N.O.R.E. went to school to be a human resources manager. He never imagined he’d be the co-host of one of the biggest hip-hop podcasts in the world, let alone an accomplished rapper. But in 2016, he and DJ EFN (short for his real name, Eric Fernando Narciandi) turned what was a passion project into a legitimate platform—Drink Champs. Seven years later, they’ve fielded hundreds of guests, some more controversial than others, and thrown back way too many shots to count, but they’re thriving.
“My vision in life was to be a rap star,” N.O.R.E. tells High Times. “That was my goal. But now that we’re being honest, my first goal was to be the biggest drug dealer in the world, and I realized I wasn’t going to achieve that. Pablo Escobar did that already. Then I wanted to be the biggest rapper in the world. But then I realized rap is probably one of the most dangerous jobs in life. We interviewed Bert Kreischer yesterday, and it’s probably one of our favorite podcasts ever.
“It’s all about identifying with human beings. I really feel like I’m a therapist at this point. I really feel like I can break a person down. I can make you cry if I want to. I can make you spill the beans if I want to. I can make you talk about everything if I want to.”
And Drink Champs has accomplished that. Over the course of 363 episodes (and counting), N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN have watched DMX get emotional just months before his death, Kanye West go off the rails about the police killing of George Floyd (the episode had to be pulled after Floyd’s family threatened legal action) and Murder Inc. Records co-founder Irv Gotti make some wild claims about his romantic relationship with Ashanti. It’s all par for the course in rap journalism these days—the more outrageous, the better. But that’s not necessarily Drink Champs’s motive. As N.O.R.E. mentioned, the show is very much like a session with a therapist; feet up, inhibitions removed and more fact than fiction. Add alcohol to the equation, though, and there’s no telling where it can go. Luckily, N.O.R.E.—whose loud, gregarious personality can often trump anyone in the room—has DJ EFN to act as the anchor for the show.
“If you ask people that have known me over the years, they would actually say I be pretty wild, I’m a loud Cuban guy from Miami,” DJ EFN says. “I would drink and get tipsy and talk even louder. But when it comes to me and N.O.R.E., I don’t try to outdo somebody to prove something to the person next to me. I’ve always hated conference calls for that reason. So naturally, I’m gonna take a step back. I’m not gonna try to out character N.O.R.E. I’m used to being behind the scenes and that’s always been my role. I never really wanted to be in the forefront. I’m in the DJ role, N.O.R.E is gonna be the MC who’s in the forefront.”
It took some convincing on DJ EFN’s part to get N.O.R.E. to agree to do a podcast. In fact, N.O.R.E. was initially resistant to the idea because he thought podcasts were for “nerds.” Then veteran hip-hop producer Alchemist inadvertently changed his perspective.
“I didn’t like the name podcast,” N.O.R.E. admits. “I just thought the word ‘podcast’ was corny. I thought they were for nerds, but I didn’t realize I was a nerd, too. Alchemist did something for me. I was stuck in hip-hop purgatory, which is like being stuck between heaven and hell. You’re not exactly broke, but you’re not exactly rich, so you’re just stagnated. I was at Alchemist’s studio. He was like, ‘Do you know who you are?’ And I was like, ‘No.’”
N.O.R.E. was about to find out. That night, Alchemist ended up taking him to a Kid Cudi show in West Hollywood.
“It was nothing but nerds in there,” he says with a chuckle. “They were all nerds, these millennial kids.”
Kid Cudi asked N.O.R.E. to perform a couple of songs, so he wound up rapping two of his classic singles for the unsuspecting crowd, 1998’s “Superthug” and 2002’s “Nothin’.” Then it dawned on him—he was a nerd, too.
“I go into the crowd and there’s nothing but a whole generation of Pharrell kids,” he remembers. “They came up to me and they’re like, ‘Yo! You’re the God.’ And I’m like, ‘What?’ Pharrell birthed a whole generation of kids who are not tough. They’re sensitive people, and I have something to do with that. For that simple fact, that makes me the biggest nerd in the building, so I realized I was a nerd at that very moment and I embraced it. I went and bought the glasses and everything [laughs]. I’m a full-fledged nerd.”
With that, Drink Champs became a reality. But there were many moments where they nearly threw in the towel. At that time, they weren’t making any money. N.O.R.E had just relocated to Miami and there was “no way” his accountant was going to let him go back to New York City after the amount of money he’d just spent on his new penthouse. He had no choice but to make it work.
“We was $80,000 in the hole between us both,” N.O.R.E. says. “Six to eight months into making Drink Champs, we never made nothing. We didn’t want to take the $500 ads or the $200 ads and we didn’t want to take the $15 ads. We knew what we was worth, so we sat around and waited eight months before we actually took an ad.
“We just didn’t want the normal people to invest in us. If you’re going to invest in us, we wanted the highest quality. So we used our own money. There were at least three times we called each other like, ‘Are we sure we want to keep doing this?’ It was definitely scary at first.”
The risk paid off. In January 2023, Drink Champs signed an audio exclusive licensing deal with Warner Music Group’s podcast network, Interval Presents. Under the new agreement, Interval Presents gained the exclusive licensing rights to the audio version of the podcast on all major podcast platforms. The best part about the deal is N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN get to continue doing what they’re already doing: providing an entertaining platform for important conversations with their flurry of high profile guests, while banking on their innate chemistry to keep people coming back week after week.
“I think people see themselves in us,” DJ EFN says. “I think that’s why we inspired a lot of people to start their own podcasts. I don’t want the legacy of Drink Champs to inspire people to get drunk, but I think it’s cool we’ve inspired people to give podcasting a shot. People always tell me they feel like they’re drinking with their friends or their uncles or their crew. We’re not journalists having this real serious Q&A with a guest. It’s just crazy, off-the-cuff talking, but you’re still going to get some stuff you’ve been wanting to know about these artists’ careers and backstories about the culture.”
N.O.R.E. adds, “Giving out flowers is the most rewarding part for me. I’ve had a successful career. I have platinum and gold records. Me giving flowers to a person who has probably never had one gold record or never even toured the world always makes me a better person. It takes nothing away from me as a grown ass man who’s done phenomenal things to give somebody their flowers.”
DJ EFN knows their “livers can’t sustain this forever,” but N.O.R.E.—who’s been smoking a blunt full of moon rocks during the entire interview and admits to having a half ounce to three ounce a day weed habit—has a method to his madness.
“It’s a lot,” N.O.R.E. says of the drinking. “That’s why I only drink what my body’s used to. Usually, I get up and run two to three miles then put on a suit, sit in the sauna and sweat it all out. I drink a gallon of water a day. I do all the precautions.”
But one thing N.O.R.E. isn’t going to do is let society dictate what “living your best life” means for him. He explains, “There’s so many people who live life and don’t actually live life. And I’m not saying alcohol is the way to live life, and I’m not saying even cannabis is the way to live life, but you have to choose your version of having fun. You have to have fun. There’s so many people out here that’s living a boring, corny, stupid, miserable, dumb life because they’re living the standard life of what America says. Go live your fucking life.”
This article was originally published in the August 2023 issue of High Times Magazine.