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.
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.