1998 was a big year for hip-hop and saw many artists release quality albums. From Big Pun to DMX, Lauryn Hill, Jay-Z and Outkast, the culture was abundant with fantastic music. However, the Queens rapper N.O.R.E. was not considered a high-calibre emcee.
Despite this, the rapper formerly known as Noreaga claims that in 1998, he was the hottest rapper out. Nowadays, NORE is more known for being the host of the Drink Champs podcast alongside DJ EFN than being a rapper. However, at the turn of the millennium, he did have a few well-performing singles.
Still, the New York native (real name Victor Santiago) is insistent that his 1998 debut self-titled studio album made him ”the hottest rapper in the world” that year. In an appearance on the I Am Athlete podcast with NFL superstars Chad Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Channing Crowder, and Jared Odrick, N.O.R.E opened up about that year.
Determined to cement his place in history, Santiago declared, “I was the hottest rapper in the world! I could’ve held out, but I wanted a million dollars,” he said, revealing he gave up his publishing rights early in his career.
Many of the hosts sensibly denied he was the best out. However, doubling down, N.O.R.E. proclaimed, “I was! In 1998? Who was it? Me, DMX, Big Pun, Cam’Ron. I was the hottest at the time I signed. And, other than DMX, I sold the most in my first week. DMX did 220,000. I did 163,000 — plus the other 18,000 that they pre-sold from me! Because they bootlegged it, and they still counted it!”
Santiago did undoubtedly have two hits, both with amazing producers behind the scenes. ‘Superthug’ was one of the earliest, if not the first, commercial hip-hop records produced by the Neptunes. Moreover, ‘Banned From TV’ produced by Swizz Beatz went platinum with guest verses from Nature, Big Pun, Cam’Ron, Jadakiss and Styles P.
Although N.O.R.E did have some hits in 1998, his debut album, in the minds of hip-hop lovers, will never stand up to projects such as Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, Jay-Z’s Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life or Outkast’s Aquemini. You can hear the Queens rapper on the the I Am Athlete podcast below.