They’re talking about their record “Body In The Trunk.” Nas smiles and recalls how the pair used to hang a lot. Then Nore takes it from there. Although he handles the majority of the memory, it elicits a smile from Nas and loosens him up for later chat about Jungle. Nas is more charismatic than his public persona and it’s a fun peek at who the QB legend is behind closed doors. 
The Pharrell interview is a masterclass in peerism. As is the Cam’ron interview. Both a success as a result of Nore’s shared history, whether directly as is the case with Pharrell or simultaneously as in the case with Cam’ron. 
Throughout the conversation with Cam’ron, the Harlem rapper was candid and forthcoming about everything. He spoke about Jim Jones in a way that NORE affirmed as he has a similar history of friendship and partnership with Capone. Cam also was as revealing and even reverential about Nas and Jay-Z in ways I’ve never heard him speak about anyone. Especially his appreciation of Nas, considering Dipset’s seering lyrical assaults on God’s Son. 
This was a must listen. 
There was a time when NORE interrupted too much or started down one road and got too distracted to return. His fans were merciless on social media with their feedback. Now, however, NORE is in control. He steers a rollicking ship (with drinks!) along a cruise that’s always in control but delivers a lot of laughs and history along the way.
Trunk
Music, reads, podcasts and videos (music and more) I’m checking for.
  • Freddie Gibbs’ latest, “Big Boss Rabbit,” is endearing to me because it takes a page from Nas’ “You’re da Man” with a sample of Ernest Gold’s “In Jerusalem.” [Listen]
  • Brockhampton is 2 for 2 in my book with releases from their forthcoming album, Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine. This week it’s “Count On Me.” [Listen]
  • Pi’erre Bourne brings a breezy vibe with “4U.” It’s easy to say he should just give his beats to other folks, but I find it interesting to watch him find more and more of his voice. Not sure where it’s gonna go and there’s a probably some long tail to it. I’m in, though. [Listen]
  • 42 Dugg x Roddy Ricch? Yes. “4 Da Gang” is get ya vaccination and get back outside music. [Listen]
  • A nod to my cousin, artist Aria Bleu. She made some noise a few years ago on The Voice when Alicia Keys and Kelly Clarkson (playfully) got into it over who would be her coach. Then Shawn Mendes went gaga over her during a mentor episode. She’s the real deal on this neo-soul number, “No Chaser.” [Listen]
  • Lil Tjay is looking to level up with the release of his sophomore album, Destined 2 Win. I’m rooting for him; I like how he gets down and he can rock a stage. Related: Columbia produced a doc on Tjay and he also visited the Breakfast Club. [Listen] [Watch] [Watch]
  • The album to bump all weekend is Bankroll Freddie’s Big Bank. We might need some kind of A&R Verzuz between Quality Control and Gucci Mane’s 1017. Those teams just reload. Sheesh. [Listen]
  • Action Bronson has a new hunger: fitness. This piece by Jon Caramanica is great because Bronson is still very Bronson in the midst of his lifestyle change. I’m very happy for Ac. Plus the Queens rapper hopped off the Vice bandwagon; his show “Fuck, That’s Delicious” is now airing on his YouTube channel. [Read]
  • This LA Times profile on Karol G puts her in the proper context alongside peers J Balvin, Bad Bunny and among royalty like Ivy Queen. [Read]
  • Versuz inks a deal with Peloton. Related: Verzuz Versus Itself [Read] [Read]
  • My brother Maxwell is doing the press rounds in honor of the 25th anniversary of Urban Hang Suite. He spoke to D-Nice as a part of a special CQ and Rolling Stone nabbed some 1:1 time with him. I like RS’s framing: Max wasn’t sure he wanted to be a star, but this album left him no choice. Also Nelson George walked down memory lane in an essay about the album and how Max’s NewbYork-ness made it standout among the neo-soul set. [Watch] [Read] [Read]
  • Scooter could afford to acquire Texas as his next purchase and flip it to VC’s to speed up its succession after “merging” his company with HYBE for a reported billion dollars. I put merger in quotes because I think true mergers are increasingly rare (acquisition is more apt) and the word choice is more press posturing than actuality. [Read]
  • The Rock Hall symbolizes a certain historical recognition of music in the mainstream sphere. So it goes without saying that LL Cool J should be in (and should have been in after coming up for vote six times), yet, because of rap’s relationship to this institution we’re not confident he’ll get the call. Lyon Cohen and Jason Hirschhorn both have thoughts about why this is absurd. [Read] [Read]
  • Black Excellence: Beautiful piece on Amy Sherald’s exhibit that ran in the LA Times (Saw the KAWS exhibit in Brooklyn last weekend, hope I can catch this one in Cali in the near future). Charles King, Ryan Coogler and Shaka King cover The Hollywood Reporter. Black News Channel goes big with a new evening slate, including a Marc Lamont Hill-hosted program. [Read] [Read] [Read]
  • The Dissect pod’s next album to deep dive: Yeezus. This should be a helluva season. The host, Cole, brings a detached, audio anthropologist zeal to projects and that’s sure to be of benefit with this album and keeping Kanye’s antics at bay for the examination. I still remember the listening session for this album, behind Milk Studios. Wild. [Listen]
  • Playboi Carti premieres the video for “Sky,” which, in my opinion, is one of the better tracks on Whole Lotta Red. I wrote about the album in one of my very first Backseat Freestyles, which you can read, here. [Watch]
  • Nas will never not be fly in a video. Here, God’s Son does it again with the “EPMD” visual from the “Judas and The Black Messiah” soundtrack. Related: Turning Up The Volume on Hip-Hop Soundtracks. [Watch] [Read]
  • Shouts to B.Dott and his new show with Complex, “Brackets.” He and Russ breakdown producer-rappers in a March Madness-style matchup. I had plans to scoop B.Dott when I was gonna get on with ‘Plex before they went ‘Plex on me. They need his injection. I’m also intrigued to see how the series evolves over time. [Watch]
  • The first trailer for LeBron’s “Space Jam.” [Watch]
  • Cameron made it more Sober Champs than Drink Champs, but held nothing back. [Watch]
Backseat Freestyle is written and produced by Jayson Rodriguez for Smarty Art LLC. If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, feel free to email me: jayson@smartyartllc.com. And follow me elsewhere:
Twitter: @jaysonrodriguez
Instagram: @jaysonrodriguez
YouTube: jaysonrodriguez
YouTube: smartyartllc
Podcast: coming soon
Tips/coffee/beer via Venmo: @jaysonrodriguez
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Jayson Rodriguez

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