Student of the Game

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After expanding his horizons with reggaeton on his 2006 album and then returning back to overly familiar territory for 2007's Noreality, 2008's Iron Liver, and 2009's S.O.R.E., 2013's Student of the Game finds N.O.R.E. searching again for his audience. Even in the album's best moments, when classic breakbeats by Pete Rock ("Vitamins") and Large Professor ("Built Pyramids") bump up against modern synthesized productions by Pharrell Williams ("The Problem [Lawwwddd]") and Jahlil Beats ("Faces of Death"), all the style-jumping makes one wonder if the Queens rapper has indeed lost his way. A wide range of guest spots and skits further convolutes things, but as unfocused as the album tends to be, there are some redeeming moments and it's hard to blame the guy for trying new things. Especially when the biggest departure on the album -- a golden era-sounding team-up with Large Professor -- is his best track in years.

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