When it comes to hip-hop, it’s important we pay our respect to the greats. Insert Capone, best known as one-half of legendary rap duo Capone-N-Noreaga, alongside his good friend N.O.R.E. The Queens, New York, natives are best known for their critically-acclaimed album titled The War Report released in 1997, which not only charted the Hip Hop/R&B Top 5 but also went on to become certified Gold. The project is also best known for reviving and putting East Coast rap back on the map.
Now decades later, Capone is teaming up with Daz Dillinger of Tha Dogg Pound to form a group called C-N-D (Capone-N-Dillinger). They are slated to drop their Guidelines album later this year. So far, they’ve released records titled “Startender” and “LA LA, NY NY,” with the latter speaking volumes to the so-called “rap beef” that erupted in hip-hop in the mid-90s.
Beyond the music, Capone has a huge love and passion for fashion, which comes to life in his own brand, Akasi Collection. The name stems from his actual government name, Kiam Akasi Holley.
Flaunt caught up with Capone to discuss his clothing brand and reuniting with Daz, before bringing in Lak, The Hiphop Educator, to chat about their joint EP titled Wolves. Together, Capone and Lak are SmartThug.
How are you holding up with everything?
I’m good. I’m working, I’m staying focused, staying out the way. Me and my brother, Lak, we continue to try to do what we do to bring our movement forward. Trying to stay safe, stay out the way, enjoy life the best as possible with everything going on.
You have your clothing brand Akasi Collection. Was fashion always a passion of yours?
I’ve always been into fashion. I was always known as the kid from the projects who wore the dopest clothes. I’m an only child, so it was easy for me to get what I wanted clothes-wise. As a kid, you concentrate the most on how you look. My mom made sure I looked great every time I left that house – she wanted to know “my son’s good.” My father was the numbers man in the projects, doing his thing. If my mom didn’t get it, he got it. I always stayed with clothes ahead of my time. When all the kids were wearing regular bomber jackets, I had a Dapper Dan jacket.
You had the drip!
I had the drip at 13. I had the Gucci jacket with the Gucci in the back, the snorkel joints. I was always ahead of my time with fashion, I grew into it. I grew into liking to put things together that’s not necessarily meant to be put together, like a jersey and a top hat. Come a little different. The line was a thought, but then I said, “lemme do a few t-shirts and see how people like it.” Shout out to my man Leader who designed the logo, he’s also a dope rapper. People were loving it, started from doing t-shirts then dabbled into sweatsuits. That’s my lane right there, been going ever since.
Congratulations on the release of the summer collection. What’s special about this one?
My summer collection is dope because people love the sweatsuits. I wanted to make a summer apparel so I did the short sets with the short-sleeve sweaters and zip-up hoodies. I did another colorway with pink, green, and blue, messing with those summer colors. I got the pink, black, and white sets for the ladies and the men, it’s unisex. Men can definitely look dope in it. I try to get my fit out there, but also not go too crazy with it. I like simple fresh, I don’t like a bunch of logos all over my shit. I’m trying to achieve what I’m supposed to. I’m knocking on the door of greatness right now with my line, I’m pushing forward.
I see you rocking that New York hat, you have hats too?
Yeah, I had a hat on the other day. It’s a picture on my IG of me, Lil Cease, Gutta, Tek from Smif-N-Wessun, and Flash. I had on an Akasi pink shirt with a pink hat, that’s me reppin’ the Akasi collection. I definitely do hats. Some people like the trucker look, some people like the fitted look. It depends on what your look is. We make your hat and your shirt or your hat and your suit, make sure you get that drip right so you can look good.
Bring us back to the moment you met N.O.R.E. for the first time.
Me and N.O.R.E. actually met in jail. I was in one side of the jail, he’s in another side of the jail. A C.O. named Maldonado and my man, Sherm, made it happen to where we could meet at church. My side had church and his side couldn’t go to church, but Maldonado would bring N.O.R.E. to church to see me. We started kicking it. The day we got cool, we played a basketball game. His house won a championship for his side, my house won a championship for my side. We had to play each other. When we got on the court, we’re like, “oh, shit, what up?” We’re chopping it up, he said, “you don’t play no defense on me, I won’t play no defense on you.” We both had 30 points. I said, “I’ve got to get you on my side of the jail.” Eventually, I got him pulled to my side of the jail, we’re inseparable since. He was 14, I was 16 around that time. We’re about 30 years in now.
Do you feel he cared about rapping more than you?
Nah, we both didn’t care about rapping when we met. It so happened that when The War Report dropped, when we started making music together, I caught a gun charge and had to go to jail. I was absent from the scene of hip-hop physically. Emotionally and supportively I was there for my brother because we spoke almost everyday on the phone, but I couldn’t be there. There was a void in my life when I was missing, but I came home and we got right back at it. We released a whole lot of projects, we got numerous albums in. That certain time from the powers that be, I had to sit down for a little while. We’re always making music. We’ve got the 20th anniversary of The Reunion album coming out this year in November. We’ve got a new sneaker, a new jacket, everything to go with that.
What can we expect from The War Report documentary?
The War Report documentary’s going to be dope. We’re having everybody involved with the project, whether you were rapping, producing, or helping push the project forward. We’re going to have interviews with everybody from that point in the beginning of our career till where we’re at now. The documentary’s based on The War Report, but we’re also going to give you life after The War Report. We both had promising careers that opened the doors for us to actually have a career in music.
There were records in between, but what was it like working with N.O.R.E. again on “Guidelines,” the title track from the Guidelines album with you and Daz Dillinger?
This song was special for me because us having the single, “LA, LA,” and Tha Dogg Pound having the single, “New York New York,” for us to all be on one record and it’s not for a Capone-N-Noreaga album. It’s not for a N.O.R.E solo album, it’s not for a Capone solo album, it’s for me and Daz’s album. I love that song because it’s Capone and Daz, featuring N.O.R.E. and Kurupt. That’s the biggest thing, so it was dope. He set the tone for the record and we all followed suit. We finished up the video, shout out to Shula The Don who shot the video. He had Miami looking like LA and New York. We’re working.
How was your experience on Drink Champs?
I was there from the beginning. I love seeing Drink Champs grow, my brother came from being a street dude, to a rapper, to the actual media. Before when we go places and we want to get in, we had to say, “it’s Capone-N-Noreaga.” Now you can go in as Drink Champs, as media, and get media badges. It’s crazy seeing that. I love Drink Champs, shout out to all my family on Drink Champs. I love everybody. It was love seeing it go from one episode, two episodes, to 100, that quick. He did that.
How come you didn’t go full auto-tune with your career? “Rotate” was 10 years earlier than all these rappers’ careers.
Autotune? I definitely wasn’t doing that. I don’t have anything against it, I love it. But my voice in itself is iller than autotune. I got that voice where you don’t got to use autotune, you don’t got to use any filters. Your natural voice is needed, like a Ja Rule, like a Rick Ross, like a DMX. It’s certain people like Jadakiss who’ve got these voices where autotune ain’t going to do us any justice. It’s not going to sound how a lot of other artists sound, so we stick to our square. I might do a record, you never know. But overall, I’m sticking to the script.
[LAK enters the IG Live]
Lak, do you want to give a little intro on yourself?
Lak: Peace, this is Lak. Down with Smart Thug Entertainment. I’m The Hiphop Educator. I’m here to promote WOLVES, support my man, and the Akasi brand.
What does it mean to be The Hiphop Educator?
Lak: I’m a rapper first, but I love to read. I wanted to give information back to the people. I naturally wanted to educate through rhymes, we’ve been able to build on that. I put out Lesson One: Hip-Hop & Education and Lesson Two: Hip-Hop & Education, which features Capone and Talib Kweli. This WOLVES EP is in the same vein of the music I’ve been putting out. To have Capone, a legend who’s very lyrical and talented, go from the CNN War Report style to this whole educational EP, it’s phenomenal to watch.
Why’s the EP called WOLVES?
Lak: We’re in the studio having a conversation about smart animals. Wolves are very smart animals, they move in packs. We’re like “we should call this EP WOLVES,” because we’re feeling like that. We’re the predators, the beats are the prey. When you listen to the title track, Capone’s talking about modern-day wolves, I’m talking about a group of wolves called the Jagas from the 1600s. It’s giving you a frame of reference of wolves in two different eras. We started putting together, and it was dope.
Capone, I know this project means a lot to you. Why’s it so meaningful?
Capone: You know me, I’m from a different space in hip-hop. This is different because I can totally be the same ‘Pone, but exclude all the street slang that’s negative towards the streets that I’ve lived, that I’ve seen. Edit that out, put everything positive and bring the jewels that I’ve acquired on my journey of life to the table. WOLVES made me become a better artist because I learned I can make a whole record, and I don’t have to talk about slanging crack. I don’t have to talk about nobody getting shot, a lot of street things I’d normally talk about. I can be the Capone who studied Five-Percent Nation, the Quran, who read a lot of books.
That’s street smart, who pays attention to when OGs talk to me. Give that game to this album to where I’m hanging out with this smart guy right here (puts arm around Lak), he’s dropping jewels about the 1600s Jagas. I’ve learned something so when somebody asks me, “have you heard of the Imbagala Jagas?”, I can say, “yeah, my brother Lak schooled me.” It’s a learning experience for me, as well as being sometimes the regular Capone. I’m dropping jewels and street stuff, but mostly the necessary jewels I’ve acquired along the way.
Lak: To be a part of something where Capone’s saying I became a better artist, that’s dope. From a rapper’s perspective, I appreciate that. I learned a lot as well. Our song “Black Woman,” his verse is about Assata Shakur and my verse is about Queen Nzinga. I didn’t know [Assata’s] background story, that’s an example of how we’re learning. Capone walked into the studio one day, we turned our conversation into a song.
What are your fondest memories from creating the project?
Lak: We’ve had very interesting nights. Every studio session was a part of the experience, I hold all of them in high regard. They meant a lot to me. We had fun making “Black Woman,” “Footprints,” we met in “Redemption.” Every experience was dope.
Capone: You know when you first meet somebody? The first day they drink, they’re cool, they’re conservative. Boom, see you later. The next time you meet them, they drink a little bit more. It’s cool, my man’s drinking. Third time, he let loose. I looked on the couch, he’s counting sheep. He felt that comfortable around me where he could finally get drunk and say, “my brother got my back, we good. Sometimes, you get drunk around certain people and they could put plates on your head, put a bunch of cigarettes in your mouth and light them all at the same time. I could’ve been a prankster, but it’s all love. He knows that was a good night.
Anything else you guys want to let us know?
Lak: The WOLVES EP is available on all streaming platforms. It’s a good educational album.
Capone: Shout out to Merc Beatz, he produced that. We definitely kept everything in-house. We made a dope project where people could see it, feel it, envision it, understand it. It can change the narrative of the game right now, nobody’s giving what Lak and Capone is giving. You’re getting education and entertainment, two teachers, but with different perspectives of the class.