On April 16th, N.O.R.E. will release Student Of The Game, his sixth solo album since his self-titled debut nearly 15 years ago. It’s been six years since N.O.R.E’s last album, and by the looks of the tracklist, it’s going to be a star-studded affair. “Tadow” collaborators French Montana, 2 Chainz and Pusha T aren’t the only high-profile artists on the album; Lil Wayne, Pharell and Scarface are among the others featured here. There’s also three other particularly interesting names attached to this release, interludes entitled “Kenny Smith Speaks”, “Victor Cruz Speaks” and “Scot Disick Speaks.” XXL caught up with the man now known as P.A.P.I to talk name changes, his upcoming film and the direction of Student Of The Game. – Jaeki Cho (@JaekiCho)
XXL: So what’s with the P.A.P.I thing again?
N.O.R.E: Papi has always been my name. My mom calls me Papi. My father, God bless his life, has always called me Papi. To tell you the truth, I was really spinning off of the movie. Right now we got a movie called Super Thug and in there my name is Papi.
You’ve spoke about the movie in the past. What’s it about?
I wanted to make a Belly. I wanted to make a I’m Bout It type of movie. We haven’t seenn those hood classic movies in a long time. So that’s what the direction is for it. I’m not finished with it yet, but that’s the direction.
Are you directing it?
I wrote it and I directed it. If you watched State Property 2 and my character in it, it actually picks up from there. The last thing you see of me in State Property 2, I shoot the guy and then I walk off. So I figured, why not start Super Thug from there? So it actually picks up with me walking out from shooting that guy. Obviously we gon’ make it nowadays, but that’s what it’s about and then it goes into my life.
Dope. So what can you tell us about the album?
The reason it’s called Student Of The Game, is I really wanted to do the hip-hop that I grew up on like Large Professor, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, A Tribe Called Quest. That’s the hip-hop that I enjoy and I love, but I can’t fight for that era to come back. I can’t be the dude bringing back the ’90s. It just doesn’t make sense. So you really have to embrace the new generation as well. That’s why you hear me on records like “Tadow” with French Montana and 2 Chainz because I gotta respect the new wave of music. I wanted to make a record that sounded like everything else that’s our right now and I did that on purpose. I wanna piss the new generation off and respect them at the same time. I can’t be sitting back and saying, “When I was in the 90s…” That’s what makes you old. That exact shit is what makes a person old. Let the era go. Not to say that it wasn’t a beautiful time, of course that shit is my favorite. That N.O.R.E. album is my favorite album I’ve ever made. But I can never get that feeling back so either I become the dude speaking about old stories or I make new news. N.O.R.E. wants to make new news. So that’s why it’s called Student Of The Game. I’ll have a Pete Rock joint on there next to a Jahlil Beats joint. I’m making the hip-hop that I appreciate listening to, but I’m not dissing this new generation.
Do you like contemporary mainstream hip-hop?
Some of these guys make bad music, but not all of it is bad. I think G.O.O.D. Music made a dope album. This era that’s happening now, people are complaining about it now, but years from now people are gonna come back and say this was a good era in music. But while you in that era of music people don’t appreciate it. All these people talking about how the 90s was the shit, I know, I was there. But y’all wasn’t biggin’ that shit up like y’all is doing now. You can’t drop an album today and call it a classic. I don’t care whose name you putting up. It’s a good album. Does that make it a classic? No. War Report you can put that shit in your car and let the whole thing play to this day. That N.O.R.E. album too. But back then I couldn’t call that shit a classic. Nobody could. So when I see these young brothas and they drop, and it’s not even them calling it a classic. These journalists or these guys that pick up a flip cam and now they’re a journalist.
Will there be any reggaeton N.O.R.E. on this album?
[Laughs.] Nah there’s no reggaeton at all. That was something I did after like a six months splurge. I love being Puerto Rican. I love being half black, half Puerto Rican, so I had my artistic moment. R. Kelly did a gospel album! Beyonce has a Spanish album. Guru made a jazz album. Everybody has their moment. So I had my moment and got it out of me. Pause. Now it’s just time to show people what I am doing right now, messing with the new wave, and then turning around and trying to have some hardcore straight hip-hop.
Are there any up-and-coming guys out of New York you’re checking for?
I got a crew that I fuck with. They’re down with me so I guess it’s kind of fucked up to big them up. But the Good Bell Gang, I fuck with them. Who else? Troy Ave. Action Bronson, that’s my guy. I think he has a good shot. I think the reason that gives Action Bronson a good shot is as long as he continues to not give a fuck. The minute he starts caring about his image it’s not gonna work. But the way he’s doing it now, he’s not giving a fuck and it’s perfect. He’s the fat guy with the beard. He’s kinda funny. He’s a chef, bro. The dude’s a chef. Who has that type of story in hip-hop? I got a record with Action, that’s my guy.
N.O.R.E. turns 15 years in July. You mentioned before that that’s your favorite album? What does that anniversary mean to you?
I know it’s fucked up when I say that album is my favorite. It’s somewhat disrespectful to The War Report, but here’s why I say it. The War Report we made under extreme pressure. Do you know how it feels to know the date you’re gonna go to jail? Capone knew the actual date. And we would go to court and talk to the judge or whatever and ask them, “Can we get two more months?” Pone didn’t really stay in the studio like that and I couldn’t blame him. He was going to jail. But with N.O.R.E., Pone was in jail already. I had just finished doing The Firm album. I got to travel to L.A. and meet Dr. Dre. It was really my moment to prove myself. If it tanked it was only me to blame. If it went through the roof, which it did, there was only me to blame. And I knew that. I took on the pressure. So that’s why it’s my favorite album. I had no real stress at the time. I just put all my heart into it and that’s what happened.