Filed under: Cormega Week,Features,Interviews,Killa Queens,Not Your Average,Steady Bootleggin'
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Much like his one-time partner in rhyme Tragedy, Cormega suffered a number of set-backs and betrayals early on in his career, but he’s continued to develop his technique and catalog over the years to the point that he’s now independent mainstay, thanks to a tireless work ethic and genuine respect for his loyal fan-base. Here are some of the highlights from my conversation with this QB veteran earlier this week as he prepares to release his third official solo album next month.
Robbie: Did you used to have a little MC crew back when you first started or were you always a soloist?
Cormega: Me and Tragedy were partners for a little while.
Your earliest appearance was on DJ Hot Day’s album, and later with his group PHD. Where did you know Hot Day from?
I knew him from the streets. And I knew Poet, ‘cos Poet was like a warrior amongst rappers in Queensbridge. We made the song, and the rest is history, man.
How did you deal with the passing of K.L.?
K.L. from Screwball, man…that was a good brother, man, and it hurts me to see him gone. I’m not ashamed to say I cried on stage – during a show – when he died. Poet was on stage with me – that’s his real biological cousin – and we was all hurt, we was crushed by his death, ‘cos he was a good brother.
What was the story with that song you recorded with him, Kyron and Nas called ‘On The Real’? Was that done for Marley Marl’s radio show?
I don’t even know, ‘cos I was in jail. I came home and that’s one of the first songs that Marley made me get on. Part of me going to jail…I had a deal! A lot of people don’t bring that up, because everybody tries to make it like they invented Cormega or like they put me on, but in reality Marley Marl had a deal for me. The only reason I didn’t come out was because I was in jail, and the last I known nobody can make an album in jail! So if I never went to jail I woulda came out with an album. So when I came home, naturally the first place I went was back to Marley’s house, and that’s one of the first songs that we recorded.
Which label was the deal meant to be with?
When he got a deal for Lords of the Underground, it was a double deal. It was Pendulum Records, so Marley Marl is the first person who got me a deal…technically.
You’ve worked with Large Professor a lot, you obviously have a good relationship with him.
Large Professor’s my big brother, man. I respect Large Professor maybe more than I respect anybody in the whole industry. He does not get the credit he deserves – he was one of the best A&R’s in the history of rap music that was never an A&R! And as a producer, some of the things that he’s done and some of the people that he’s worked with and some of the standards that he’s set – they’re on a supremely high level. That’s my big brother. I could go to Large Professor and get honest opinions. Like he’ll tell me, ‘Yo, Mega, nah you gotta do that verse over, man. I don’t like that. You gotta do it over’. The lyrics might be good but he’ll say, ‘It’s wack. You gotta do it over, do it better.’ That’s the first time I ever had that. Him and Lil’ Fame actually A&R’d me on a lot of these songs on my new album.
A lot of people forget about how Large Professor brought it on that Akinyele Vagina Diner album.
He did ‘Streets of New York’ for Kool G Rap, he did stuff with Rakim, he introduced stuff to Nas, to Akinyele. Yo, Large Professor has given producer’s beats, where they put their name on it when he really did it! Some pretty good beats, too! I know, ‘cos I seen him do stuff like that.
What do you look for when you’re selecting you’re beats?
I do the first thing that they taught you when you was little – you listen with your ears! A lot of rappers tend to chase prestige, so they will rather just take any beat from a producer that’s a super-producer, or any beat that a producer gives them because they wanna sell records. But I follow my heart and my ears. If the beat sounds good, I’m using it – I don’t care what your name is! It’s just like food – you could go to a restaurant that has the best name, but if the food tastes like shit – it tastes like shit! You could go to a little, small restaurant and the food might be delicious. Which restaurant you gonna go to after that? The one that tastes delicious, right? So it’s the same thing.
How important has loyalty been to you throughout your career?
Loyalty is the fabric of life. If you have loyalty, your life is even better! Loyalty can ruin friendships, loyalty can ruin families! Think of somebody that betrayed you in your family – how you would look at them – because you expect different from family, or think of somebody that’s a close friend. Now somebody that you just don’t know, if they’re disloyal you really don’t care. So loyalty is one of the most symbolic parts of a strong relationship. I’ve always been really serious about that, because a person that’s loyal is a person that you can go all out for.
Trag was saying that there was a lot of fake love in the studio during the QB’s Finest project. Do you feel there’s enough unity in the Bridge?
First of all, Tragedy did not say anything that was not true. Tragedy is 100% right. If it wasn’t for Tragedy, I probably wouldn’t have even been on Queensbridge Finest. From what I understand, Tragedy told a particular artist, ‘If Mega’s not on here, might as well take me off the song. I don’t wanna be on here’. And I also heard Lake spoke-up for me also. But as far as artists from Queensbridge, I can’t front – I got a good relationship with a lotta artists, man. Like 98 or 99% of them. There’s a song on my album that’s called ‘Define Yourself’ and it’s really a Queensbridge song. The chorus I say, ‘Time to unify the belt, time to utilize your wealth/Fate is something you decide yourself’. It’s basically saying, ‘Yo man, we getting’ older and we learnt a lot and we been through a lot. Fuck all the differences, let’s get money and do what we do!’ We’re here to rap, that’s what we’re destined to do. I have a version on my album that has a few rappers on it, but I have a remix that I’m gonna have a whole lotta rappers on it from Queensbridge. Blaq Poet just sent me his verse, and Nature did his verse already, so there’s gonna be a lot of surprises with the album and with the remix.
Yeah. I’m cool with everybody, and the people that’s not cool with me? God bless ‘em. [chuckles]
You’ve worked with a lot of people outside of New York. Has touring expanded your ear?
That comes from being a real hip-hop person, because at the end of the day, people that put theyself in a box – you usually stay in that box, and once the lid is on that box you’re not gonna be able to breathe! I don’t just deal with New York people, I deal with things that I like. Some of my favorite rappers aren’t from New York! Lauryn Hill is one of my favorite rappers – bar none. Not female rapper – rapper! She’s from New Jersey. Scarface is one of my favorite rappers – he’s from Houston. Slick Rick is one of my favorite rappers – he’s from New York by way of England! So it’s not about just New York, it’s about music. Premo is from Houston. I’ll work with someone from anywhere. If the person is dope, and I respect them, I’m working with them!
You’ve got a strong online community with the Legal Hustle forum. That must be good to be able to get direct feedback from your fans.
Yeah…sometimes I get too much feedback! But most of the time it’s a good site. Actually Chris from the site told me to do the interview with you – he loves your site. Sometimes he can be a little bit annoying, but shout-out to Chris. [laughs]
So you can get annoyed by some of the feedback? When they start nitpicking little things?
Yeah, sometimes they do that. But you gotta love it, because at the end of the day artists need to understand the most important person in your whole career is not you! It’s the fans! The only person more important to your career than the fans is God for giving you the talent – if you have talent. Not your family, but the fan, ‘cos the fan makes it possible so that you can make a living to take care of your family. People have to look at the fan as your boss, and if the boss isn’t happy you’re not gonna keep your job very long. That’s why it is good to listen to them. I really do love my fans, I can honestly say that.
That’s interesting, since most fans usually want you to keep making the same record over and over again.
There’s nothing wrong with trying something different, but you’ve got to know how to do it. Don’t just jump out the window. You can’t be down with U2 and then next week you’re dressing like Boy George.
[I burst out laughing]
That’s an extreme change. When you’ve got underground, street rappers talking about they’re ‘bringing New York back’ and then their first single have Auto-tone [sic] on it or sound like it was done to cater to the South, how are you bringing New York back? Do you mean you’re bringing New York back down South for a visit? But as far as the sound, you can experiment. I did a song about my daughter – that’s an experiment, but I didn’t do it in a way that my fans are gonna get mad, ‘cos everybody that heard the song like it. I still got Havoc on it and the beat is still nice, but the beat is different – it’s not a gangster’s beat. It’s a human-being beat. Like Kool G Rap – at his pinnacle of streetness he had a song called ‘Erase Racism’. Remember that? I wasn’t mad when I heard that song. It was different, he experimented, but it was a human song. It was a human element and it touched on things, and that’s what I try to do. There’s no auto-tone on my album at all. To those who do it, if it works for them? More power to them, but I experiment with dignity and with respect for my fans.
Speaking of G Rap, would you consider him as the greatest of all time?
That’s a good question! Because I look at Rakim as the supreme MC, but when you think about it…rap is like boxing, and Kool G Rap is like that boxer that you really don’t want your favorite boxer to box, because you really don’t know what’s gonna happen. You know your boxer could beat this guy, and you know your boxer will knock this guy out, and you’ll argue with your mates, you’ll say, ‘Oh, my boxer will beat this guy!’ But Kool G Rap is that boxer that you really, deep-down in your heart, you like, ‘He might just beat my favorite guy’. Kool G Rap is the most underrated rapper ever. He definitely does not get the credit he deserves, because he’s the blueprint for a lot of rappers – myself included. You’ve got some rappers that can rap street incredibly, but when it’s time to go lyrically crazy? They can’t do that. See, Kool G Rap will have a song like ‘Road To The Riches’ – that’s the epitome of street songs, but then he’ll have a song like ‘Men At Work’, which is the epitome of lyricism! Kool G Rap is definitely incredible. There’s not too many people that was cut from the same cloth as him.
Who else do you consider an influence on you developing your style?
Kool G Rap, Rakim, Slick Rick, T La Rock, MC Shan. Those are my biggest influences. LL Cool J! He’s an under-appreciated artist too. People don’t realize LL Cool J did it all! He made good songs, he made good albums, he sold records and he was a battle MC! He battled some pretty good MC’s also – and won. I mean, c’mon! This guy went against Kool Moe Dee back in the days…Melle Mel, a few artists. The guy that all the women like usually gets hated on the most – and that’s LL! I don’t give a fuck what rapper you name, there’s no rapper that you can name that never had a girl that didn’t like LL! Not just rappers – everybody had a girl that liked LL. People’s mothers liked LL! I see old ladies swaying when LL come out! I think LL – being so successful his whole career – that has diminished what he was really about. People tend to forget he was a ferocious battle MC. ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’, ‘Jack The Ripper’, ‘Rock The Bells’ – the original version, because remember there were two versions…[starts rhyming the lyrics] What?! That’s lyrics! But you ask the average young person, they don’t know about that LL. They just know LL that licks his lips and gets all the women, but they don’t know LL had some lyrics fo’ your ass! He’s not underrated, he’s under-appreciated, because he did a lot for rap music. A lot!
What was up with you playing ball in your Timberlands in the ‘Who Am I?’ documentary? Aren’t they kinda heavy for that shit?
Yeah, but that’s that street shit! Like in the streets sometimes when your outside you might have your boots on and maybe you wanna shoot some hoops, so you just gotta shoot some hoops in your boots. But I made sure I represented – you saw I hit that three-point shot?
Ha! Can you run through some of your favorite songs from the new album?
L.E.S. was the last producer on the album and he came with one of the best songs, so that’s one of my favorites. The Easy Mo Bee song is fight music – it’s really hype. The song about my daughter is probably gonna be one of my most successive records by regular people that are not even into me (by tim). I’mma be honest with you – the song that D.R. Period did is a little different, as far as music-wise. It sounds a little Caribbean, the beat. It’s exotic, so that’s one of the songs that I’m curious to see how the public reacts to it.
How did you manage to track down Easy Moe Bee?
Oh my god, you’re gonna love this song. This song is not recommended for white people to play when they’re just tryin’ to chill out, ‘cos white people get a little more hyper! This song makes you wanna jump and mosh-pit and do crazy shit!
That’s the effect M.O.P records have on me – start kicking-in car windows and shit.
I’m glad you said that, because Lil’ Fame is on the song with me, so you can see where I’m going.
Crazy. Anything else to add?
Nah man, thanks for having me. October 20th, man. He’s back!
Look out for Born & Raised, featuring production from DJ Premier, Large Professor, Easy Mo Bee, Havoc, Buckwild, DR Period, LES, Nottz, Fuzzy Womack, Ayatollah, Khrysis and appearances by Big Daddy Kane, Parish Smith, Grand Puba, KRS-One, Tragedy, Havoc, Lil Fame, Marley Marl, and Red Alert.
Cormega – ‘One Love’
Cormega – ‘A Beautiful Mind’
Cormega – ‘Journey’
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