Student of the Game is the sixth studio album from N.O.R.E and a testament to his long – running career in the rap world. Those familiar with the album’s back story know that it underwent almost as many name changes as the man who made it. This inability to decide on the album’s name reflects the sporadic feel of the album’s creative direction as a whole. P.A.P.I clearly had big ideas for the project and tried to incorporate all of them, reaching in several directions to get it done. The result is a good product that ultimately lacks focus.
The things that make me and so many others fan of N.O.R.E are his standout flow and honest material. He is who he is and it reflects in his lyrics. He raps about his past, his present, and what he thinks his future will be. Student of the Game is no exception to the rule as he takes time to reflect on his journey coming up through the streets and his rise in the music industry. Songs like “Student of the Game” and “What I had to do” give a peek into this journey. The album has many gems and genuine hits. “Vitamins”, “Camouflage Unicorns” and “Built Pyramids” are examples of N.O.R.E at his most lyrical. “Faces of Death” exhibits a powerhouse of rappers pairing a dream instrumental with no hook and all bars from the rhymers. The closing song, “Dreaming”, is an excellent end to the album with a solid beat from Charli Brown Beatz and amazing lyricism from N.O.R.E, ¡Mayday! and Tech 9ne .
Also in typical N.O.R.E fashion, he has a lot of fun with the music he makes. All of the non-musical interludes are clips of him with various celebrities hamming it up and hyping the album. “Fowl N*gg*z” features P.A.P.I calling out dudes who don’t know how to act over a catchy beat and song structure. “She Tried” is a hilarious song with Lil Wayne that functions as a satire of rap love songs. These pieces lighten the mood of the album but distract from the deeper and more lyrically solid tracks.
With so many aspects of the album pulled from a range of collaborators, duds were inevitable. Student of the Game has more than a few to mention. “Tadow” is a typical trap radio hit that exhibits none of N.O.R.E’s standout style. “The Problem” is built on an unimaginative beat and uninspired hook from Pharrell who is normally a stellar feature, especially on the hook. “Thirsty” and “Only Bad Ones” are other examples of sub – par filler tracks that serve no greater purpose for the album. The featured artists are hit or miss. Large Professor, Busta Rhymes and Raekwon for example, tremendously aid N.O.R.E’s efforts while others like French Montana and Swizz Beats only add lengths to songs.
When it comes down to it, Student of the Game is N.O.R.E’s statement to the public that he has come a long way and does not plan to go anywhere anytime soon. If the album is taken for its good and forgiven for its bad, one can have an entertaining listening experience.