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Sound Design

After years of record label limbo, uneven record sales, and breakups-to-makeups with his partner Capone, Lefrak lyricist Noreaga finally got his mind right.
Κείμενο Whoadie Allen

Photo by Glynnis McDaris

After years of record label limbo, uneven record sales, and breakups-to-makeups with his partner Capone, Lefrak lyricist Noreaga finally got his mind right. Not only has he joined the Roc-A-Fella team, but the CNN superthug (whose first emcee name was Papi) is fully embracing his Puerto Rican heritage with a reggaeton-tinged album. To concoct this innovative musical masterpiece, Nore designed his own studio: an oasis of Boriqua rhythms in the heart of Manhattan called the Hood Lab. The facility combines understated elegance and absolute functionality with the picturesque charm of a corner bodega. Upon entering, a large glass table marks the reception area. "Now this glass right here comes straight from Africa, Zimbabwe," brags an animated Noreaga. "It's called Corinthian glass. If we break this glass we cannot get another one. A zebra shitted this out. We can never get another one, that zebra is long gone right now." Ohhh-kaye. Move behind this imposing desk and you have the executive office, where a rapper can make power moves in full tranquility. "We even have a fax and wireless in here, we're moving on up in the world," continues Nore. Out of the office and to the right is the entertainment room, where members of the Thugged-Out Millitainment crew play video games. But the Thugged-Out CEO would rather focus on the furniture and accessories: "We have a lot of Martha Stewart products in here, we're big supporters. She's hood now. The lamps in there, Martha Stewart. See that garbage can? Martha Stewart. Everything's K-Mart." Another small, hidden room at the end of the hall faces Madison Avenue. Scented candle aroma drifts out the huge Pella widows. "This is the non smoking room. Nothing in here is Martha Stewart. Wait, I think the stool might be, but I'm not sure." Now walk back toward the reception desk and you'll have access to the other, more intimate area of the studio. The hallway's halogen lights reflect brightly on the freshly varnished hardwood floor, as a minimal kitchenette pops up on the left-hand side. "This is where we throw it down at," confirms the rapper, conjuring memories of many an arroz con pollo cookout. Further along the hall, storage closets are still in shambles. Nore is taking his time to design them just right: "We need light bulbs. This back there is a futon. ‘Futon' is hood for ‘bed-couch.'" Finally, the very end of the walkway leads to the recording and mixing room. Nore beams with pride. "This is the work area. It's all digital." As we move into the vocal booth, where instruments are strewn about, he says, "Jon Bon Jovi gave me that guitar. Nah, I'm just playing. I met Bon Jovi though, I got flicks with him. And I got pictures over here with Mariah Carey, Jay-Z, Bubba Sparxx, Kay Slay, Dame Dash. This is going to be our job for today: hanging up the pictures. We're going to get some nails." But first, the mastermind behind the Hood Lab must explain how this studio came about. VICE: What is the perfect studio design? Nore: First, you got to have two shitters working, man, because we only got one bathroom working right now. A shower is great and you also need two studio rooms. One to record and mix and one for preproduction. I really don't need green apples and clean floors and purple lipstick and shit like that. All I need is a place where you can record, mix, and even master, where you can keep all the music in-house. Females is cool but I don't need females in here to record. I don't need females to make a hit. I need some chronic, that's what got me bugging right now. I need that more than the chicks. Why did you move your studio to Manhattan? Originally, we had a studio that was called the Room Lab. The reason it was called the Room Lab is because it was in my friend's room in Queens. But the thing is, I like working with other artists, I like collaborating. So you know you got artists that come from out of town, and when they hear Queens, they think of the hood. So I moved the Room Lab to Jersey. But when out-of-town artists think of Jersey, they think it's too far. So I figured, all these artists, when they come to town, they stay in Manhattan. So I need something in the heart of fucking Manhattan. What parts of the hood did you incorporate into the design of the Hood Lab? Well, there's the smoking and the loud talking. Right now there's less talk but a little later we might have 15 people in here and they'll be playing PlayStation and arguing and yelling. I just love that because it reminds me of the corner, it reminds me of where I came from, and how all this shit became possible. If it wasn't for those attitudes and that aura I wouldn't be here, I would never be who I am. That's the way I make music, I make music in a fucked-up environment. When I started writing rhymes, originally, it was in jail. So noise was a part of my writing rhymes, understand what I'm saying? It was in a jail where all sorts of things was going on, people was getting stabbed, and it was easy for me to write. When we first got here, the place was in horrible condition, it smelled fucked up, and I felt comfortable, I recorded the whole album that way. You mean you didn't get down to the nitty-gritty and clean up? I mean, I swept, I threw out cups. And I recorded my ass off. Fuck that, that's the grittiest, grimiest shit I did. And when I was recording, it was the worst, I mean nobody would ever use an ashtray in here. Just flick it on the floor. It got embarrassing almost because we had Mariah Carey over when it was really fucked up. We had no couches, we had no chairs, no furniture. She sat on a crate, a milk crate from the fucking hood. Like you know, how gangsta is that? We got Mariah Carey sitting on a fucking milk crate. You know she's one of the most-selling female artists ever, and she's in my studio sitting on a milk crate. We got it on DVD. So to recap, what are the steps to follow in order to design a studio like yours? First, what you need is a sober mind. See I'm a high and drunk person, so I'm always high, I'm always drunk, and I'm always cool, calm and collected. So I basically can accept anything. I can pretty much dip and dab with anything. But you need somebody who's sober all the time because they would never accept what you accept being a high and drunk person. So that's the first step: You got to get that sober dude who, you know, it's just not working for him. That one sober dude out your crew, you got to embrace him. And once you embrace him he'll tell you, "Let's get the floors done." I don't know what comes first, the floors or the walls, but I know it's a package deal. Then after that, you go with the Leather Look. You don't get leathers. You get the L.L.: Leather Look, you feel me? Our motto in the Hood Lab is: nothing in this lab has to be over $100 besides the equipment. Everything else has to be under $100. So if anybody at any given time breaks anything, your ass goes back to K-Mart and you replace it the next day. Understand what I'm saying? That's another step of the Hood Lab: Nothing can be over $100. See this radio? We got two of them. Look, $20. That's a great necessity. Then you got the entertainment. You got to have the X-Box and the PlayStation, which is in the area of $100, but the reason for that is, when you're recording back there, you got people who like to hear you record. If you have nothing for them, then they will always be back there. But if you got a little something for them, like the DVD or the PlayStation or the X-Box, then they're cool. So you and the engineer can focus. WHOADIE ALLEN
Nore's album One Fan a Day is out on Roc-A-Fella records.