Back in 1994, when the words “What’s up with Cormega?/Have you seen him?/Are y’all together?” came over the speaker from Nas’ seminal classic “One Love,” many of us felt the lyric on a deeper level. Young, incarcerated and Black was a familiar visual for many back then. Indeed, an unfortunate number of us had a close loved one caught up in similar circumstances. We may have heard ‘What up with Cormega?” but it could’ve easily been Raheem, Pookie, Ray-Ray and the like.
The streets connected with his story, and Hip Hop awaited Cormega’s solo album with bated breath. However, after unfortunate circumstances caused The Testament to be indefinitely shelved, Mega Montana distanced himself from Nas and manager Steve Stoute.
His official debut, The Realness, was released in 2001 and was worthy on its own accord. However, the tension of constant beef that permeated much of Hip Hop ensured that Cormega and Nas would continue trading bars for another five years.
Cormega went on to release The True Meaning in 2002 and released his previously shelved The Testament on his own Legal Hustle label three years later.
In 2006, he would officially end the beef with Nas by performing alongside QB legend and Foxy Brown as The Firm.
2009’s Born and Raised featured contributions from KRS-One, Grand Puba, Big Daddy Kane and DJ Red Alert. Mega Philosophy, released in 2014, continued a Cormega tradition of including Hip Hop luminaries on his works with appearances by Redman, Raekwon, Styles P and The Firm members AZ and Nature. It also continued a tradition of working with the legendary producer Large Professor.
Recently, HipHopDX had the chance to chat with one of Queensbridge’s finest about the Realness II, his new single “Essential” and what was the catalyst for connecting with Nas and Alchemist on the aptly named single “Glorious.”
HipHopDX: What made you name this album The Realness II after your debut album from 2001?
Cormega: Because I wanted to do a sequel. I’ve never done a sequel and I listened to the fans. Out of all the albums that they be like, “You should make a such and such part two,” it’s always The Realness. “Yo, make a Realness Part 2. The Realness, The Realness, The Realness.” So, I was hesitant at first, because it’s a lot of pressure with that album. And then I just accepted the challenge. I said, F it, I’m going to do it. You know what I’m saying? So, when I tested the waters and told people I was going to make The Realness II, the reaction was so crazy. I said, “All right, this is it.” So I started making the album.
HipHopDX: All right. Now the first single is “Essential” with Havoc. I really enjoyed the sound. How did that come together?
Cormega: I think most of the credit for that belongs to Havoc, because that beat just does something. That beat is amazing. And that has a nostalgic feel. The thing I love about that beat, it has a nostalgic feel yet it has a modern feel too. So it doesn’t feel like, “Oh man, he’s trying to redo such and such.”
I just wanted to tap into that part of me that made people gravitate towards me when I made The Realness. So I started really taking evaluation of the songs that people really liked and I knew how it had to come, so when I got that beat, that beat just … I knew I had to come up with some heaviness on there, and I said I want to drop jewels on it but I also wanted to give people the street n-gga because that’s another thing.
And I always tell people, art is a reflection of their environment, and so I’m not the same person that was in the street like that. I’m a different person. I’m a father, I’m a businessman. I’m many other things but the mindset and all the stuff that I’ve been through, I’ve seen so much and experienced so much that I could write about that any time.
So the music and their words was a perfect marriage, but I also, especially in this day and time, I wanted to have something that people could gravitate to and get jewels from and I wanted to make … the whole album was for people from my generation and the generation a little before me. The people that really, when they first heard Hip Hop, they fell in love with it.
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It was my first love before a girl. It was Hip Hop. They way it made you feel, you wanted to be a part of it. You wanted to be around it. You didn’t want to quit it. And it’s like we get to a certain point … Women get to this point before us, as you’ve probably experienced.
There might be a point in your life where you might want to play some Hip Hop and the girl’s like, “I don’t want to hear that.” You know what I’m saying? In your mind you’re like, “Huh?” But it’s like they mature different from us in some ways. So we get to a certain point where even we didn’t want to hear or don’t want to hear some of the stuff that we’re hearing now.
HipHopDX: Right, right.
Cormega: So it’s like, why is it … are we dead? Are we excluded from enjoying our culture now? Because it’s not our preference? It’s like you go to a restaurant and they’re serving only shit that you don’t like. You’re like what am I supposed to eat? So it’s like I decided to make a menu for people like us. I’m making a menu for the people that was there from day one that want to enjoy Hip Hop, that want to listen to it but they can’t get into what they’re hearing.
So that was the purpose of this album. That was a key purpose when I was doing this album, and it seemed to have worked. I played this album for this guy the other day, he’s an artist. He’s an amazing painter, him and his wife, probably in his ’70s, and they was listening to the album. They closed their eyes and they were like, “This is beautiful. This is a breath of fresh air.” So it’s like the feedback I’m getting from people, from young all the way up to 70, is beautiful. So I think I accomplished my goal.
HipHopDX: Now, what do you say to the young people who say, “Well, y’all rapped about guns. Why can’t we rap about guns? Y’all rapped about drugs. Why can’t we rap about drugs?” A lot of the time they’re calling us hypocrites when we’re trying to impart upon them that we made some mistakes. What do you say to them?
Cormega: I say Malcolm and Martin, they walked certain lengths and they went through certain injustices, physical, mental, economic injustices so we didn’t have to go through them. So, I would say, for one, I was in that environment when I was rapping that, so I didn’t peak as an artist at that time or as a man of understanding.
So I would also tell them if you listen to my music now, you’ll barely even hear profanity in it. You’ll never hear the word “bitch” in my song unless it’s a quote from a … Like if I say quoted a Biggie song, “Me & My Bitch,” and I say “me and my bitch” because it’s from the Biggie song, you know what I’m saying?
Cormega: But on my album, you won’t hear me calling women bitches. You won’t hear me saying n-gga unless it’s quoting someone else but I’m not using it like it’s a cool word. So it’s like one thing I’ll say to young people is it’s always an older person’s job or a duty or obligation to steer you in the right direction so you don’t do the same mistakes as that person, because that person is doing you and himself a disservice if they continue to let you do that.
So, for young people, I would say for the new artist, because I can’t even listen to some of these new artists that’s coming in, some of these new artists are middle-aged men, so I would say to them, so if they were to say, “Well, y’all rapped about it,” I would say, “Brother, when I first started rapping, I was a teenager. By the time I became a mature man, my subject matter grew.” So that would be my challenge to them.
When I talk to the young people, I say, “I can’t condemn you for your subject matter or for the way you view life, because when I was young, I viewed it that way too.” And I tell the older people, “You can’t condemn them for the same stuff you did. You’re contradicting yourself. You’re supposed to steer them.”
So I could tell a young boy, “Listen, be careful what you say in your music now because it’s a different day.” I can talk about stuff in the street in my music and I wouldn’t have to worry about my music being used to implicate people. You guys don’t have that luxury. You know what I’m saying?
I could post up a picture back in the days and you guys, y’all can’t even post up nowadays because there’s so much social media, y’all post up at a certain neighborhood, people know where you are-
HipHopDX: And they’re coming.
Cormega: …and they’re coming. It’s a different day. Also, I would tell the young rappers, when I was young, when a rapper died, it’s almost like the whole rap game paused because it’s like, “Wow.” Nowadays so many young rappers are dying, yo. In the last two weeks alone I heard about four rappers dying. So many now and I don’t know all their names. This has probably happened to you before. You read something, such and such got killed and you’ll be like, “Oh, I just read about that the other day,” and it’s somebody else!
So it’s different times. So that’s what I would tell the young person, but I would tell them, “Yo, every generation’s supposed to be better. So y’all are making more money than us, y’all are supposed to get further than us, y’all are supposed to be more advanced than us. Y’all are supposed to take everything we put out there and add onto it, not regress from it.
HipHopDX: Or dilute it, right.
Cormega: You know what I’m saying? So the way I see it is like if it’s regression, then we’re moving in the wrong direction. So these are the type of things that I tell the young artists, and the young artists be gravitating towards me, whether it was Lil B or … I can’t even name them all. There’s been so many, you know what I’m saying? I helped them get on or whatever. I just give them jewels that I would give my little brother or my cousin or my son. Rather than saying it in a condescending tone, say it in an understanding tone.
HipHopDX: Now, “Glorious,” the name of the track … It’s glorious, you know? And you’ve got Alchemist and you’ve got Nas on there. We’re in the present day so there’s no need to talk about the past. I just want to know, how did that particular combination come together?
Cormega: Love wins.
HipHopDX: Love wins. That’s an answer.
Cormega: Yes, we have a very … in a lot of ways we’re prideful. We love hard and we have our principles, and after a while you begin to realize as an artist, you are supposed to serve the people. So as an artist, if I have so many fans saying, “I wish such and such do a song.” They’re wishing that we do music, and if I have a say so in that matter and I can make it happen and I don’t do it, then I’m doing the culture a disservice, I’m doing my fans a disservice and I’m doing myself a disservice.
So it’s like I’ve learned, give the people what they want. Especially in this day and age, give the people what they want. Especially since nobody knows how much time they’ve got left in this thing called life. It’s not predictable. Nobody knows. It’s unpredictable.
So it’s like, don’t be that person that’s like, “Oh man, I wish I could have did that,” or, “I wish we’d have spoke,” or, “I wish we could have …” You know what I’m saying?
Because if you’re going, it’s going to be a big regret. I regret that I didn’t do something with Big L. That’s a regret, but I didn’t understand the game. See, when I was working on The Testament album, it was done, it was complete. So Big L was like, “You got room on there?” And I was like, “No, I just finished it.”
I was like, “We’ll get up, we’ll do something else.” So if I knew then what I know now, the way I see it now, when I see an artist that I value and that I respect, let’s just work regardless. Let’s get it out the way no matter what the situation. Whatever the … let’s just get it done. If I’d have had that mentality back then, I would have had that record with Big L, you know what I’m saying?
Or if I’d have had that mentality a few years ago, rather than being lackadaisical, I would have made sure I was assertive in getting that Prodigy verse or not even a verse, because I have a verse, you know what I’m saying? We were going to do an album, me and Mobb Deep.
Stream Cormega’s The Realness 2 below: