Cormega Interview: The Testament

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by Alex Shtaerman

Since we last spoke to Cormega a lot has changed but at the same time, a lot has stayed the same. After releasing two critically acclaimed LPs on his independent Legal Hustle label and pushing a combined 250,000 units Mega got several offers from major labels. His sophomore effort The True Meaning would subsequently be honored as Independent Album of The Year at The Source Awards. All the pieces were now in place for a transition from Independent to Major. But do you think Mega sold out? Do you think for a second that a man who has worked so hard for what he has today traded it all for cash? Instead of coping a paycheck Mega went and got a bigger and better distribution deal for his fledgling label. Instead of trying to get on a 50 cent record Mega went and worked with KRS One, Big Baddy Kane, Grand Puba, M.O.P. and Ghostface Killah. Instead of employing pop oriented production to gain commercial favor, Mega stuck to the formula of Hip-Hop working with producers such as Large Professor and Ayatollah. With a new album hitting stores May 11th, not only is Cormega gaining momentum, he is also one of the few rappers out there who is about to be Major as an Independent.

Read review for Cormega compliation album Legal Hustle.
Read review for Cormega’s sophomore album The True Meaning.
See pictures from Cormega’s album release party at S.O.B.’s in New York City.
See pictures from Cormega’s show in New York with Immortal Technique.
Read our previous interview with Cormega.

RIOTSOUND.COM: First off, can you give us an overview of this album coming out in May. What can fans expect on this album that may be a little different and also, what are some of the things that you have kept the same.

CORMEGA: This new album is going to be called Legal Hustle. The things I’ve kept the same is my consistency as far as scrutinizing every beat, every beat is scrutinized. There’s going to be an a cappella, you know on every album I do an a cappella, and also the lyrics; some of the subject matter is going to be the same and some of it is going to be different. Now, the things that are going to be different as opposed to The Realness and The True Meaning is on those albums I stayed away from guest appearances but this album is more guest appearance orientated.

RIOTSOUND.COM: I know from the last time we spoke, you were looking forward to working with certain artists that influenced you when you were coming up. Now that this album is about to be released who can you say out of everyone you really enjoyed working with and why?

CORMEGA: That’s a two part question because the Legal Hustle album is going to be one album and then the Urban Legend album is another album and on both of those albums I was blessed with working with artists I respect. As far as the Legal Hustle album, I always liked M.O.P., so that is one of the artists I worked with. The track we did together is called Let It Go. Just working with them was like an honor to me, it was something good for me. Also, I always liked Ghostface, that was always one of my favorite Wu members, so I got a song with Ghostface; and Kurupt and Jayo Felony, I got a song with them on this album as well and more than likely I think Large Professor is going to get on this one too. So, a lot of my peers are on this album.

Now, on the Urban Legend album, which is going to come out after the Legal Hustle album, I worked with KRS One and Big Daddy Kane. Doing something with KRS One and Big Daddy Kane and Grand Puba and PMD, now that was an honor to me, that was like one of the happiest moments for me as an artist. You know if I ever have guest appearances, I never try to go for the mainstream dominating artists; I don’t need nobody to help me sell records, I want to do songs with people that I respect. That’s what these two albums are about.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Your last 2 albums sold a combined 250,000 units, which is very respectable for an independent. However, it seems real Hip-Hop is a shrinking market these days. I just recently listened to KRS One’s Kristyles, and to me that’s an outstanding album, however, the fans are not seeing that because the marketing dollars are not behind it. What can artists such as yourself do to make the fans realize where the real talent and innovation is at? Or do you think real Hip-Hop is just heading towards being a niche market?

CORMEGA: I think Hip-Hop is at a civil war with itself right now. I think its Hip-Hop vs. rap or mainstream. A lot of artists are not keeping it real with their roots. Do you realize how many producers that are hot right now, Large Professor used to let them use his equipment or taught them and rappers too that he did a lot for, but they won’t even holler at him to do a song. When you got certain people in power, let’s just say Jay-Z does a song with somebody; then everybody wants to work with that person. It’s a domino effect in the industry. So let’s say if Jay-Z takes a track from a Premier then other people are going to want to work with Premier. Or if Biggie does a track with Easy Mo Bee then everyone will want to work with Easy Mo Bee. We need the top artists to be more supportive of Hip-Hop.

Only person right now that I cannot front on is Missy. Her and Timberland and Magoo, they sang Rakim’s verse, Special Ed’s verse and MC Lyte’s verse and they had them in the video. I think it was on Magoo and Timberland’s album. I know Missy is on the song and she did MC Lyte’s verse and Timberland did Rakim’s verse and the other guy did Special Ed’s verse. And they had each of these artists in the video too. I think that was so dope.

That’s why I am doing these songs, I have a good momentum right now; a lot people are feeling my music or looking towards me so I want them to understand that these are the people that inspired me. I am doing my part but like me and you both know, I am not big like that, I am an independent artist and that’s the way I really want to stay. But in order for Hip-Hop to thrive the significant artists have to start paying tribute.

Also we have to stop this term “Old School”. Who respects the word old? If you tell a kid right now a certain rapper is old school, they’re not going to want to buy their album. That’s an ignorant and degrading term. We have to call these people what they are. They are legends and pioneers, we have to call them that. If you say this guy is a legend, that’s more attractive; we have to call people what they are. If Patty LaBelle comes someplace, nobody will say she’s an old school singer. If Kenny Rogers comes somewhere, they don’t say he’s an old school singer. We have to stop this term Old School. I’m so sick of that shit because the little kids they’re like man, them niggas are old school, they not trying to feel that, they’re not trying to even give people a chance.

When you’re calling people like Rakim old school; Rakim lyrics to this day are unmatched, Slick Rick to this day is the premier storyteller. Long Live The Kane and Public Enemy’s earlier works; it’s definitely something for this day and age. This is a day and age where everything vintage is getting love. Nobody is saying I don’t want that throwback because it’s an old school jersey. People will go buy a Jerry West jersey and Jerry West is older than every rapper out there by a lot of years. People will go buy a Babe Ruth jersey or they’ll be like hey you seen the new Isiah jersey when he was on Detroit? Well guess what, when he was on Detroit that’s when Rakim’s album was out. How about when the old Jordan sneakers come back out and people go crazy. How come we are not paying homage to our music? We have to be self supportive in order for other people to respect it.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Do you feel like record labels are partially responsible for many of these trends as far as dictating what kind of music artists should make and who they should work with?

CORMEGA: In a way I do but then you got artists that are in prominence. You got people like Jay-Z who could do what he wants. You got some of these top artists who have creative control too. Even when the label suggests something these artists still have the final word. I think Biggie Smalls was like a double-edged sword for Hip-Hop. He was so dope but he was also so detrimental. Because when everybody started seeing how successful he became off commercial beats everybody tried to emulate that formula. But even when he did that he still kept it real, he still went and got a Premier beat, he still went and got an Easy Mo Bee beat, he still said ok let me do some real street songs, Ten Crack Commandments, My Downfall, shit like that. You gotta balance the scales.

You got artists that came out with classics and near classics and now they are coming out with songs with an R&B singer on it or they’re trying to do a record with this guy or that guy. Let me tell you the obvious. The obvious right now is let me go do a song with Lil’ Jon or get Nate Dogg to sing on the chorus or Lil’ Mo or whoever. You know, that’s the obvious and everybody is trying to do the obvious. So, we need to start supporting our own mechanism, we need to give ourselves support in order for other people to support us.

RIOTSOUND.COM: You recently secured a new distribution deal with Koch, how important is that?

CORMEGA: It’s very important because it’s going to be a determining factor in my future. See, Koch, I am not going to front, Koch has a lot more strength than a lot of the independent labels as far as visibility. I am definitely going to have a video and I am definitely going to get some radioplay. But I am not making any records intending for it to be a hit, I am just making my records the way I always do. If something happens, it happens, if it doesn’t, I am cool with that too. Koch is a good situation for me if everything works out ’cause as of now it’s a one shot deal, it’s a one album deal. The Urban Legend album, I haven’t even found a deal for that yet but if everything goes good there is a good chance it would be distributed through Koch as well.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Even though you have been very successful, are you still looking to broaden your fanbase and reach a wider audience? Would you like to see a platinum Cormega album one day?

CORMEGA: Well, it’s not something that I really care about because platinum nowadays has no substance to it, especially in this day and age. This is a day and age when labels are rigging the motherfuckin’ soundscans and the artists are allegedly going double-platinum when they are not. In this day and age you could pay to have your song played and when your song gets played is where you are going to get more sales. So, at the end of the day, is platinum really legitimacy? MC Hammer could say shit, I sold ten million. Vanilla Ice went multi-platinum so I don’t care for that.

You know what I want? I want a Hip-Hop Quotable in The Source. I never got a Hip-Hop Quotable, I want something like that; these are things I extend for. I want respect more than I want that other shit because at the end of the day; I can give a perfect example; John Paxson won 3 championship rings with the Bulls, maybe two or Horace Grant won championships with the Bulls but Charles Barkley is remembered more than them guys and he didn’t win anything.

I want my respect. Ten years from now there will be a lot of artists that can say they went platinum but I want people to be like that dude was dope! Like, these dudes couldn’t fuck with him, they might have been selling but they couldn’t fuck with him. Like when Big Daddy Kane made his first album I don’t think he cared how much he sold. When we first started rapping, we didn’t care about that. We would go to a jam or we would go to an audition and we would do what we had to do, we just wanted to make dope records and that’s what I want to do.

RIOTSOUND.COM: I know you enjoy a wide variety of music, can you see yourself rhyming over anything else besides Hip-Hop beats?

CORMEGA: I can see maybe rhyming over old soul beats or The Beatles used to have some dope ass beats. I don’t know if people realize that. Stuff like that from the ’60’s and ’70’s like Elton John, shit like that.

RIOTSOUND.COM: From checking out the Internet I realized a lot of fans overseas have a deep respect and love for real Hip-Hop music, and many respect true artists such as yourself. What can you and other artists do to reach out to fans in other countries who recognize and want to hear real Hip-Hop?

CORMEGA: I think the Internet is one of the major avenues for circulation for artists such as myself because that enables people from all over the world to get into us. But also I’ve done shows in Europe, London, I’ve been to Paris; when we get an opportunity to travel to other parts of the world, we have to do that because not only is it good for Hip-Hop, it’s also good for you as a person. I don’t know how everybody else views it, maybe I’m strange but when I was going to Paris and I was looking at the countryside around Paris, I was just imagining that this was the same countryside Napoleon saw, landscapes don’t change, this is what god put here. This is the same countryside that during World War II people flew over or walked over. When I seen the palace in England that was a grand moment for me.

Artists need to travel the world; take advantage of your craft because this enables us to travel and see the beauty of the world and that’s a blessing. We also need to go to these places where our fans are and show them love because they love us, they support us so whenever I get the opportunity and anyone wants me to do a show somewhere, just holler at my peoples and I’ll come.

RIOTSOUND.COM: How has Legal Hustle the label progressed over the past year? What are some of the projects that you have coming up?

CORMEGA: Legal Hustle as of now; we went from being a Cormega orientated label to slowly developing a roster and slowly developing an ideology, so now we have so much more to offer. 2002 was the last time I put out an album, I took a year and a half off so now within these next few years we are just going to be bombin’ people with so much stuff. We got the Legal Hustle album, the Urban Legend album, we got Dońa’s album, if Miz is ready, we are going to have his album plus we have another compilation planned, so there is really going to be a lot to offer. We are just trying to strengthen what we have and we are also trying to get into other fields too, we are going to have DVDs and other stuff like that.

RIOTSOUND.COM: I heard your original album The Testament may finally be released. Any truth to that?

CORMEGA: Yes, there is very much truth to that. You are going to have The Testament within the next nine months. Right now I am trying to get the fans involved with the release of The Testament. I want the cover to be something that somebody drew like a graffiti mural or something. I want the cover to be some kind of graffiti. It could have a book on it or it could say The Testament, regardless, I just want it to be dope. I want people to submit entries for the cover. Right now we’re just trying to find a dope cover for The Testament and once we get a dope cover it’s a wrap. (If you are interested in submitting a cover design for The Testament please email RiotSound@RiotSound.com)

RIOTSOUND.COM: I know on March 9th you got that Biggie tribute show with Gangstarr, Mos Def, Freddie Foxxx, M.O.P and Slick Rick at BB King’s in NYC. That’s going to be crazy! Do you have any other shows coming up in the next few months that we can tell the fans about?

CORMEGA: Actually, I don’t even know about all the shows because I am hearing about all these shows but I don’t know the exact dates. I know I am going to Barcelona, Spain, I believe in April. I also think there will be some smaller shows with me, M.O.P. and some other people in the next few months too. This year I will be doing a lot of work so the fans could look forward to seeing me.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Rumor has it you are a fierce amateur boxer. Can you tell us a little about that?

CORMEGA: Well, if I didn’t know how to rap, I would definitely be a pro boxer right now; it’s not even debatable. My man David Telesco, he fought Roy Jones a couple of years ago, he’s a well known pro boxer and I used to spar with him and his weight class is actually above me. I was a novice, then the next class is overclass and then after overclass there’s pro; I was so advanced as a novice they used to have me fight overclass fights, which they are not even supposed to do. I was fighting dudes overclass and beating them. I averaged a standing eight count on somebody just about every fight. A standing eight count is when you are damn near knocked out and the ref comes and breaks it up and lets the other guy get his head together. So boxing is my love but the reason I went to rap is because rap is something that is so much easier.

With boxing your mind, your body, everything has to be right. Also with boxing you can’t have sex and after being in jail for damn near four years, sex was something I definitely wanted to get reacquainted with. So I ain’t have no time to not have sex and go straight to the gym but sometimes I regret that I stopped boxing.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Now that Lennox Lewis has retired, who do you want to see win the Heavyweight title?

CORMEGA: I would love to see Tyson win that belt again.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Yea me too.

C: I think Lennox Lewis is an overrated champion. He was in the right place at the right time. The fight against Mike Tyson, that was the biggest piece of crock I have ever seen in my life. First of all, they made Mike Tyson take drugs. Remember they made him take that drug so he wouldn’t go crazy?

RIOTSOUND.COM: Yea?! I never knew that.

CORMEGA: It was in the newspaper and everything, everybody knew about that. How can you drug someone before a fight?! Boxing or karate or any real competitive fights are based on rage and fury. If you give them a drug to calm them down, how can you do that? During the fight Tyson wasn’t even aggressive. If you look at that fight and then look at the Holyfield fight, even when Holyfield beat Tyson, Tyson was aggressive to the end. The fight where Tyson bit Holyfield’s ear, Tyson was about to win that fight.

If you look at the fight, Tyson was fucking him up, it’s just that Tyson lost his cool and I understood why he lost his cool because I understand boxing. Holyfield is the type of fighter who headbutts a lot and he headbutted Tyson above his eye; Tyson had a cut and they were gonna stop the fight and Tyson knew that. If you know boxing, you knew within the next couple of rounds they were gonna stop the fight and I think Tyson got so mad he said fuck it I’m just gonna go crazy on this nigga ’cause I’m gonna lose the fight.

RIOTSOUND.COM: I just heard that if everything works out, Bernard Hopkins will be fighting De La Hoya on Sept 18th in Las Vegas. Who do you like in that fight?

CORMEGA: Whoa! Sept 18th?

RIOTSOUND.COM: Yea, I just read it yesterday on ESPN.com.

CORMEGA: I’ll tell you one thing; I’ll bet you I’ll be down there. Yo, I’m starting to gain so much respect for De La Hoya because he’s showing he’s not scared, he’s ready to fight everybody. I like De La Hoya a lot but I don’t know if that’s a good decision on his part. Bernard Hopkins is not nobody to be fucking with. He might knock De La Hoya the fuck out. Bernard Hopkins is a monster, I don’t know if De La Hoya should do that, if I was his people, I would not recommend him doing that.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Well, maybe his career will be over after that.

CORMEGA: Something is going to be different after that, I’ll tell you that. I’ll say one other thing about De La Hoya. That last fight, they jerked him, he beat Sugar Shane’s ass. You see that last fight? He beat Sugar Shane. You know how you know Sugar Shane ain’t win? When you see that fight and they said Sugar Shane won even his face looked surprised. So; you know, that’s the game for you.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Thanks Mega! Anything else you would like to tell the fans?

CORMEGA: I just want to thank all the fans for being there for me!

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CORMEGA: LEGAL HUSTLE

With a backlash against commercially manufactured rap acts well underway, in 2004 independents continue to gain ground. It’s become apparent that, after a long hiatus, skills may once again become relevant as a measure of talent in rap music. Today more fans continue to forego mainstream artists and their often tired and predictable decor in favor on the substance and intellect displayed by lesser known but more provocative independent MCs.

Cormega was never supposed to be on an independent label; this was a major label MC in the mid to late 90’s when New York was making a big comeback against the West coast. Picture what Jadakiss does now, Mega could’ve been doing back in ’98; so figure it like that if you can follow. Mega would’ve been the slick rhyming ill dude to kick that fire verse at the end of a Total track (post Biggie, of course). But that never happened, shelved by Def Jam and caught up in contract disputes for years, Cormega found himself locked out of the game he was destined to thrive in.

While for many this would’ve been the end of the road; Cory McKay found a way to persevere in spite of circumstance. Starting his own Legal Hustle imprint in 2001 and securing distribution independently, Cormega proceeded to release two stellar LPs in as many years. While critics took notice, the buzz began spreading through the streets, into the suburbs and around the world. Mega had crazy skills on the mic and just about anyone who heard his albums recognized this immediately. With virtually no advertising budget The Realness and The True Meaning sold a quarter of a million copies combined.

After taking two years off to raise his daughter, Montana is finally back with his 3rd official offering, Legal Hustle, the album; this time around with even deeper distribution courtesy of Koch Records. Even though Cormega is featured on every song, Legal Hustle is technically not meant to be a full length Cormega LP but rather a compilation featuring new artists on the Legal Hustle label as well as special guests such as M.O.P., AZ, Ghostface Killah, Kurupt and Large Professor. While Legal Hustle features numerous quality cuts, the LP does not quite have the feel of Cormega’s previous two albums. In the past Mega has generally stayed away from guest appearances; by contrast, Legal Hustle is an entire album of collabos.

The obvious complaint in this case would be – not enough Cormega. It’s as if Mega has made himself a sidekick on his own album; although it must be noted that this was by design given the format. As Cormega explains it: “This album allowed me to experiment with different things that wouldn’t normally be on a Cormega solo album. Certain songs were done out of friendship with other artists and others were to show my versatility. My solo albums will not have as many guest appearances”. In the end, this compilation turns out to be a welcome change of pace; expect the unexpected.

Dońa, Legal Hustle’s first artist signee, is featured on five of the seventeen songs and shines bright. After seeing Dońa perform live alongside Cormega in NYC, it’s hard to believe that the voice you hear on record comes out of the same body you see on stage. Dońa rhymes hard for a dude, let alone a female. On Hoody, Dońa and Mega kill the track back to back rhyming over that Party And Bullshit beat made famous by one Christopher Wallace. “Yo, fuck all that don and king shit / I’m trying to be a convict who got rich like Don King did / You small minded, I’m a behemoth / Your stash is like half what I spent on sneakers”, Mega quickly reminds us that he has not lost a step. Now, if you are interested in what Dońa looks like feel free to browse some pics from the Cormega and Immortal Technique show in NYC. Dońa’s debut album My Brother’s Keeper is forthcoming on Legal Hustle Records in early 2005.

The compilation’s lead single Let It Go featuring M.O.P. qualifies as a classic high adrenaline street anthem while Sugar Ray and Hearns with Large Professor revisits a familiar collabo off The True Meaning with favorable results. On Deep Blue Seas featuring Kurupt and Jayo Felony, Mega switches up his flow and rhymes fast; it’s not quite like when BIG flowed with Bone Thugs but in the same spirit and very impressive nonetheless. Tony Starks and AZ both turn in quality verses, reinforcing a collection of beats and rhymes that keeps you guessing but rarely lets you down.

On Bring It Back Mega chronicles the origin of Hip-Hop giving credit to numerous artists who paved the way while challenging present day MCs to step up their game. “It doesn’t matter if your chain is platinum / If what you say is average / You will not be mentioned with the greatest rappers”. In all Mega turns in a quality performance although he does not dominate the landscape of this album, appearing as a solo artist on only two tracks. Dońa is definitely the big surprise; will this female MC be able to step into the spotlight and make an impact is the big question. Production on Legal Hustle is excellent all around with tracks from The Feil Brothers, Ax Tha Bull, Emile, Ayatollah and J. Love, among others.

Currently on a sixteen city tour with Ghostface Killah, Cormega is finally making that splash. Some of us have been waiting for this since ’96! The next solo Cormega release will be The Testament which actually predates both The True Meaning and The Realness. Cormega recorded The Testament while signed to Def Jam in the late 90’s. Although the album was never released or promoted by the label, it’s considered a classic by former Def Jam staffers.

Rating: 9/10

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