Introducing ‘Notes from Mr. Sandman‘ – a column slapping a spotlight on lyricists overlooked, under appreciated, or just plain criminally slept on. Or like a man named Nas once said, “I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death.” Enter Mr. Sandman with what y’all missed while chasing the REM dragon; Photo: N/A

Capone-N-Noreaga is a hip-hop duo from Queens who captured the rawness of New York’s underground rap scene. They played the role of Anthony Mason and Charles Oakley, enforcers who kept lightweights out of the paint as a way to preserve the integrity of the game. Their voice provided contrast and added a level of depth to rap that wasn’t as widely celebrated as it should have been; self-taught poets who honored the code of the streets.

Capone-N-Noreaga’s debut album The War Report lived up to its namesake. It was all business from the jump, and they wove together the type of grimy street tales that rappers would emulate for years. The rugged nature of the album helped but hardcore rap on the map, and would establish them as pioneers in their own right.

Capone Bone” showed how they were able to maintain their distinct voice regardless of what it was they were rapping about. Marley Marl laid out a killer beat, utilizing a sample of Roy Ayers and Wayne Henderson’s “Step Into Our Life.” It was a perfect storm that had CNN looking to court the ladies, all while maintaining their bold and unrepentant style: [LISTEN]

Capone-N-Noreaga helped pen an important chapter in hip-hop, one that would be mimicked hundreds of times over. There was an exclusiveness to their raps that captured the imagination of fans; there was no room for contrived personas and they helped introduce authenticity as a prerequisite. It was an all organic approach that has carried them for decades. Posse cuts made up of pure hype.

Capone-N-Noreaga’s sophomore album The Reunion didn’t necessarily live up to the expectations of their debut, but it did produce a number of singles that proved that their rough-and-tumble style was a welcome commodity. In an interview with Complex, DJ Premier talked about working with CNN on the standout cut “Invincible.” He explained how they were exactly what you heard on wax, no separation between what they were rapping about and how they were living. Capone went off, explaining how he’s always ready for war: [LISTEN]

The pace that CNN worked at wasn’t sustainable. When you go as hard they do, the tendency is to burn out. It would take 9 years for them to reunite again as they needed time to regroup. Mainstream rap was reintroducing the party back into the equation, and there was little room for hardcore rappers like CNN who thrived in situations that involved conflict and strife.

Fast forward to 2015 and CNN made a strong comeback with Lessons. At that point hip-hop was turning its attention towards more pertinent social issues, and thanks to artists like Kendrick Lamar it was no longer taboo to use a mainstream platform to analyze politics. Lessons stayed below the radar, but that’s exactly where CNN works best–in the trenches. In this vein they were able to not only reinvigorate their sound but touch upon their growth as lyricists.

7 Continents” is CNN’s career come full circle. They carved out a niche with a jackhammer and served as ambassadors for the streets. It was a long journey, but one that allowed other groups to follow suit. Still powerful and as influential as ever: [LISTEN]