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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Then & Now: Common Details How He And J Dilla Collaborated On The "Thelonious" Track With Slum Village

J Dilla and Common had a really tight creative bond and, at one point, lived together in L.A. So you know that Common got dibs on all of his hot beats first. They were hip-hop brethren just trying to work together and of all of their collaborations, living and posthumous, the track “Thelonius,” is the sharpest intersection of the two legendary artists' careers.

A singular song fit for two albums, the cut was placed on Common’s fourth studio album Like Water for Chocolate and Fantastic Vol. II, Slum Village's classic sophomore album. “Thelonius” as we know it was in a way an accident...a soulful snafu that we get to enjoy forever. In this excerpt of VIBE's Then & Now video franchise, Common shares how the song manifested unplanned, willed into existence by Dilla’s uncompromising creative compass.

The story is brought to life with artwork by visual artist supreme, Dan Lish (@DanLish1), the man behind Raekwon’s The Wild album artwork. The illustrations you see in this video are a small fraction of what you can find in his upcoming book: Egostrip Vol 1 – The Essential Hip Hop Art Book, a psychedelic visual history of hip-hop to be enjoyed by the genre’s oldest and youngest fans alike. 

Today is the last day to support Lish's Kickstarter for the incredible project. Click the following link for a copy of your own: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dan-lish/egostrip-book-1 

“I picked up on what inspired me about the artists, whether it be a certain lyric from a classic song or my perception of what may be going through their mind at the moment of creation,” says Lish.

There is much more to be said about all of these artists. For more stories on Common’s catalog, including several more Dilla cuts, stay tuned for the upcoming episode of Then & Now, where we dig deeper into notable tracks in the career of one Lonnie Rashid "Common" Lynn, Jr.

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Courtesy of Biz 3 / FCF

Quavo Is Introducing 'Fan Controlled Football' To The Culture

From their penchant for popping tags and name-dropping designer brands in their rhymes to the obsession with diamond-encrusted neckwear, the Migos are the modern-day poster-children for decadence and opulence. But when it comes to balling, group member Quavo is a seasoned veteran, literally and figuratively. Notorious for his appearances in NBA all-star celebrity games, where he routinely dominates the competition, Huncho has built a rep as one of the athletically gifted hit-makers in music today.

Although he's known for his skills on the hardwood, football is definitely among his passions. His newest endeavor, an ownership stake in Fan Controlled Football (FCF), the first professional sports league to put the viewer in the coach's seat and the general manager's office, in live time, finds him putting his focus back on the gridiron. Having inked an exclusive, multi-year streaming broadcast partnership with Twitch, the FCF will be the first professional sports league to be fully integrated with the streaming platform with the potential to explode in the digital age, where user interest and participation is the main recipe for success.

Having tossed the pigskin around as a Georgia high school football star, to Quavo, it was a no-brainer to get involved with the innovative league on the ground level. “We are building a brand and something different in our league – with the fans. They are in control and get to pick the team names, colors, logos, and more,” said Quavo said in a press release. “I’m really excited because FCF is fast-paced, high-scoring 7v7 football and you are in control. You go from sitting on the couch watching TV and pressing buttons on the remote to actually pressing the buttons on the plays.”

Played on "a 35-yard x 50-yard field with 10-yard end zones,” the Fan Controlled Football league will kick off in February 2021, with a four-week regular season, one week of playoffs, and a Championship week. The league will consist of former elite D-1 athletes, the CFL, XFL, and the Indoor Football League. Broadcasted live from the FCF’s state-of-the-art facility in Atlanta, each game will be 60 minutes in length and will allow the viewers to play a hand in the final outcome on Twitch.

Aside from sports, Quavo has been relatively lowkey on the musical tip as of late, with two years having passed since a solo release or a Migos album. However, according to him, this delay can be considered the calm before the storm, as he assures him and his brethren are primed for one of their biggest years yet. VIBE hopped on the line with Quavo to talk Fan Controlled Football, what he's got cooking in the studio, and his foray into TV and film.

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You're the newest team owner at Fan Controlled Football (FCF). What about the league piqued your interest and made you wanna get involved?

It's just showing my interest in the game of football and just trying to put a twist to where it's fan-controlled, fan-involved. A lot of times we watch the game, you watch the game, you just have some concerns. Sometimes you feel you can make the plays or call the play, [with FCF], you can sit on the couch and make the play. I just think we came together to make something crazy like that. I feel like it's something hard, it's something new, it's something fresh. It's a new beginning to something, like giving ni**as a chance. Giving D-1 players who couldn't make it to the league a chance, giving ex-NFL ni**as a chance if they still got it, [and] to go with the fans. When we saw the Falcons lose the Superbowl LI, we [fans] just knew what plays to call, we knew to run the ball. We were up 28-3. All we had to do was hold the ball, but we wanted to air it out and we made a mistake and lost to Tom Brady. Just like when Marshawn could've won a Superbowl. If they'd have given him the ball on the two-yard line. We knew that Marshawn Lynch was supposed to get the ball, [but] they wanted Russell Wilson to win it and the New England Patriots caught an interception. So that's how we're trying to shape it, we're trying to make something new.

The FCF will be live-streamed exclusively on Twitch, which has become one of the leading platforms for eSports live-streaming and will kick off in February 2021. Do you feel the FCF has the opportunity to fill that NFL void during the spring, particularly given the fan engagement that FCF enables?

Most definitely, cause after the Super Bowl, it just feels like you just want another game. You feel like you want one more game. and coming from something [where it's] eleven on eleven players to seven on seven, I feel [there’s] still a difference. After coming from watching the game and the regular politics, the regular structure of the game, now you're getting to be involved in a game that you can control. You can pick the jersey, you can pick the helmets, you can pick the jerseys, you can pick the coaches, you can pick the plays. I just feel there are two different dynamics [between the NFL and FCF). You come from sitting on the couch and pressing the remote to actually pressing the button on the plays."

Speaking of fan engagement, the FCF is the only professional sports league that enables fans to call the plays in real-time and puts the viewer in control of a game’s outcome like never before. Have you ever had that experience, as far as fantasy football?

Nah, but I'm into Madden. You can sit at home and pick your plays [with FCF], it's just like the lifestyle of Madden. It's like a reality of Madden. You're playing with people at home, with these unique athletes, and it's seven-on-seven.

As an Atlanta native, how significant was the FCF’s state-of-the-art facility being in your hometown in your decision to come on board as an owner?

It's very important. We got top-tier talent here, so it's opening up opportunities for a lot of guys. We're just glad it's in the south, it's like a hub. Everybody loves Atlanta and everybody wanna be here. Everybody wanna play and the weather is good.

NFL Super Bowl Champions Richard Sherman and Marshawn Lynch, boxing legend Mike Tyson, and YouTuber and podcaster empire Greg Miller are among the FCF's team owners. How does it feel to be competing against some of the most accomplished athletes and entertainers in the world? Have you had the opportunity to meet with any of them?

Most definitely. I have a good relationship with Mike Tyson. I've met Marshawn Lynch, it's a blessing. I feel like we're not competing right now, I feel like we're building a brand. I feel like we're building a league. I feel like we're trying to make the world understand what we're bringing to the table and what type of game we bring to the table, you feel me? I feel we're trying to create something different. Once we get the ball rolling, it's all together and moving into a real FCF league, then we'll get to compete. Of course, we all wanna win, but right now, we're just trying to get the foundation and the basics going and letting the strength of the owners and the relationships show on the field.

Being that you'll all be working with your respective fan bases in shaping your team’s personality and identity, any thoughts about what the team’s name will be? 

Man, I wish I did, but it's so straight strictly fans that you never know. Just like with music, can have an idea that is a smash, and then the fans don't think it is. You gotta strictly listen to the fans on this one. You gotta listen strictly to how they want it because it's the point of the game, that's the point of the league. We gotta let them control this game and then we the players and we the people that's listening to the people, the culture. FCF stands for culture, too, you feel what I'm saying? We listen to the culture, we're letting the culture run the field.

How involved will you be in the drafting and scouting process for your squad?

The fans make the draft, fans get to see everything. Open books, everything. It's an open thing, it ain't nothing to hide over here. The fans control it all.

In addition to sports, you've also been delving into acting, with cameos in shows like Atlanta, Star, Black-ish, and Ballers. Earlier this year, you appeared as yourself in Narcos: Mexico. How did that opportunity come about? 

Narcos reached out. We [Migos] had this song called “Narcos” on the [Culture II] album and we went and shot [the video] in Miami and everybody thought it was a Narcos movie scene and it ended up being Madonna's house. So we just shot that there and then they reached out to us. I think Offset had a performance somewhere and Takeoff had to do something and I just ended up being free that day and I went and shot it in New Mexico. I had fun, I loved it.

Do you have plans to pursue any supporting or leading roles in film or television?

Hell yeah, most definitely. I've been sitting down and having real great meetings with directors and people that got some movies in the works for 2021. I feel like I’ve got some good spots. I don't wanna tell it cause they’re gonna make some announcements. It's coming soon.

It's been two years since you've released a solo project or one with the Migos. Can fans expect any new music from you anytime soon and what are your next plans on that front?

Most definitely, hell yeah, we're shooting videos right now. We’re vaulting up a whole lot of videos so we can give you music and visuals at the same time. “Need It," the song came first and then the video. Right now, we wanna get a lot of videos and a lot records in the vault and smash [them] all at once 'cause it's been two years.

Pop Smoke's passing was one of the more tragic events in rap in recent memory, but his debut album, which you appeared on throughout, has been one of the most successful and acclaimed projects of 2020. How has it been seeing how the album’s been received, especially after you and him developed such a bond in a short time?

I'm happy. I'm proud of him, that was my partner. We did a lot of records, we spent a lot of time together and I feel like the album would've did even more with him being alive. A lot of people's album just go crazy when they die, I feel like his sh*t would've still went crazy. He had the momentum, he had the buzz. He was having fun. He was hot, he was fresh, he had everything ready.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Toots Hibbert performing at Hammersmith Palais, London in 1983.
Photo by David Corio/Redferns

Remembering Toots Hibbert

The best singers don’t need too many words to make their point. Otis Redding could let loose with a sad sad song like “Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa” and get you all in your feelings. Bob Marley got pulses pounding with his “Whoi-yoooo” rebel yell. Gregory Isaacs melted hearts with nothing more than a gentle sigh. Toots Hibbert, who died last Friday at the age of 77, could sing just about anything and make it sound good. One of the world's greatest vocalists in any genre, Toots paired his powerful voice with the understated harmonies of Raleigh Gordon and Jerry Mathias to form The Maytals, a vocal trinity that never followed fashion and remained relevant throughout the evolution of Jamaican music—from the ska era to rock steady straight through to reggae, a genre named after The Maytals' 1968 classic “Do The Reggay.”

Whether they were singing a sufferer’s selection (“Time Tough”), a churchical chant (“Hallelujah”), or the tender tale of a country wedding (“Sweet and Dandy”), The Maytals blew like a tropical storm raining sweat and tears. The lyrics to Six and Seven Books,” one of The Maytals' earliest hits, are pretty much just Toots listing the books of the Bible. “You have Genesis and Exodus,” he declares over a Studio One ska beat, “Leviticus and Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua, Judges and Ruth...” Having grown up singing in his parents' Seventh Day Adventist Church in the rural Jamaican town of May Pen, Toots knew the Good Book well.

The Maytals broke out worldwide in 1966 thanks to the song “Bam Bam,” which won Jamaica's first-ever Independence Festival Song Competition, held during the first week of August as the island nation celebrated both independence from Great Britain in 1862 and emancipation in 1834. They would go on to win the coveted title two more times, but “Bam Bam” was a singular song with a message every bit as powerful as Toots' voice. “I want you to know that I am the man," Toots sang. He was young and strong, ready to "fight for the right, not for the wrong." The trajectory of "Bam Bam" would not only transform Toots' life but make waves throughout popular music worldwide.

"Festival in Jamaica is very important to all Jamaicans," the veteran singer stated in a video interview this past summer while promoting his latest entry into the annual competition. "I must tell you that I won three festivals in Jamaica already, which is “Bam Bam,” “Sweet & Dandy” and “Pomp & Pride.” Toots described that first festival competition as a joyous occasion. "Everybody just want to hear a good song that their children can sing," he recalled. "Is like every artist could be a star."

In 2016, on the 50th anniversary of "Bam Bam" winning first place, Toots looked back over the legacy of the tune that made him a star. "I didn’t know what it means but it was a big deal," he told Boomshots. "You in the music business and you want to be on top and you write a good song and you go on this competition and if they like it then it becomes #1." After The Maytals won, the group was in demand not just all over the island, but all over the world. "We start fly out like a bird," he says with a laugh. "Fly over to London."

"Bam Bam" went on to inspire numerous cover versions, starting with Sister Nancy, Yellowman, and Pliers. It would also be sampled in numerous hip hop classics, and interpolated into Lauryn Hill's "Lost Ones." But according to Toots, he did not benefit financially from these endless cover versions. "People keep on singing it over and over and over, and they don’t even pay me a compliment," he told Boomshots. "I haven’t been collecting no money from that song all now."

 

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“This man don’t trouble no one... but if you trouble this man it will bring a Bam Bam” Original Maytals Classic @tootsmaytalsofficial 🎶 All them a talk, them nuh bad like Niya Fiya Ball ☄️🔥💥 via @tonyspreadlove . 💥💣🔫#Boomshots

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When Toots began singing in his parents' church, music was not seen as a career prospect, and the profits were slim for Jamaican recording artists in the 1960s. "Those days we get 14 cents for the record to play on the radio," Toots said. "I get three shillings and five shillings for a number one record, which I had 31 number one record in Jamaica... It’s not about money for me. It’s about the quality that Jamaicans need to go back in the festival jamboree... You gotta talk to the children."

On the poignant “54-46 (Was My Number),” Toots recalls the dehumanization of his arrest and 18-month imprisonment at Jamaica's Richmond Farm Correctional Center for what he always insisted was a trumped-up ganja charge just as his music career was taking off. The song's crescendo comes two minutes in when Toots breaks into a scat solo that cannot be translated into any language known to man, delivered with palpable passion that made his message universal. During Toots' ecstatic stage performances he would follow this riff by commanding his band to “Give it to me... one time!” Then the 'd make 'em say Uh!  (Way before Master P!) “Give it to me... two times!” Uh! Uh! And so on and so forth until Toots worked the place into a frenzy.

The Maytals' live show was so explosive that Toots began touring all over the world, opening for rock megastars like The Rolling Stones and The Who. While Bob Marley richly deserved the title King of Reggae, his friend Toots was performing internationally before The Wailers, and remained a force to be reckoned with throughout his life, blazing a trail for generations of reggae artists to follow in his footsteps.

On his Grammy-winning 2004 album True Love, Toots recorded some of his greatest hits with a host of legendary artists, many of whom were also good friends, including Willie Nelson, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow, and Eric Clapton. His 2006 cover of Radiohead's "Let Down" was a favorite of the band's, who used to play it on their tour bus. Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood called Toots’ version “truly astounding,” according to Easy Star Records Michael Goldwasser.

Toots supported himself and his family by touring all over the world. During a 2013 show in Richmond, Virginia he was singing John Denver's "Take Me Home Country Roads" when a teenager in the crowd threw a vodka bottle at the stage and hit him on the head. He suffered a concussion and had to stop touring for several years. As his first album in a decade, Got To Be Tough was highly anticipated when it was released on Trojan Jamaica label August 28. On the cover the former boxer and lifelong fighter can be seen throwing a punch. Just a day after the album dropped, Toots came down with symptoms similar to COVID 19. Within a few days he was hospitalized where doctors placed him into a medically induced coma from which he never recovered. As his Tidal obituary pointed out, he passed away exactly 33 years after his old friend Peter Tosh died by gunfire.

Songs like "Just Brutal" from the hit different now, with Toots pleading for more love in a world gone wrong. "We were brought here," Toots sings. "Sold out. Victimized brutally. Every time I keep remembering what my grandfather said before he died."

“I’m feeling alright,” Toots said the last time we spoke, while he was still sidelined with stress issues due to the bottle-throwing incident. "I’m feeling alright. I’m feeling alright. I’m feeling just cool because is Jah works. You seet?" I asked him if the song "Bam Bam," was about him—a peaceful man who should not be provoked—or else. "Nooo don't trouble him," Toots said with a laugh. "It’s gonna be double trouble, triple trouble. A lot of trouble."

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