Cormega by Robert Adam Mayer Cormega by Robert Adam Mayer
Robert Adam Mayer

Cormega Talks ‘MEGA’ EP, Working With StreetRunner And Cultivating His Legal Hustle

With his latest EP, Queens legend Cormega delivers another quality body of work that proves why he's one of rap's most earnest street poets.

Time waits for no man–particularly in music, where the constant onslaught of music makes it easy for an artist to fall through the cracks and into obscurity. But if you're an MC that possesses the level of talent as Cormega, odds are that you'll always have an audience. Four years removed from his last full-length release, Mega Philosophy, the Queens lyricist returns with MEGA, a quick-strike EP that looks to add to his legacy. Produced entirely by StreetRunner, MEGA captures Cormega doing what he does best: tugging on the heartstrings with stories of love lost and the harsh realities of navigating the concrete jungle. Known for eulogizing many of his close friends and associates through song, Cormega continues this trend with his latest work, finding the inspiration for the album's artwork while coping with tragedy.

"The album cover is jade green because it's a tribute to my friend, Jade, who passed away last month," Cormega explains via phone. "She was 29 years old. Beautiful woman, inside and out. She died and it touched me so bad and I wanted to tribute her in some kind of way. I couldn't make a song ‘cause it was done and I ain't know what to do, so I just colored the album after her name. It was just simple, to the point and beautiful."

Comprised of five songs and with Havoc as the sole guest appearance on"Live Your Best Life," MEGA puts the focus on Cormega, who delivers another quality body of work that proves why he's one of rap's most earnest street poets. And on Saturday, January 26, fans will be able to celebrate the new album with a listening and Q&A event at The VNYL in New York City. VIBE hopped on the phone with Cormega to discuss MEGA, connecting with StreetRunner, the status of his forthcoming sequel to his Legal Hustle album and why unveiling this project was his biggest challenge to date.

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VIBE: Over the past decade, you've taken your time releasing new material. Your last project, Mega Philosophy, was released over four years ago. Has that been a conscious decision and what was the reason for the hiatus?

Cormega: Well to be honest with you, I wanted to come out with another project between 2015 or 2016 or 2017, but I was working with a producer whose work ethic is not consistent with mine, so I had to break free and make this EP with a producer that prioritized me. So that's how we got to this. If it was up to me, I would've had another project out in 2016. Usually when I take breaks, it has to do with family 'cause I'm raising my daughter a lot. My daughter lives with me so I'm the head of the household cause of my child so a lot of times, she prioritizes herself.

You've kept your name abuzz between album drops with guest spots on other artists records, including your song with Capone-N-Noreaga that dropped earlier this year.

Yeah, that's gonna be on Legal Hustle 2.

What's the story behind that collaboration?

I got history with them so it was just a matter of time before we did something and it made sense. I did something on one of their mixtapes a couple of years ago so they did something for me. It's the first time they was on a Cormega project, ever, so it was time.

One of your more recent collaborations is your song "Real Ones," which features London-based vocalist Autumn Sharif. How did that song come together and why wasn't it included on MEGA?

That's also gonna be on Legal Hustle 2, so you see what I'm doing. I'm constantly preparing people for something else that's coming very soon. I'm trying to pretty much do it like Marvel do it. You watch the Marvel movies and they give you a little glimpse of something and then a next movie come out and you're like, 'ah, okay.' So the C-N-N record will be on Legal Hustle 2, and the Autumn Sharif joint will be on Legal Hustle 2. Legal Hustle 2 is coming in 2019, so it's not gonna be no more long breaks.

This project is totally produced by StreetRunner. The "Real Ones" joint was produced by a brother named Kuya Beats, and the C-N-N record, that was also produced by StreetRunner, but I didn't wanna put it on there, that was a conscious decision. I didn't wanna put it on there because it's only an EP and it's already a feature on there, so how can I respect myself for making a cohesive project that only has five songs on it, but two of them are features? That's like the easy way out. Your fans can't relate to you. If you're putting a bunch of features on your song, they might be buying your music for other reasons. I don't depend on features for the creative aspect of my music. The features is just the additional spice, but it's not the meal.

You’ve pursued a few projects outside of music, such as your book, Understanding The True Meaning, which you released in celebration of the album's 15th anniversary. What spurred you to even think of writing a book, let alone one for that particular album?

Because it was a 15th anniversary and I just wanted to celebrate it. You gotta understand that True Meaning album really changed the landscape of the independent game. That’s the first independent album that ever got a Source Award. I was an honoree at the Underground Music Awards. They gave me an Impact Award during the time of that, so that album really put me on the map and it's arguably one of our greatest albums, from the fan's perspective, so I wanted to do that. I'm gonna do books for probably all of the albums 'cause the way that we broke that album down, it was so nice and it gained so much approval from the public that I decided I'd do that with another project. Being that this one is new and that it's fresh, I might do it with this one 'cause this EP has a story.

When you announced your plans to release your new EP MEGA on Instagram, you referred to it being the biggest challenge of your career. How so?

There's no other East Coast artist putting out an album right now (during the holiday season), his label won't allow it. Only like Migos and big big acts. My album’s not even pressed yet so people gotta stand on line and they're not even gonna get it, they're gonna patiently wait for it, they're gonna get it like three weeks later or something like that. My CDs didn't even come in yet, when I left America, they wasn't there yet. … When I put out the song "Real Ones," it was a test to people, but they loved it and it's now it's the second most popular record on Spotify, which is strange cause all of the other records have been out for a while and that just record just came out so it's doing well, also. It's no label behind this either, there's no subsidiary. Usually Landspeed is helping, so they'll fund stuff. Like they'll cut checks to people that's part of the team or they'll give me an advance. There was no advance for this album, this is all me. This is the biggest challenge I've ever had. And I look forward to the challenge because I believe in my fans.

The entire EP is produced by Streetrunner, who has produced radio hits for a slew of rap stars. How did the two of you connect?

Well, first of all, let me pay homage and tribute to StreetRunner right now. He might be one of the most down-to-earth, notable producers in the game, period, because like you said, he works with mainstream artists. He had the most talked-about record in the country a week and a half ago. He did that song "What’s Free" for Meek Mill featuring Rick Ross and Jay-Z. He did a song that has Chris Brown on it recently, he just got a plaque from [DJ] Khaled. He did stuff for Royce [Da 5’9”], he's working with Yo Gotti, he's working with big artists and he still found the time to finish something with me. That speaks volumes about him. There's other people that work with other artists and then they'll have you waiting. That's how this project even came to fruition ‘cause somebody else had me waiting and I was like f**k that. So the fact that StreetRunner did that is amazing, I'm really really respectful for that. I met him through Premium Pete, I gotta give him that credit. We was at a producer event and he was like, 'yo, Mega, I want you to meet some of these producers.' He didn't have to do that. There was other people that was there that was in the industry that could've said that or did, but they didn't, Premium Pete did it. So it was StreetRunner and I was like, 'ah,' and we finally met cause I knew that he had wanted to work with me for a while. A few people had told me that, but we never linked, so once we met, we exchanged numbers and we just got cool ever since then. His girl is an aspiring artist, too. I admire and respect her and I promised her I would do something for her. I went out there and I did it, so we just got cool over the years and it's just a mutual respect thing. The music is gonna speak to our chemistry.

On "Live Your Best Life," you trade verses with Havoc, one of your longtime friends and collaborators. How did that song come to life and how would you describe your creative process when working with Hav?

Me and Havoc don't work as much as we should, but we work a lot. There's unreleased Cormega and Hav stuff; we're in the process of figuring out if we're gonna do a project, but that was one of the joints I had in the stash. And if Prodigy was alive, he would've been on it. Me and Havoc did the song and it wasn't necessarily for this, but I wanted it to be on there because the way I see it, Havoc's been quiet for a while. Nobody really heard much from him since Prodigy passed. The way I see it, if you're making new music and your friend is making music and he's quiet and you're about to do something, I think that's how you keep your friends' names floating. Other artists do that, so I wanted Havoc to be on there because out of all of the artists I deal with, he's one of the closest artists that I've worked with and that's always been there consistently for me.

The album has a cohesive sound, with each track seamlessly blending into the one after. Was that a conscious effort on your part or would you credit that more to StreetRunner's involvement in the process?

This is the most cohesive album or project I've ever done. I think it's 25 percent StreetRunner and 75 percent me, as far as the cohesiveness. I think it's 100 percent StreetRunner when it comes to the production, but I pick the beats, he gives me options and I know what to choose. The first song, "Say No More," and the last song, "Empty Promises," the beat is pretty much twins, it's just one has more to it. I did that on purpose ‘cause I wanted it like The Testament. The Testament started and ended with the same beat, it's just the ending was a song. It was "Love is Love," but how it started, it was like a poem. So I went and did the beginning and end like a story, like The Testament did. That's why we have the same beat, but just adjust it for the beginning or end. This album is conceptual in a way, like this is vibe music. It was both of us, but I definitely wanted it to be more cohesive than anything I've ever done. This is the only album or project I've ever done that I've said is beautiful. I heard other stuff and I'd be like this is hard, I like this, this is dope, but this project is beautiful.

This project includes a lot of heartfelt and introspective material, which has been a signature of your music. How would you describe your mind-state while writing and recording this album?

My mind state was to separate myself from my peers. A lot of artists that came out from my generation, a lot of them is living off their old fame. Off their old status, off their old skill or repertoire. I don't wanna be one of them. I'm better than I used to be, in my opinion. I was more raw, I'm not more raw than I used to be, but far as an artist I think I'm scratching the surface on something different that I wanna do and I wanted to distance myself. When I was writing this, all I was thinking about for greatness, this is where I wanna be looked at as a great. I'm not rapping for a check. Some people get inspired when the check gets cut, I'm not that person. I want my music to be like art. I want this to be one of the greatest EPs ever. I made some great albums, but I want this to be one of the greatest EPs ever. When people talk about EPs, I want them to be like, 'we got ‘Mega joint,' you know what I'm saying? And I wanna make a double album. Those are my two challenges to myself. A double album, that's when you really define yourself because everybody can't make a double album. A lot of people have tried and failed, so that's what my challenge is.

What song from this album are you most excited for listeners to hear and why?

"On Everything." I really respect that song. I really was curious about that because I didn't know if I wanted to use it. It was an experimental song. The production is not like the production I'd typically rock on, so when I rapped to it, it was a challenge and I was like, 'I hope I didn't mess up.' Then when people heard it and when they started naming their favorites, that song was one of the favorites or the favorite of a lot of people. I became proud of that. So I think that song and the song with Havoc are probably my favorites.

You said you have Legal Hustle 2 coming next year. How far along would you say you are in the recording process?

It's not all done, but I've secured a lot of features already. Not by word, but I actually have vocals to a lot of features. So that's good because rappers are full of sh*t. They'll say they'll do it, but you might not get the verse. So I have a lot verses already and I'm just gonna go in the studio probably next month sometime, put everything on one file and just really study it and see where I wanna go with. But so far, my goal is to make it better than the first one and the first one was pretty good. I like where I'm at with it right now, though. We'll have it next year, maybe around late summer.

With 2019 upon us, what can fans expect or look out for from you this year, musically or otherwise?

MEGA, MEGA, MEGA. All my energy is going into MEGA, ain't no more collaborations or nothing until next year, only thing we focused on right now is MEGA. I'ma text my friends, my fans, everybody 'attention attention, MEGA, MEGA. If I run into you with a phone, 'you got iTunes on your phone? Go to your iTunes right now.' I'ma make 'em buy my album right on the spot. For the people I did stuff for, the people that owe me money, buy my EP.

With 20 years in the game and being an underdog for much of your career, how does it feel to still be able to create a demand for your music and have listeners still tuning in?

Very humbling. Very, very, very humbling. Emotional. I was emotional the other day when I had the listening session in Brixton, England and I got a standing ovation. The feedback, it was like, 'wow.' A producer recently said the average rapper has a high school career. It's like you got four years, then you're out of here. For me to be here this long—but not just being here this long, because it's a lot of artists that's been around long—for me to be around this long and putting out music on this quality level to the listeners... ‘Cause this is not my opinion. If you listen to the listeners or you go to the Amazon Reviews when it come out, the opinions are the thing that inspire me. Like my last album, Mega Philosophy, I didn't know how it was gonna be received and it was like, 'wow.' People were overwhelmed by it. Artists like stunting on each other, they'll give you silent praise, but artists were vocally giving me props, like, 'Mega, the album is amazing,' or coming up to me. It was rappers I didn't even know listened to my music, like Talib Kweli. I knew we was cool, but I ain't know he checked out my music. He was like, 'yo, Mega Philosophy is nice!' He gave me my props for it. Chuck D. Like AZ. Me and AZ always been cool, but he never spoke on my music. AZ was like, 'I gotta be on there.' Havoc heard the project and he was like, 'that sh*t is super fire.' He was, like, very happy and very impressed and very honored to be on it. So I'm just humbled and very grateful to the fans. I'm very grateful.

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Beenie Man (L) and Bounty Killer (R) in 1995.
David Corio/Redferns

A Look At Beenie Man And Bounty Killer's 'Verzuz' Battle Scorecard

Why was this night different from all other Verzuz battles? Streamed live from Kingston, Jamaica, the Memorial Day “Soundclash Edition” of Swizz Beatz and Timbaland’s flagship IG Live series was easily the most exciting and entertaining yet, as well as the first to delve into dancehall reggae.

Considering the fact that Jamaican sound systems pioneered the sort of “beat battles” have made Verzuz a social media sensation well over half a century ago, the creative decision was more than fitting. By pitting two icons of the genre, Bounty Killer and Beenie Man, in head-to-head competition, this Verzuz battle did not just showcase two of its most respected lyricists ever to hold a microphone, it also tapped into an epic rivalry that stretches back more than a quarter of a century.

At that time the youth born Moses Davis in the Waterhouse section of downtown Kingston was already on the second leg of his career -- having released his first album a decade earlier at the age of ten. Young Rodney Price, formerly known as Bounty Hunter, had just started to make noise under his new artist name Bounty Killer, recording hardcore hits for the legendary Waterhouse-based producer Lloyd “King Jammy” James.

Like all young aspiring artists, Killer had looked up to Beenie as an inspirational figure -- until he felt that the artist had borrowed his style. Beenie and Bounty’s face-to-face clashes, especially their Boxing Day battles at the storied Jamaican stage show Sting in 1993 and 1995, are the stuff of dancehall legend. Despite whatever differences may have existed between them, both artists channeled all that energy into great records -- many of which were played in the heat of the Verzuz battle.

Arguably the most exciting and spontaneous edition of Verzuz yet, the Beenie and Bounty battle was not a “clash” in the traditional Jamaican sense, but it was hardly a conventional beat battle either. Predictions that the island’s WiFi might not be able to handle the strain were soon dismissed -- in keeping with Jamaica’s long tradition of raising the bar when it comes to using technology to create next-level musical entertainment, this was the best-produced beat battle of them all. On the other hand, this was also the first time a Verzuz competitor has had to take a break in the action to negotiate with police officers.

This was surely also the first Verzuz battle to be live-tweeted by a prime minister: PM Andrew Holness took to his official Twitter to declare “Jamaica’s culture is global” and share a screenshot of the action. In keeping with the national pride, the battle opened with a rousing rendition of the Jamaican National Anthem.

When Beenie and Bounty came through VIBE’s IG Live one day before performance, they both declared that they would not be preparing for the battle as the art of war should be spontaneous. This has had people on tender hooks as no one really knows what would happen on the night. But of course all celebrities were out in full force for this highly anticipated battle, as everyone from Diddy to Swizz to Rihanna came through to catch the vibes. It was the only place to be if you were on IG, with more than 400K people checking in at the event's peak.

Here’s Billboard's tune-for-tune breakdown from the top to the very last drop.

ROUND 1: Beenie Man's “Matie” vs. Special Ed feat. Bounty Killer's “Just a Killa”

Beenie kicked things off with his first No. 1 hit (on the Jamaican charts) in honor of the late great Bobby Digital, the legendary producer of this song and countless more, who passed away May 21. Bounty opted to open on an international note, leading with his first hip hop collaboration, a 1995 single by Brooklyn rapper Special Ed featuring a guest verse from young Bounty.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 2: Beenie Man's “Memories” vs. Bounty Killer's “Suspense”

Sticking with the hardcore dancehall, Beenie reached for one of his fan favorites, a mid-’90s banger on the “Hot Wax” riddim that was recorded during the height of his great lyrical war with Bounty Killer (and sampled by Drake on the album version of “Controlla”). Killer responded in kind with a track on the same hard-hitting riddim, making this round feel like a flashback mid-'90s dancehall session.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 3: Beenie Man's “Slam” vs. Bounty Killer's “Living Dangerously”

Shifting into another gear, Beenie drew for his first Billboard hit, a tribute to the sexual prowess of “ghetto girls” recorded on Dave Kelly’s irresistible “Arab Attack” riddim. Bounty responded with one of his most popular songs for the ladies, a collaboration with reggae vocalist par excellence Barrington Levy. Counteracting a classic with another classic, this round was too close to call.

WINNER: Tie

ROUND 4: Beenie Man feat. Chevelle Franklin's “Dancehall Queen” vs. Diana King feat. Bounty Killer's “Summer Breezin’”

Keeping the energy high, Beenie unleashed this soundtrack cut from the movie Dancehall Queen (in which he also appeared). Bounty responded with a relatively obscure guest verse on a record by Jamaican pop hitmaker Diana King.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 5: Beenie Man feat. Lil Kim's “Fresh From Yard” vs. Bounty Killer ft. Jeru the Damaja's “Suicide or Murder”

For his first international selection, Beenie chose a DJ Clue production featuring the Queen Bee in her best Brooklyn Jamaican patois mode. Killer kept it BK with a grimy Jeru collab produced by New York’s own Massive B productions.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 6: T.I. feat. Beenie Man's “I’m Serious” vs. Bounty Killer ft. Mobb Deep's “Deadly Zone”

Sticking with the hip hop collabs, Beenie dropped T.I.’s first major-label single featuring a hard-as-nails Neptunes beat and a street-certified Beenie Man hook. But he should have known that badman business is the Killer’s wheelhouse. Bounty clapped back with a grimy Mobb Deep collab off his My Xperience album and took the round.

WINNER: Bounty

ROUND 7: Guerilla Black feat. Beenie Man's “Compton” vs. Bounty Killer feat. The Fugees' "Hip-Hopera”

Beenie dropped his third straight hip hop crossover track, this one a guest verse for Biggie soundalike Guerilla Black over a bouncy Stalag Riddim. Bounty brought out the big guns, returning fire with a Fugees collab. As the Warlord would say, “People dead!”

WINNER: Bounty

ROUND 8: Beenie Man's “Romie” vs. Bounty Killer's “Worthless Bwoy”

Returning to straight-up dancehall, Beenie served up one of his worldwide club classics, a song about a girl named “Romie” set to Shocking Vibes’s hard-driving version of the Punany Riddim. Killer replied with a Dave Kelly banger burning out the guys who lack the stamina to satisfy their significant others.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 9: Beenie Man “Old Dog” vs. Bounty Killer “Stucky”

Beenie Man has plenty of classic dancehall joints, and this Dave Kelly sure shot is one of the most ubiquitous. “Old Dog” recounts his exploits with the opposite sex, shouting out female dancehall stars Patra and Lady Saw along the way. Bounty replied in kind with his own kind of “gyal tune,” more rough than sweet, just the way Killer likes it.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 10: Beenie Man feat. Mya “Girls Them Sugar” vs. Bounty Killer ft. Nona Hendryx & Cocoa Brovaz “It’s a Party”

Beenie closed out the first half of the battle on a strong note with one of his most beautiful records, a Neptunes remake of one of his immortal dancehall classics adorned with a sweet hook sung by Mya. Bounty’s response was strong, but the Wyclef-produced party joint (with a hook by the former member of Labelle and bars from Boot Camp MCs) fell just short of Beenie’s selection.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 11: Beenie Man feat. Wyclef Jean's “Love Me Now” vs. Bounty Killer feat. Swizz Beatz' “Guilty”

Flipping catchy lyrics over Naughty By Nature's classic “O.P.P.” beat, Beenie sounded strong on this Wyclef collab, but Bounty countered with a hard-hitting Swizz Beatz track featuring a blazing guest verse from the Killer.

WINNER: Bounty

ROUND 12: Beenie Man feat. Barrington Levy's “Murderation” vs. Bounty Killer's “Look”

The vibes were sweet right up until the moment when officers of the Jamaican Constabulary Force interrupted the action. Beenie took care of the situation, informing the police that there were hundreds of thousands of people watching internationally. He then asked his DJ to run one of the hardest tracks in his catalog, a song about the abuse of authority in the ghetto streets. It was such a perfect segue the whole thing almost seemed planned. Killer had no choice but to counter with one of the most powerful songs in his catalogue, another Dave Kelly masterpiece, just barely winning what was arguably the strongest round of the entire battle.

WINNER: Bounty

ROUND 13: Beenie Man's [Showtime Juggling] vs. Bounty Killer's “Fed Up”

Still charged up by the unexpected visit from the police, Beenie felt a vibe and decided to perform his next song live. Starting out with “Hypocrite,” a blistering broadside against haters on Dave Kelly’s “Showtime” riddim, Beenie’s performance inspired Bounty to join in for what became a multi-song medley that included snippets of Killer’s “Eagle & The Hawk” and “Bullet Proof Skin” as well as Beenie Man’s “Done Have We Things,” “Badman Medley,” “Bury Yuh Dead,” and “Fire Burn.”

After they wrapped up their explosive tag-team performance, Beenie calmly stated “My song dat,” indicating that he wanted the whole extended set to count as one song. Bounty retaliated with “Fed Up,” one of his signature reality tunes that cemented his reputation as Jamaica’s “Poor People Governor.” Another close round, and highly unorthodox. Advantage Killa.

WINNER: Bounty

ROUND 14: Beenie Man's “World Dance” vs. Bounty Killer's “Gal” 

Beenie Man took it back with one of his biggest early hits, a “buss the dance” selection on Shocking Vibes’ Cordy Roy Riddim. Killer’s response was another hardcore tune for the girls, explosively energetic and lyrically intricate.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 15: Beenie Man's “Modeling” vs. Bounty Killer's “Model”

Taking it back to the early days of his career, Beenie served up a song designed to inspire all the “bashment girls” in the dance to show off their freshest outfits and dance moves. Killer responded in kind with a similar type of song, every bit as lyrically precise as Beenie’s was melodic, making this round a dead heat.

WINNER: Tie

ROUND 16: Beenie Man's “Oyster & Conch” vs. Bounty Killer's “Benz & Bimma”

Sticking with the “gyal” segment, dancehall’s “Doctor” prescribed a musical aphrodisiac, stressing the importance of seafood in your diet. Killer responded with a dancehall smash likening his appreciation of the female physique to his fondness for expensive European automobiles.

WINNER: Bounty

ROUND 17: Beenie Man's “Dude” vs. Bounty Killer's “Greatest”

Beenie delivered yet another Dave Kelly sureshot, this time on the festive Fiesta Riddim. Killer responded with a little-known 2003 track on the “Hydro” radio, basically conceding this round.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 18: Beenie Man's “Mm-Hmm” vs. Bounty Killer feat. Cham's “Another Level”

As the battle neared its final rounds, Beenie played this hard-hitting Tony Kelly production and grabbed the mic to chat his lyrics live and direct, showing that dancehall artists of a certain age are still in top form lyrically. Bounty replied with a musical killshot on Dave Kelly’s Clone Riddim, joining forces with Cham to take things to “Another Level.” Feeling the spirit, Beenie grabbed the mic and spit a verse over Bounty’s record.

WINNER: Bounty

ROUND 19: Beenie Man “Nuff Gal” vs. Bounty Killer “Cry For Die For”

Beenie changed up the pace with a jazzy tune for the ladies featuring a swinging horn section. This 1996 Jamaican single could have been a bigger hit for Beenie if it had the right promotion, and still sounds great all these years later. Bounty Killer responded in similarly eclectic mode with a jaunty track on a Riddim based on The Champs' 1950s rock chart-topper “Tequila.”

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 20: Beenie Man's “I’m Drinkin’ (Rum and Red Bull)” vs. Bounty Killer's “Smoke the Herb”

Beenie closed out his regulation 20 rounds with one of his biggest crossover hits, a collaboration with Fambo that somebody at Red Bull should probably sign up for an endorsement deal. Bounty Killer responded with perhaps his greatest ganja anthems. This one was too close to call. Pick your poison.

WINNER: Tie

EXTRA TUNES

After running a couple of exclusive dubplate specials -- “War Uno Want” by Bounty Killer and a Buju Banton and Beenie Man collab on the M.P.L.A Riddim -- Beenie and Bounty served one final tune. ”Why Beenie saved one of his signature songs, 2004's "King of the Dancehall," for the 21st round is anybody’s guess. Bounty’s response ("Nuh Fren Fish") was something for the hardcore fans only.

Winner: Beenie

BONUS ROUNDS

Wider Catalogue: Beenie Man

While both artists did a good job displaying the breadth of their respective repertoires, blending hardcore dancehall hits with international collaborations, Beenie Man showed off his versatility with a mixture of old and new dancehall hits as well as mixing moods and tempos.

Biggest Snub: Beenie Man (Point to Bounty Killer)

Beenie Man opted not to play “Who Am I” (aka “Sim Simma,”) perhaps his best known international hit. Not to be outdone, Bounty Killer also neglected to play “Hey Baby,” his high-profile collaboration with No Doubt from their Grammy-winning 2001 album Rock Steady. Still Beenie’s oversight was the more inexplicable of the two.

Best Banter: Beenie Man

When police stopped by in the middle of the session and Beenie Man somehow kept his cool telling them “Officer, the whole world is watching… do we have to do this right now? Do you really wanna be that guy?”

Biggest KO: Bounty Killer

Not long after the police stopped by, Beenie and Bounty joined in on an eight song freestyle, venting their frustration at the police. But Bounty’s response, “Poor People Fed Up,” trumped an extended live performance, demonstrating just how much of a punch that song still packs.

People's Champ: Bounty Killer

While Beenie proved the more strategic selector, Bounty Killer’s off-the-cuff adlibs an manic energy -- especially when he noticed Rihanna in the IG audience -- kept the mood up. Even when he played unexpected selections, the Warlord’s respect levels were on 11.

FINAL SCORE: 13-10-3, Beenie Man

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This article originally appeared on Billboard.

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Jonathan Mannion

Iconic Photographer, Jonathan Mannion, Details Shooting Eminem's 'Marshall Mathers LP' 20 Years Later

This story, in its entirety, is posted on Billboard.com and is written by Carl Lamarre.

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Saturday (May 23) marks the 20th anniversary of Eminem's third album, The Marshall Mathers LP. His magnum opus not only shattered records on the Billboard 200 (debuted at No. 1 with a whopping 1.78 million copies its opening week) but highlighted his abilities as a raw and gifted storyteller. With Em looking to shed light on his real-life persona of Marshall Mathers, he hired famed photographer Jonathan Mannion to help capture his vision.

Mannion, who previously shot legendary album covers such as Jay-Z's 1996 Reasonable Doubt and DMX's 1998 Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, relished the task of teaming up with one of rap's polarizing acts because of their commonalities. Like Eminem, Mannion was a young, hungry creative from the Midwest, whose affinity for hip-hop ran deep, dating back to DJ Quik's debut single, "Born and Raised in Compton." 

Em and Mannion's tag-team expanded to over two continents. Not only did they shoot photos for MMLP in Amsterdam but also Detroit. From the pizza shop that Eminem used to work at to even his old childhood home where he sat on the steps for the album's classic cover art, nothing was off-limits.

READ MORE 20 Years of 'The Marshall Mathers LP': Ranking Every Song From Eminem's Third Album"

It was great," recalls Mannion of the shoot in from of Em's old house. "It was him in his element and delivering his journey. You know, the humble nature of him and his process of getting to be this megastar, which is rooted so clearly in talent. His talent and his relentless drive was it.

"Mannion spoke to Billboard about the 20th anniversary of The Marshall Mathers LP, where the album cover ranks in his collection and Em's dedication to delivering the best shots. 

What does the number 20 mean for you having been involved in the Marshall Mathers LP?

It's really hard to put into words how important this album is for the world, for Eminem (and) for me. There's an endless amount of stories. We shot in Amsterdam and Detroit. Originally, this album was meant to be called Amsterdam. I was like, "We have to go to Amsterdam. We have to all get on a plane and go there. That's the only way we're doing this album." He happened to be performing out there and said, "This is going to sync up perfectly.

"We did a phenomenal session out there -- really poured out hearts into it. Then, I think there was a realization that he wanted to present this trifecta of who he was: Slim Shady, Marshall Mathers and Eminem. This is how genius this guy is. He's thinking farther down the road to be able to craft these versions of himself. Slim Shady was the gimmick to get everyone's attention, which was still rooted in something phenomenal.

Then, he was like, "Let me tell you about my journey. Let me allow myself to be vulnerable within the space and deliver 'me' and how I really got here [with] my struggles, my pain," and I think that's when everybody really connected with him on a different level. It wasn't just this pop phenomenon that he was rooted in reverence for the culture. He obviously felt like he had to prove himself probably more than the next MC just because he was from Detroit and a white boy. He had something to prove and he was clinical on the album, delivering masterpiece after masterpiece.

READ MORE20 Years of 'Stan': How Eminem’s Epic 2000 Hit Relates to the Fan Culture It Inspired

When it was time to dig into who Marshall Mathers was, we had to do another session in Detroit. So we flew to Detroit to kind of continue [the shoot]. It kind of became this nice balance of Amsterdam and all of these lax drugs laws and all of these experimental moments that he was pursuing at that time to kind of ground himself. We shot outside the pizza shop that he used to work at with people that he still knew from there.

I remember you said in a past interview that you shot him in his boxers and trench coat in the freezing cold towards the end of the shoot.

It's dedication. I was with him entirely, pushing and wanting more, but he one-upped me in this session. We did that and I was like, "OK. He's going to be tired." He's in boxer shorts, combat boots and a trench coat being the fullness of the character that he was presenting as this Amsterdam version of Em. He pushed it and I was like, "Man, this is incredible. What we achieved out here was beyond comprehension. I can't wait for when we get back to see the session and go through it."He was like, "Man, I was thinking I want to do one more shot. Can we go back to the hotel? I want to be in my hotel room writing to my daughter." Usually, I'm the one begging rappers to go a little bit farther because I want to give them the world, but it flipped on me. It wasn't begrudgingly that I went there to that place. I was like, "I'm with this. Thank you." It made another really phenomenal image that we got to share with the world because of that effort.

Continue reading the original article by Carl Lamarre at Billboard here.

 

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THE MARSHALL MATHERS LP. Congratulations to @eminem on an absolutely brilliant project that celebrates 20 YEARS today. There were 2 sessions that yielded the campaign around this album, one in Detroit and the other in Amsterdam. It is one of my top 3 covers of all time. Art direction & Photography, @jonathanmannion. Designed with the masterful @morningbreathinc’s own Jason Noto.

A post shared by Jonathan Mannion (@jonathanmannion) on May 23, 2020 at 11:20am PDT

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To get a feel of Mannion's deep love of hip-hop, check out his Spotify playlist of the many legendary artists and their music from the album covers he's shot. "I did a playlist on Spotify based on a random sampling of 65 of my favorite album covers. Pulled 90 tunes that were bonafide bangers and complied a little vibe," Mannion details. Enjoy the vibes!

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Lakeith Stanfield and Issa Rae in 'The Photograph'.
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Opinion: Black Romance Films Are Having A Moment

It began with a kiss. Just one decade after the birth of cinema, vaudeville actors and dancers Gertie Brown and Saint Suttle gleefully embraced one another on film. They held hands and locked lips, giving the world its very first image of Black romance and intimacy on-screen. 1898's Something Good-Negro Kiss proved that love and affection was at the center of Black life. More than that, intimacy has always been essential to the survival of our people. Now, some 120 plus years later— cinema has finally reached the point where it has expanded to allow complex images of Black love, across time periods, between same-sex couples, and more recently, without being bogged down in trauma and pain.

Before Good-Negro Kiss was discovered in 2018, one of the earliest versions of Black romance in cinema was 1954's Carmen Jones starring Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge. Filmed in sweeping cinemascope, Carmen Jones follows a soldier named Joe (Belafonte) who gets so enamored with Carmen (Dandridge) that he becomes obsessive, even going AWOL to be with her. Though the film is sexy, and the tension between the actors is palpable — the romance in Carmen Jones is stilted to make white audiences comfortable. Hollywood was only willing to see Black intimacy through the lens of a renowned musical, wrapped in what ultimately becomes a tragedy. By the end of the film, Joe murders Carmen out of obsession and jealousy. Despite Belafonte and Dandridge's determination to showcase their sensuality, the material only allowed them to go so far. This sort of restraint would become the blueprint for generations of Black romance films.

Considering the utter chaos of the 1960s, it's a wonder that 1964's Nothing But A Man was ever made. A decade after Carmen Jones, Hollywood felt it was time to roll the dice on something different. Starring Ivan Dixon and Abbey Lincoln as Duff Anderson, a railroad worker, and Josie Dawson, a Birmingham school teacher, respectively, Nothing But A Man isn't packaged for white audiences like the musicals of the previous decades. However, the burdens and pains of the couple's relationship, namely Duff's flakiness about commitment and the rage he feels as a Black man living in the South, fall on Josie's shoulders. Moving into the 1970s with films like Claudine and Mahogany, and certainly, in the 1990s and early 2000s, Black romance on-screen would either be shrouded in comedic relief, or the relationships became the sole burden of the Black woman to bear. Often, both tropes were present.

Still, Black romance stories were always evolving. The 1980s sparked something new for Black sensuality in the movies. Though these were still heteronormative depictions, (aside from 1984's The Color Purple), films made significant steps forward in terms of diverse images of Black people. However, they still held on to sexist ideals. 1986's She's Gotta Have It used a Black woman's rape as a form of character development while 1988's Coming to America — billed as a comedy, rewarded its protagonist for lying to his love interest. This would become the formula for the many Black romance movies that came to fruition in the 1990s. Cheating, lies, abandonment, lack of accountability, and trauma are all very present in some of our most beloved films. Poetic Justice, Love Jones, Jason's Lyric, The Best Man, and Love & Basketball, all have some form of struggle love embedded within the narrative — typically leaving Black women wielding the shorter end of the stick.

Poetic Justice is riddled in misogyny, The Best Man has a serial cheater as a leading man, and in Love Jones, the lack of communication and accountability from both partners is dizzying. Moreover, women are often asked to overlook cheating, lying, manipulation, or being friend-zoned to present themselves as worthy of their male partner by the film's conclusion. Yet, in our quest to connect and see brown bodies sensually and romantically in cinema, we hold these films close to our hearts, overlooking many of the toxic traits of the characters.

Despite the mega success of Black films in the 1990s— following the debut of Gina Prince-Bythewood's Love & Basketball in 2000, Black stories in cinema, aside from a few here and there, were all but erased in Hollywood. Throughout this near decade-long drought, prolific director Tyler Perry was one of the only voices in the game. However, the quality of Perry's storylines, as well as the portrayal of his female characters, have proven to be problematic. These characters are often emotionally broken, angry, and at times unhinged. If and when they do find love in movies like 2005's Diary of An Angry Black Woman, 2008's The Family That Preys and 2009's I Can Do Bad All By Myself, it's after they suffer some dire consequence or horrific punishment. This was particularly jarring during a time when there were hardly any other mainstream film images of Black people on-screen.

Thankfully, as we pressed forward into the second decade of the 21st century, Black filmmakers, writers, and producers were knocking down doors in Hollywood once again. In 2012, Ava DuVernay stepped onto the scene with her stellar film, Middle of Nowhere. The film follows Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi) grappling with the choice to leave her incarcerated husband, Derek (Omari Hardwick), to follow her dreams and possibly find new love with a bus driver named Brian (David Oyelowo). Though this was a significant shift in the way Black intimacy, sensuality, and romance was depicted in movies, the real transformation happened in 2016, with Barry Jenkins' Academy Award-winning, Moonlight.

Loosely based on screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney's real life, Moonlight puts the Black male coming-of-age story center stage. However, instead of honing in on the violence and despair of the inner city, like the hood homeboy films of the 1990s — Moonlight focuses on Black love between Black men. First, there is the relationship protagonist Chiron (Alex R. Hibbert) has with his father-figure, Juan (Mahershala Ali). Later, Chiron explores his queer identity with his classmate Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). The film is a sumptuous duality of hypermasculinity against lush sensuality. With this film, Jenkins effectively shattered our expectations regarding Black intimacy on-screen, while unraveling why Black love in all of its varied prisms deserves a spotlight in cinema.

Moonlight would pave the way for 2019's Queen & Slim and 2020's The Photograph. Two vastly different films, one— a harrowing dramatic thriller, centering Queen (Joe Turner-Smith ) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) who are forced together by circumstance. A dull Tinder date paves the way for a standoff with a racist police officer who eventually lays dead, prompting our leads to run for their lives.

Penned by Lena Waithe and directed by Melina Matsoukas — the film is almost an antithesis of what we've seen before when it comes to Black romance in the movies. Instead of the tried and true formula of a meet-cute, conflict, and resolution, Queen & Slim unites a Black man and a Black woman through Black radicalism. They come to lean on one another, inadvertently building a foundation when there is no one else either of them can trust or turn to. The weight of their relationship rests equally on both of their shoulders, as they become each other’s ride or die.

In contrast to Queen & Slim, writer/director Stella Meghie's The Photograph, is a much-deserved presentation of soft Black romance, without the trauma or brutality. The film follows Mae (Issa Rae), an art curator grappling with the death of her estranged mother, and Michael (Lakeith Stanfield) — a journalist who crosses paths with Mae's late mother's work. The film follows the typical romance formula, but the conflict and resolution aren't gut-wrenching or emotionally tumultuous. Mae and Micheal deal with real-life issues without being battered or broken. Both parties —like the lead characters in Queen & Slim, share the weight of their missteps and miscommunication. The Photograph is a recognition of straight-forward Black sensuality and love without the heaviness of Black pain. Despite all of this, the film has garnered mixed reviews. Since there isn’t any toxicity between the main characters or much comedy in The Photograph, it appears foreign to us. As a community, we’ve been conditioned to only recognize Black Love shrouded in chaos. Presently, Black women in particular, are asking Black people to look beyond archaic examples of love that are rooted in sexism, misogynoir, and rigid gender roles. Instead, Meghie presents two grown people who must hold themselves and each other accountable to have a chance at a loving and modern relationship.

Black women are also getting the opportunity to be seen as romantic leading women, in the broader scope of cinema alongside leading men from different cultures. Following the footsteps of the 2006 film Something New, where Sanaa Lathan's leading man was Australian actor Simon Baker, Issa Rae will become a leading lady once more in Netflix's The Lovebirds. The Insecure actress stars as Leilani, opposite Pakistani-American actor Kumail Nanjiani. Rae is a woman who is grappling with her strained relationship with her boyfriend, Jibran (Nanjiani). The couple's commitment to one another is hilariously put to the test when they suddenly find themselves in the middle of a chaotic murder mystery.

Black film, and undoubtedly Black romance film, has come a long way since that very first kiss was captured on-screen in 1898. With more women filmmakers at the helm, diverse projects, and the current wave of Black cinema in Hollywood, Black romance movies have the opportunity to give the next generations more nuanced depictions of connection, sensuality, sex, and intimacy. With films like Queen & Slim, Moonlight, The Photograph, and The Lovebirds — we have witnessed Black people from all walks of life and sexualities dive into romantic relationships with love, accountability, and self-awareness, which are truly the ultimate relationship goals.

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