Without question one of the illest on the mic, Cormega’s fast-growing legacy is impossible to front on. Despite years of dealing with industry shadiness, disloyal friends, and rampant bootleg-ging, Mega’s buzz continued to grow louder, and reached a fever pitch last year with the release of his long-awaited official debut The Realness. Hailed as a classic by fans, critics, and the streets alike, he delivered a sizzling album that topped even the highest expectations. While other Queensbridge representatives have strayed away from their roots in an attempt for more commercial acceptance, Cormega has stayed true to the game. With a new record hot off the presses, QB’s finest talks about music, beef, the internet, and his undying love for the culture of hip-hop. Read and learn.
Brolin: So tell me about the new album. What does The True Meaning bring to the table?
Cormega: Well, The True Meaning, I’m trying to make it as consistent with The Realness as possible, but what it brings to the table that The Realness lacks was, like I have a song called “Soul Food,” that’s about a relationship with a woman, and there’s 3 songs that have actual DJ scratches on them.
Who else you got on there?
Large Professor scratched on this album. He’s the only [other] artist that raps on the record.
Any plans for a tour?
Were supposed to start a tour in September, but I’m gonna be doing individual shows and promotion up until September. Right now, on tour its looking like me, Beatnuts, and I don’t know who the third group is, but its gonna be real hip-hop oriented.
You have a tune on there where you give it up for the old school QB guys. Do you have any plans to collaborate with any of them for future projects?
I mean, the song when I’m talking about all the old school cats, it’s not even necessarily just rap people. That’s one of the biggest misconceptions about Queens is like, there’s more to Queens than just rap. You know what I’m saying? Like we have Ron Artest, he plays on the Indiana pacers, and Vern Fleming who also was an NBA legend, he retired, he use to play for the Indiana Pacers, he’s from Queensbridge also. You have Lou DeValle, he’s a light heavyweight boxing champion. So it’s like, I was talking about the regular people, the people that have 9-5 jobs, or some of the rappers from back in the day. I’m talking about the regular people, the people that make Queensbridge what it is.
Your first record was universally acclaimed as one of the best debuts ever. Did you think it would be so successful when you were recording it?
I mean, the reaction to it was better than I thought it would be, but, its like, I knew it was good. I can’t say I knew it was good cuz that’ll be sounding cocky, [but] every artist has to have a confidence in himself, you know what I’m saying? So, I knew that the project was consistent with what hip-hop appreciators wanted and what street people wanted. But I didn’t know how the world would take it, because, at this moment still, I still feel like I’m an underdog. So um, when it received the response that it did, it overwhelmed me. Like the some of fan letters that I received, like I literally almost started crying.
Are you gonna keep everything Legal Hustle? Or would you take a major label deal if the right company stepped to you?
Well as far as Legal Hustle, that’s my company and its like, that’s what I want all my emphasis, I want my vision to go through Legal Hustle. So if I get another deal, it’ll have to be through Legal Hustle. As far as a major, I have no problems with a label…Like my next album, I don’t know if I want to be indy. It’s like, I might wanna be indy but it’s like I already proved my point. I still moved over a 100,000 with The Realness, and next month will make a year that The Realness was out. So for me to sell over 100,000 in a year’s time, for an independent project…
So, after The True Meaning comes out, I don’t know what its gonna do, but if it does good numbers then it’s like, then I’m proving that I have a strong market value, and with the right push I could be a gold selling artist.
Do you see yourself signing other artists in the future?
I have this girl named Donya, she is so hungry it’s scary. Like she calls me every other day, sometimes she calls me like “yo listen to this rhyme.” I mean, she’s so dope, she doesn’t even sound like any female that’s rapping, she’s real raw. I’m putting my emphasis behind her right now, and I also have other artists that I’m trying to develop, and then myself.
You co-produce a couple of tracks. Is that something you wanna do more of? Get into making your own beats?
I like to produce at times, but, I like being a rapper, as opposed to being a producer, because I don’t feel like I’m a real producer. I just, you know if I hear a sample I like I loop it up or whatever but I’m not an innovator, I’m not trying to take Preemo’s job, or I’m not a threat to the Ayatollah and everybody else out there. My main emphasis is just to keep trying to earn my respect as an artist, as a lyricist, as one of the best lyricists. I want my respect more than anything.
Everybody knows about your history with Nas. The media has blown it up a lot, and it seems like something you’re pretty much over at this point, but you address him on “Love In, Love Out.” What do you say in that song that you haven’t let out before?
“Love In, Love Out,” it’s not a diss record and its not a disrespectful record, So, that’s the difference. If you read some of the reviews, they’re all favorable about the song. You know, like one magazine said “Cormega handled it maturely.” So, its like, that’s the difference, as opposed to me being mad and just venting on the record. It’s not a mad record.
You also have a ton of rare, or unreleased material floating around – some of which turned up on that Hustler/Rapper CD. Do you have plans for another collection like that?
I mean, I ain’t the one who made plans, you gotta talk to the bootleggers, you know what I’m saying? Like I be turning on the internet sometimes, I see one guy has a 4 CD collection of Cormega CDs (laughs) I’m like, for real? I ain’t even know I had 4 CDs worth of material! I was trying to holler at homeboy like “okay, you screwing me, you fucking me out of my money…send me a copy let me hear it.”
The internet definitely adds a whole new dimension to that scene.
That’s how I knew, that’s when I started learning my value as an artist, because, some artists that are constantly bootlegged, I mean, put it like this: my album just came out in 2001. But prior to that there was numerous Cormega bootlegs. So it’s like, I had to say, what artist with no record out has had as many bootlegs as me? That’s when I started realizing that there was a little market.
As somebody who’s very familiar with bootlegging, what’s your take on the internet, MP3s, all that kind of stuff? People burning cds and putting them up on ebay. Does that piss you off or just reinforce that heads are jonesing to hear your stuff or what?
I mean, it reinforces it, but it’s not good. Especially for an independent artist, you know what I’m saying? Because every penny counts, cuz it’s my penny. Like I read the internet, the last album, people will talk about it like “yo this albums is incredible, I downloaded it but after that I went and bought it.” Stuff like that, I respect that, but then, I hate those people like, they don’t even buy people albums they just wanna criticize you and this and that. Like come on man. And then, they claim that they love hip-hop, and then they wonder why their favorite artists aren’t making albums. Their favorite artists aren’t making albums because there’s not a market, and they can’t make deals on major labels. And then people like y’all, y’all just bootlegging people’s shit, you’re not buying it. So your favorite artists is dying. You know what I’m saying?
Your track on the Hi-Tek album showcased a mellower, more sensitive vibe. Does your new record have any similar moments?
I have a song on my new album that the Hi-Tek album inspired. On Hi-Tek’s album it’s about a relationship as a girl. The song called “Soul Food” on this album is about a relationship with a girl, you’ll like it just as much as you like the Hi-Tek song.
On the same note, when the Mobb put out “Hev Luv” some of their fanbase was kind of caught off guard, to hear them with 112 and everything. But at the same time, the song was a big hit and got them tons of radio play. Is it hard to have this thugged-out persona / reputation and then try to do a more lady-friendly song? What’s your take on that?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Not even surprised, their fans are disappointed. Because, first of all, when you make a song like that you’re taking a risk. Especially when you’re a hardcore rapper or street. Like, I have a lot to lose making a record like that because my credibility is very strong in the streets. So it’s like, people will be like, “oh Cormega, he played himself.” But, if you listen to the Hi-Tek record, the way I wrote it, like even the thuggest, thuggest dude was respecting the record. You know what I’m saying? So that was a test for me, I did that record for 2 reasons…for one, okay I don’t care how thugged-out you are. You don’t like women?! (laughs) Maybe that homo thugged-out dude, but who doesn’t like women?! So how can you be mad at an artist who makes a song about a woman, but he makes it in a dope way, where he’s not sacrificing his dignity and he’s not disrespecting his culture. So I made this song on my album called “Soul Food,” I got the beat that’s just dope as hell and it’s grimy as hell. So the beat, I could’ve did that beat with Mobb Deep or the grimiest group or whoever, and the story I’m talking about I did it in a way similar to the Hi-Tek record. And, if you read the new Vibe, they can be super critical, and The Source, and The Source even said that. They said just what you said, they said “he did this song in a way where you would like it” and they brought up Mobb Deep’s name. As opposed to Mobb Deep’s song where you’re asking “what the hell are they doing?” And I won’t be slob kissing any girls in the video. (laughs)
When you write, do you usually write to a beat, or hook that up later?
It depends. If you listen to my music, I think I’m the most emotional artist from Queensbridge. So, its like, it depends what it is. Like if one of my friends die, I can just look at that dude, or look at a picture. Like one of my friends recently got killed and as I was leaving his funeral, I was crying, you know I was sad and shit, I’m in a car, and then words just started coming to my head, there’s no music just words. And then sometimes, if somebody gives me a beat that’s just so dope I might sit down with the beat and just write to it, But I’m the type of artist, if your not writing, and you’re a rapper, it’s like you being a bodybuilder and you’re not exercising. This is what we do. I always write, whether it’s music involved or whether it’s not music, I just write. I love it, this is what I do.
You freestyle much?
Freestyle, I love freestyle, I do everything. Like, Marley Marl, anybody from Queensbridge will tell you that. Live shows, I love live shows, freestyling, that’s hip-hop.
Do you still live in Queensbridge?
I haven’t lived in Queensbridge since I came home from jail. I frequent Queensbridge. I’m in Queensbridge more than any other artist. Only artists that’s in Queensbridge more than me is the artists that live there. Every free minute I can get. Yo, let me tell you something. If you come to New York for a week and you happen to come to Queensbridge, you have a higher chance of seeing me than seeing anybody. Everybody would tell you that. Oh don’t get it wrong, my house is off the hook. But I go back to the projects all the time. Like I’m giving a bus ride for Queensbridge on June 22nd. It’s not like, like some people they say they do for their community… “I’m giving a busride.” Like the average people that give bus rides, like to Six Flags Great Adventures park, you pay your $50, you get on the bus, and you go to the park right. I paid for everybody’s admission and I paid for the whole bus. And there’s two busses that’s going to Great Adventures. I did that.
How has the rap game changed since you first came out?
The only changes I’ve seen in the industry, is me knowing the game more. I know that the industry is what it is. This is an industry, they don’t care about the culture of hip-hop, they don’t love hip-hop. They just care about how much money you can make. Who do you think a label would sign right now? If Rakim wasn’t signed and Nelly wasn’t signed, who do you think would get a deal first?
You know what I’m saying? If T La Rock comes out of retirement and Mase comes out of retirement, who’s gonna get signed? You know? They don’t care about promoting the culture of hip-hop, they care about the money. So, I learned that this is a business, and that people, you know the Tribe Called Quest rule. Industry people are shady. So I learned the game more, and I take my craft more serious. I like being an underdog, I like being, you know, under-rated. Because that motivates me to work harder.
What was the last record that really impressed you?
What, recently? A new record or a record period?
Let me think about this. (pause) The dopest hip-hop record I’ve heard? I don’t even know man, hip-hop is so, at such a sad point right now. The last song I heard that was different…was the “Rewind” joint that Nas did. That song was different, it was a formula to it. The way he did that was different, it was uncanny, a lot of artists don’t write like that. The most recent album that I’ve listened to was Lauryn Hill’s Unplugged. You know what I’m saying? I don’t like rap right now. For real. Like if we go in my car right now, I got Criminal Minded in there, I have Marley Marl In Control, old albums. A little bit of Tupac. I been listening to a lot of soul music, I like Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye, you know, stuff like that, the ’70s era, a lot of soul music. Bob Marley album, Maxwell, Mary J, stuff like that. I’m not feeling rap music right now.
It’s in a tough spot right now it seems like.
Yeah, rap music, its regressed. That’s why I put Large Professor on my album. It’s like some of the things that I do, maybe people wont appreciate it right now, but maybe 10 years down the line, 20 years down the line, somebody will see what I’m trying to do, Like Large Professor doesn’t get the respect he deserves, and I was a fan of his, and I still am, and being that I have a lot of fans, maybe they’ll be like “wait a minute this guy Large Professor ‘s hot” and they’ll try to learn the history. Cuz Main Source’s album was one of the most underrated albums in history. That album was incredible. And people don’t bring stuff like that up.
Most of your cameos have been alongside other QB cats, or other New York artists. Is there anybody outside of that clique you’d like to get with? I know you’ve mentioned Scarface before, have you ever talked to him about doing something together?
Yeah, he’s like one of my favorite rappers. I mean me and Scarface spoke about doing a song a long time ago, this is when I was on Def Jam. I think we was in California, we was kickin it, and um, he was mad humble, he’s a very cool brother, and he shows love. He was with it, we was with it, so we was gonna make it happen, but you know, the shit never materialized. So now it’s like, I just have to run into him. But that’s something that I really wanna do right there. Like, right now, whatever happens to me, I’m proud, I’m proud of my career. Like I’m not a statistician, my last album didn’t go gold and didn’t go platinum. But at the same time, how many people that put out albums last year, whether they went gold or platinum, can honestly say that they album is better than mine? You know what I’m saying? I’m like an old school, I’m like an ’88 era artist. Like, back in the day, nobody cared what your album sold. Like we ran to the store because we felt it in our heart. You know what I’m saying? So, its like, if I do something with Scarface, I’m good, because, like yo man, people can say what they want about me, they can hate me they can love me. But at the end of the day, I did it man, cuz look. If I retire next week man, I’ve worked with Nas, it was a privilege, whether we had beef after that or not, whatever. I’ve worked with AZ, I’ve worked with Foxy Brown, I’ve worked with Ja Rule, I’ve worked with DMX, Fatal Hussein, Carl Thomas. You know what I’m saying? Mobb Deep, Lil Wayne, I’ve put in a lot of work.
You accomplished what a lot of people only dream about.
I’m cool with that. I’m cool with, you know what I’m saying, that I’ve been on Marley Marl’s Future Flavors show, or that I opened for Rakim at the Apollo. You know, I’m proud of myself.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Five years from now? Lets see, 2007? I wanna be, I don’t know where I see myself, because the future is something that nobody knows. Hopefully I’ll be alive. I just wanna be chillin you know? I wanna still be making music cuz I love making music. I wanna be playing basketball with my son if I have one, or playing with my daughter if I have one. I just wanna be having fun man.
What does Cormega do for fun?
I feel like I’m married to my music. I could be in the studio all day, knocking out album. Like, some artists, they pictures be the best shit about they albums! Like you open the album, it’s like “nice picture, nice picture, nice picture” then the album sucks! My album, one picture of me on the cover, then as soon as you open it it’s a big graffiti layout, and then there’s the back, that’s it. I love graffiti, I’m about to get some graffiti framed and hung up in my house. I love it. That’s basically it.
Any last words or shout-outs?
I wanna shout out my fans man, and I wanna shout out all the people that talk shit about me, and I wanna tell em, to keep up the good work. Cuz that’s what keeps me going. Like when people say, “oh he just raps about drugs and guns,” that’s what makes me make songs like the Hi-Tek song, or the shit with Carl Thomas. I like the criticism. Keep it coming.
For more Mega, check out cormegaonline.com