The New York City borough, Queens, is home to the nation’s largest housing projects: Queensbridge. The 3,142-unit complex is widely known for being significantly impacted by crime and poverty, but that’s not all. A multitude of illustrious rhyme-spitters have emerged from the development.
Cormega is among the collective of emcees who have transitioned from being locally respected in Queensbridge to internationally admired. The poetic lyricist flaunts a deviant style: smooth delivery united with raw subject matter. His skill to descriptively share the trials he’s experienced in his life with listeners, dropping countless jewels of wisdom in the process, has garnered him a reputation of being a supreme lyricist.
‘Mega gained nationwide appeal from his appearance on Nas’ track “Affirmative Action” off his album It Was Written. The memorable song also featured fellow East Coast rhymers Foxy Brown and AZ. The Firm, a short-lived hip-hop group signed to Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment, was birthed from the collaboration.
After ‘Mega’s relationship with the group soured, he decided to pursue a solo career. He signed with Def Jam Records and recorded his debut album, The Testament. The projected ended up being shelved (‘Mega managed to release it independently years later). Sitting on the sidelines motivated ‘Mega to dictate his own career instead of allowing someone else to do so. He formed his label, Legal Hustle Records, and released the raw, underground classic The Realness (2001) and more evolved follow-up The True Meaning (2002). His potent projects earned him “Independent Album Of The Year” at The Source Awards in 2003; he was the first independent artist to receive such an accolade.
As the years passed, ‘Mega dropped several more exceptional bodies of work and released a documentary, Who Am I. On Tuesday, July 22nd he’s unloading his latest album on the world: Mega Philosophy. The highly anticipated project is produced entirely by reputable beat craftsman Large Professor.
‘Mega revealed what people can expect from Mega Philosophy and what took so long for it to get a release date. He also talked about his dissatisfaction with the music industry, how he developed his signature style, the hardships of parenthood, how growing up without a mother has impacted him, and, of course, sneakers.
You’ve been talking about Mega Philosophy for years. What took so long for it to be completed?
Large Professor. I mean, everything happens for a reason. I think the album took this long, because…I think it was meant to happen like this. Everything fell in place at the right time. Trust me, I wanted it out sooner, but I’m not mad at the end result. And right now, this climate of rap, hip-hop or whatever, needs an album like this. This is the perfect time. I would never take this long on an album again. It’s not that much loyalty. It’s not like back in the days where an artist could go away and catch a breather and come back. The fans’ attention span is different now.
From what I understand, this album will differ from the content you created on earlier projects. Are you seeking to appeal to a different audience with Mega Philosophy?
I’m not trying to appeal to anybody. I’m trying to appeal to growth. I’m trying to appeal to myself. A lot of artists embarrass themselves at the end of the day. Yo, you can’t be a grown man still talking about the stuff you did when you was a kid or a teen or a young adult. It has to be some growth. If people expect me to be the same dude that was a footstep away from still selling drugs or whatever, I’m not that person, because I haven’t done that in so long. An artist, a true artist, in one way or another evolves. This is my evolution.
You normally enlist a handful of producers for your projects. How difficult was it to create an album relying on beats from a single producer?
It wasn’t hard at all, because Large Professor is one of the best producers of all time. The only reason Large Professor doesn’t get more props is because he has a tendency to get incognito. He’s reclusive at time. That’s the only reason. He’s just as good or better as any producer you can name.
You’ve been very vocal about your dissatisfaction with the industry in the past as well as with your recent record “Industry.” What motivated you to record that song?
Our genre is suffering. This is the only genre of music where the pioneers are struggling or where the pioneers are looked down on and not given [respect]. You don’t hear too many of the younger people talking about the Kurtis Blows and the Run DMCs or people like T La Rock…their names are barely known. There’s some people that say, ‘Who’s [Big Daddy] Kane.’ That’s disgusting. Basically, our artists are suffering but economically somebody else is capitalizing off of us. I just got tired of a lot of stuff that’s going on in the industry, but I wanted to say it in a way that comes across educational and not vindictive.
What inspired the signature style and delivery that you have?
I worked on it for years. There’s been times that I was criticized for my delivery. And there’s been times that I wanted to challenge myself to push myself, because at the end of the day, you don’t want to be redundant. I challenge myself to not fade out. Once you become so predictable, you’re boring. I didn’t want to become stale, so I had to push myself to g
row. I had to better myself. I try to better myself. I try to become a complete artist.
It’s been a few years since you released your last album. What have you been up to?
I’ve been creating music, but one thing that I do every single day is [be] a father. That’s what I’ve been doing. That’s the most important job.
How is it being a parent in a day and age where things are less censored than they were decades ago?
It’s hard being a parent, because there are so many new obstacles out there now. When I was coming up, it was like, ‘Don’t talk to strangers. If somebody you don’t know tries to give you something, don’t take it.’ Now, it’s like, you’ve got to watch the Internet. You’ve got to watch the messages in the music. It’s just so many things that you want to keep away from your children. It’s a lot of different challenges that we have to deal with nowadays.
What’s going on with Legal Hustle Records? Is it still in effect?
Legal Hustle is in effect when I need it to be. I don’t like using the term Legal Hustle no more. I’d probably use it for a group or a compilation, but when you’re trying to do business with certain people that aren’t urban, the word Legal Hustle just doesn’t sound professional. In their minds, they’re thinking everything should be legal.
I lost my mother to cancer when I was younger. And I understand that your mother was murdered in front of you when you were a child. How has her absence impacted you and the man you’ve become?
I really don’t know. I know that I try to do things that she would have been proud of. I try to honor her. I gave my daughter her name. I’m pretty sure, as you were growing up, it probably didn’t affect you as much, because when you’re young, you’re conditioned to not take death that serious. I think she’s been watching over me. It’s times where I’ve been in the streets and dudes are shooting at me and I ain’t getting hit. Or by the time I did get hit, I wasn’t going to die. It’s like my mother was protecting me. I told myself that. The finality of death, it’s hard for a kid to comprehend it. By the time I was a teenager, I started realizing my mother was gone and she’s definitely not coming back. It’s definitely an emptiness that will always be there in us, unfortunately, no matter what. It’s not for us to let that emptiness destroy us or make us less of a person. We have to let it make us better people, especially for the beauty of our mothers.
In your music, you’ve been open about your involvement in the streets. While indulged in that lifestyle, did you ever think you would flourish into a highly respected and critically acclaimed lyricist?
No way. I felt that I would be one of the best rappers or that I was one of the best rappers, but that was just rapping. I didn’t know that I was going to make albums that touched people the way they did. I was just that dude who was trying to be the best in the hood or the best in jail. But I didn’t grasp the seriousness or the impact of great albums. I didn’t think people in other countries that don’t speak English would know the words to my song. That, in itself, is extremely humbling.
The last few years has really changed me. The first few years of me making albums, I had a chip on my shoulder, because I was blacklisted. There were a lot of doors shut on me. It was a lot of ‘Don’t fuck with ‘Mega’ behind the scenes. I always had a chip on my shoulder, like, ‘Nobody believes in me. I’m not going to get my props. I’m just going to keep going hard.’ I felt like I had to fight. Now, I don’t feel like I have to fight. I just have to grind and solidify my legacy more. I finally see that I’m respected as an artist whereas it was actually a time where I felt like I wasn’t. I started seeing otherwise. When Rakim let me perform during his set, and I’m singing my song and he’s singing the words to my verse, I’m like, ‘Woah.’ That day, I could have stopped rapping and worked at Walmart forever. I was happy. And when I met DMC and he’s like, ‘You’re a lyrical genius.’ I’m like, ‘Woah.’ I wasn’t ready for that. And then I’m meeting artists who are saying, ‘Yo, do you realize you influenced me to go independent? You put it down for the indie game.’ I meet fans that have my lyrics tattooed on them. To see that, it’s flattering. The appreciation definitely changed me.
You’re known for being heavy on fashion and sneakers. What are some brands and shoes you’re rocking right now?
I’m going to be honest with you; going to Africa definitely changed me. I’ve definitely toned it down a little bit. Don’t get it twisted; I still like Jordans. The last sneakers that I really went crazy about were the Kareem Abdul Jabbar Adidas. The last sneakers that I bought in this house were some Shaqs, Iversons, Nike’s…those were for my kids. They’re the fresh ones now. Me, I’m a grown man and I’ve kind of changed. Like, I’m not obsessed with all that Gucci and stuff. It’s corny now that I think about it. I’m not saying that I don’t have Gucci. I do have Gucci, but it’s not recent. When I go to places around the world like Europe and Italy, guess what, nobody wears that out there. Us minorities are fighting so hard to be recognized and accepted by doing things that don’t necessarily make us recognized and accepted. It actually hurts us more, because we’re empowering these companies that don’t care about us. Very few of those companies that we’re spending all of our money with give back to our community, or very few, I should say. I’ve really toned it down on shopping and stuff. Don’t get it twisted; I also toned it down because I felt like I was a glutton. I realized that I had over 300 pairs of sneakers in my house one day and I just felt sick. I felt like a glutton.
You mentioned that traveling to Africa helped you tone down your infatuation with shoes and apparel. Can you touch on your trip a little more?
When I went to Africa, it was beautiful. The air is better than ours. The grass is greener. There’s more land. You can buy land. They don’t tell you stuff like that. And even the misconceptions are disrespectful. They say, ‘Oh, there’s so many people living with AIDS.’ That’s the key word, living. Those brothers out there get medical attention, though. Medicine isn’t as expensive. They get help. Over here, you get certain diseases and you’re finished, because it ain’t even the diseases that’s killing a lot of people over here, it’s lack of economical resources to fight the disease. It’s a lot of things that I’ve learned recently. When you get the album, you’ll see.