The Realness is an album that has stood the test of time. Created over fifteen years ago, Cormega was carrying a huge burden. Released from Def Jam after his debut album, The Testament, being shelved and no longer a member of The Firm, to say Cormega had something to prove on The Realness would be an understatement. There was the label that didn’t believe. A group that cut him loose. And fans that were waiting, some questioning if he could do it on his own, others knowing and waiting with anticipation.
The Realness was the answer to everyone and everything. The classic debut, released through Landspeed, showed that not only could Mega rap his ass off, but he didn’t need a glitzy crew that was more show than prove or a major label’s budget and backing to be successful. The Realness was an instant classic to fans and proved that Cormega was not only better off as a solo artist, but that he had the potential to build a strong independent career, relying on himself and not needing a cosign from anyone.
And while plenty of artists and fans can attest to Cormega’s legendary status today, remember that he never asked for it nor needed it. It’s great, and he’ll tell you himself he appreciates it, but it’s not what drives him, fifteen years later, to continue creating introspective and lyrical hip-hop that withstands the test of time. In this interview, Cormega speaks about the impact of The Realness, his artistic perspective, and much more.
It’s the 15 year anniversary of The Realness. Congratulations. When you look at that today, does it even seem possible?
Nah. Time definitely flies. It doesn’t feel like it. But I’m happy.
You opened up The Realness saying, “A man is condemned or exalted by his words. Exalt me.” Did The Realness exalt you?
I would say yes. It put things in perspective and gave people an idea of what I’m capable of.
At that point, you had been dropped from Def Jam and felt you had something to prove. Did you have a chip on your shoulder?
Yes. Very much. Very much.
Did you have any fear that it wouldn’t measure up to what you and your fans wanted or did you know you nailed it?
If I said I had no fear, I’d be lying because I always have fear. I always have fear, especially of the unknown. So I didn’t know what to expect. I just hoped that people would get it, but the fear left. As soon as the album came out and I saw the reaction from the streets, that’s when the fear disappeared because I realized it was something special. I literally had people from record stores looking for me asking for boxes of CDs. I need boxes. That shit right there felt great.
And that was through Landspeed and everything didn’t happen as smoothly as it could have.
Especially when it came time to get paid! (laughs)
One minor detail.
(laughs) But at the end of the day, I’m thankful. I’m thankful that Landspeed gave me that platform to express myself because in the timely manner that album came out, there was nobody else that could put an album out as fast as Landspeed did. Business-wise, I learned from it, but in terms of putting out the album and respecting the music, they did that to the fullest.
Did you ever feel like the process was too rushed?
No. The Realness was rushed, but I didn’t feel like it was rushed because it was a success. If it would have failed, then I could have thought that maybe I rushed it. Shit, if The Realness is rushed, then I hope every album is rushed. If every album I did is as successful as The Realness, shit, I’d be a multi-multi-millionaire.
What made The Realness so successful to the point we’re talking about its fifteenth anniversary?
I think The Realness resonated with a lot of people. I think a lot of people anticipated me and was waiting on me for so long and then The Realness I was like, Finally. I think it was what they were waiting for and I think it lived up to the hype. I think it was something that people were proud of. The Realness wasn’t over-marketed. Some artists will sell themselves onto you. They’ll say that they’re the greatest or their album is the greatest. I didn’t say shit.
All I said was that I was coming with an album. You never heard me really say, “The Realness is a classic” until after everybody else said it’s a classic and then I say, “People say The Realness is a classic.” But you never heard me, like,with that bravado and confidence like, I nailed it because I didn’t know what I did when I made The Realness. I’m just happy that it turned out to be what it turned out to be and we’re here 15 years later talking about it.
Did you have a specific vision for it when you started The Realness?
I always got a vision when I got a project. That’s how I do my music. So I knew what I wanted. At the end of the day, it’s all about putting a puzzle together though. Make the songs connect to each other.
Did your work through the Def Jam project that was shelved, The Testament, and being at the label help you put songs together or did it always come naturally to you?
I owe Havoc a lot. I learned how to put songs together from being around all the artists and not the label situation. There were times when I was at Def Jam when I wasn’t in the studio in months. Literally, a half a year could pass and I’m still not in the studio. So you can’t really learn while being on the shelf.
But from being around people like Havoc and seeing how they do choruses, because Mobb Deep, I don’t think nobody ever did choruses and hooks better than Mobb Deep. The way they did it, they championed that shit. I learned from being around different artists. I think every artist that I was ever affiliated with, I’ve probably learned from everybody and I don’t mind being a listener. I don’t mind taking advice and I don’t mind taking criticism so I think that helped me a lot in the process and helped me get to where I am today.
And that’s a friendship that you’ve been able to maintain too, right? What does that mean to you?
I’ve maintained a lot of my friendships. I take friendship serious. So pretty much everybody, most of the people that I was cool with, for the most part, I’m still cool with. It’s just that as far as being an artist, when you’re an artist and you’re moving in different directions, sometimes you just gotta stop in your tracks and reflect on who’s your people and sometimes reach out to them.
Like yesterday I reached out to Craig G. That’s my man for a very long time. I let him know that I’m working on some tour shit and I want to bring him on some dates. Every once in awhile I check up on my people. But I really respect Havoc a lot and I have a different kind of relationship with him and he did a lot for me which I’m very appreciative of and which I’ve told him.
How has it changed working with Mobb Deep from then to now?
I don’t know because…I don’t know. At the end of the day, I haven’t worked with Prodigy in years. I’ve worked with Havoc recently. I have the unreleased song with me and Havoc. It’s very, very crazy. It might be the best song I’ve dropped in a long time. It’s raw. It’s raw. It’s vintage Havoc and Mega-type shit. It’s hard. I’m so glad for that but I haven’t worked with Prodigy in a long time.
J-Love helped a lot with The Realness. What did he mean to the project though?
J-Love is the one who made me take up the meeting. J-Love is like, when you have somebody that really, really believes in you, they’re going to put that much more effort into it. J-Love was always a Mega person, so his loyalty to me as a fan and as a friend is something that I treasure. It just feels good. It feels good. It made perfect sense that J-Love was involved because he’s a big Mega fan and we’ve grown to be friends. I don’t have too many friends in the industry.
I have people that I’m cool with but being cool doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re friends. J-Love, it’s good to have a friend involved and somebody who’s passionate about what you do. When somebody believes in you, it can put you in ways that you didn’t even know about or their belief in you inspires you to not want to give in or to not let them down, so I’m just thankful for his belief. He meant a lot to the project.
I love that you still do acapellas like you did with “5 for 40.” Did you know you were starting a staple of a Mega album then?
I always thought that that was something that rappers should do. That has always been my thing anyway. If somebody’s outside and they just want to spit lyrics, there’s not always music, so I always thought that that is like an MC in its purest form, even a singer. That’s a singer in their purest form when there’s nothing to carry you. It’s just their voice. that’s when your words and your voice are going to determine who you really are. I’ve always admired acapellas and I’ve always thought it made sense. After I did it on The Realness and after I performed it at shows and for people, they were like, Yo! and people were going crazy for the shit so I knew I had to do it more. That’s why I kept doing it. And shit, now it’s just a standard thing on a Mega album. I gotta do one.
And a lot of the people you worked with on The Realness, like Sha Money XL, Alchemist, Ayatollah, are some huge names in production, some before they really blew up. Did you see potential in those producers?
I always see the potential in people. I see the potential in a lot of people and aspiring artists that I’ve worked with. I work with artists before people work with them and then after I work with them, I see people working with them. I didn’t understand why people weren’t working with Chris Rivers. You see I was one of the first people who worked with him and I said a few things on Twitter about how people were funny and how they’re not working with him and et cetera, et cetera, then a lot of people started working with him but I was the first. I saw his potential.
I saw the potential in Dona. When I had Dona as an artist, I saw Dona as a star. I always told Dona that she was going to be bigger than me and I wanted her to be bigger than me.
Anybody that knows me knows that I don’t want to be famous. I don’t want to be a superstar. That was never my goal. I just want to make money and I just want to make music the way I like to make it. As long as my family’s good and I’m able to be all right and maintain a life, you know, get a nice car once in awhile and keep my kids fly and have food and shelter, I’m good. And do my little business thing.
But I don’t want to be that guy that can’t walk through the mall because I’m so famous or I can’t enjoy a simple meal because I’m so famous. I don’t want paparazzi chasing me. I don’t’ want to be famous like that. I told Dona that I want her to be bigger than me. So I see potential in a lot of opele. Whenever I see potential I work with them or I let them know don’t give you on yourself because I know what you’re capable of. Everybody just needs that right person. Everybody needs the right A&R or the right person that’s just going to inspired them or move them the way they need to be moved.
I remember Dona from the Legal Hustle compilation. Whatever happened to her?
Dona had a couple of babies. And we speak now. At this very moment, Dona is, she just sent me an email and said she’s writing some shit because I told her that I don’t feel like explaining anything to the fans about her, like as far as what happened with Dona because when she comes back on the set, because I want her on Legal Hustle Volume Two, but even if she’s not, when she comes back on the set, I don’t feel like answering questions so I told her to make a record explaining everything and then she said she will.
Tragically another artist that you worked with early, Jacka, was shot last year.
That’s another person that I saw the potential in. I took Jacka international and national when he was just a local person. But I seen his style. He had a special…Jacka was a special person but his style was unique. And Mob Figaz is a bunch of talented artists. There’s a guy named Husalah. Husalah has the star personality of the whole group. He has the personality. And Jacka was like the likeable, the guy next door, smooth dude. Husalah was like the star. And you have Rydah and Fed-X and there’s different people in their crew and everybody is dope in their own way. You just have to push them and market them in the right way.
I picked “More Crime on the Legal Hustle compilation. I picked that one because I knew what it would do. And now people know Jacka in fucking England.
That was how I first got in touch with Jacka too. It’s tragic what happened to him. How do you remember him today?
Very fun. Jacka was like my little cousin. People think he’s my cousin. There are literally fans that are like, Your cousin Jacka. When Jacka died, I was very hurt. I was numb It just hurt. It stung bad. Also because time flies so fast and I didn’t see him in a few years so it makes me feel bad because everybody’s running around doing their own thing and in life, sometimes we become slaves to ambition, like I’m so busy trying to do my thing and he’s so busy trying to do his thing. People who have 9-5’s go to work and bust their ass and hopefully take care of what they have to take care of and get their vacation and before you know it you have family that you haven’t seen in years. That’s the sad thing about life.
So it’s like when Jacka died, I felt bad. I was hurt. And I felt bad because I hadn’t seen him. That’s something that’s going to always bother me. And he’s just a beautiful person, man. That’s my man, man. That shit hurt bad, man. Me and him were very close. He came to New York before and I had a hotel room and he would sleep in my room. he wouldn’t even go back to his hotel because we were chilling. We were chilling in Queensbridge and hed be out there with him. I’d be in his hood to. Husalah was in New York chilling too. I got a different kind of relationship with those guys. They’re like family, man. If somebody got beef with Mob Figaz, I’m not fucking with that person.
And I know how serious you take loyalty through your actions, songs, and our relationship over the years.
Loyalty is big and I’m proud. I know people that don’t even fuck with me. I know people that don’t even like me, but say, “Mega’s a loyal dude.” So to hear that from people that I know don’t even like me means a lot to me. It makes me look at myself like, Wow, all right, so I’m a loyal dude. So that’s one of the things I’m proud of and I expect that from people because that’s how I am. There’s been times when I didn’t even have it financially but I was giving it to somebody else that needed it. There were times when I was giving people shit that I needed to pay my bills to help them with a bill. I’ve learned to not expect people to be as I am because I’ll end up being disappointed because there’s not too many people that are real like that. That doesn’t make them bad people, it’s just that everybody has a limit. There’s not too many people that have the limits that I have and the ones that do, I honor them and I acknowledge them and I appreciate them because it’s rare.
Looking at the fact that The Realness dropped 15 years ago, do you ever listen to it on your own?
I haven’t listened to The Realness in years. The only shit I listen to is new shit. Let’s say I go to the studio today and I make a song, I’ll listen to it for the next few days because I’m looking at it and I’m analyzing what I like, what I don’t like, what I might want to change, but other than that, there’s songs on The Realness that I don’t even perform because I don’t know all the words. I haven’t listened to it in years.
And I only have one copy of it. And I don’t want to play it because I don’t want to fuck it up. And I damn-sure don’t bring it outside because all my other Realnesses that went outside, them shits got borrowed and those people forgot that borrowing means you have to bring it back, so I don’t bring my Realnesses outside. So I haven’t heard it in years. I’m proud of that shit, but I haven’t heard it in years.
I’ve hung with rappers that only listen to their music all the time. Glad you’re not one of those dudes.
You’ve grown to know me throughout the years and I think throughout the years, every time we talk, I’m probably talking about a new album. I be more excited about my new shit than my old shit and even then, I don’t listen to it. I listen to my new shit when I’m playing it for people. Like, say me and you was chilling together somewhere and I’m like, Alright, Brian, I’m going to let you hear some new shit and you’re there and I play the shit. So I’m gonna hear it as you’re hearing it because I’m right there with you, but as far as me just driving around enjoying my shit, obsessed with it, I think that’s fucking corny. I mean, you gotta like your own shit, I guess, but not like that. I’m not on it like that. I don’t listen to my own shit. At all. I listen to other shit. I don’t even listen to rap in my car that much.
To be honest with you, I don’t even listen to music in my car. When I’m in the car, I’m just driving. Like, once in awhile, I’ll listen to music if my daughter’s there and she wants to hear music. But even then, it’s soul music. Like my daughter brought an Al Green CD out the other day and I was very impressed and happy, so we listened to Al Green. I played Miles Davis. Recently I’ve been on some Miles Davis shit. Shit like that is what I listen to. It’s like an NBA player. When basketball season’s over, I don’t think they want to watch basketball every day or play basketball every day. So I had to get away from rap sometimes and just recharge and find other things that push me and grab my attention. I barely listen to rap and I definitely barely listen to my own shit.
If you did listen to it now, what emotions do you think it would bring out?
That’s a great question. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll do it one of these days soon and let you know. But I know it’s definitely a mental journey ‘cause when I listen to certain songs, it reminds me of certain events and then it reminds me of people that aren’t here anymore, like my man Spank. You know, I talked about him on the “Fallen Soldiers” remix and then on “Glory” and then also his brother is the one who produced “Unforgiven.” So I remember the times when I did hear The Realness, it takes me back to that place where I was at. Like when I hear “The Saga,” I think about where I was at in life and a lot of times when I hear “The Saga,” I’m just proud of it.
This is bigger than rap. It’s beyond rap. Like the type of fans that I’ve met or the type of people that I’ve touched, it’s just beyond rap. Like that song is in a total different genre, especially since I made the remix. That song is powerful. And it’s K.L.’s voice on that song and he’s not here. So I think of what made me right that and that’s one of the songs, the thing about The Realness though, that’s the one album that I try to outdo or I try to live up to because I have no choice because people love it so much that anything I do will be compared to The Realness.
The Realness is a blessing and a curse because anything I do will be measured up against it, but it’s such a liked album, how can I be measured up against it? So listening to it makes me proud, but it’s also like, Fuck. That album is also a proud moment for me but it’s also a headache, because it’s like, This is the motherfucker I have to live up to.
Maybe you should have went easier on it.
(laughs) Nope! I’m glad I came out hardbody. I’m glad I came out the gate swinging. Come on. You can’t be on the shelf for five years and come out slacking ‘cause then you’re justifying being on the shelf. Yo, anybody that was against me or, you know, didn’t believe in me, they wanted that album to be terrible. Do you know how bad that album made that album made certain people look? Do you know how bad certain people looked when The Realness came out. They were like, Hold up, they had him on the shelf for five years with this? They was looking bad after that. I know that for a fact!
Did you hear from anybody at Def Jam or The Firm after The Realness dropped?
Nope. I heard from people at Def Jam. You know who gave me the biggest compliment after The Realness? Russell Simmons said some shit that’s good. Russell used to always say, “What’s up with Mega’s shit?” I can’t front on Russ. He used to always be like, “What’s up with Mega’s shit?” That shit made me proud that he was asking. But after that shit came out, Russell said something nice and I know Chris Lighty said something nice, which surprised me. Chris Lighty said, “That’s the one that got away” about me. So it’s like he gave me props for the project. It made me proud because Chris was like that big brother that’s hard on you but you want to impress him. That’s why a lot of times little brothers end up being the best because they got the big brother that they think don’t believe in them and they get that tough love. So it’s like, when Chris said that, I was happy.
Especially when no one in the industry admits they made mistakes.
Yeah, people don’t like to admit they make mistakes. And people like to blame and play the blame game a lot too in this game, but it is what it is. When The Realness came out, I know I made all to of people look stupid and I made a lot of people have to give me my props that didn’t want to give me my props. It’s like I’m not begging for your respect. Like, you have no choice but to respect me because in every aspect of the album, I exceeded expectations in every aspect of the album. Nobody thought it was going to be that good of an album. Nobody thought it was going to sell that well. Nobody thought it was going to have the impact that it did. So every aspect of the album was beyond expectations. So I was just happy. I was very happy.
Were you trying to prove more to others or more to yourself that you could do this with The Realness?
Both. It’s definitely both. I’d be lying if I said it was just to myself. I’m the type of dude, you know that old saying, “Kill them with kindness”? That’s how you stop me. People are better off not saying nothing. I’m the type of dude that could be a little inspired and somebody says something and it just lights a fuel in me. So it’s like when people light a fuel in me, they fucked up because it makes me want to go hard. It makes me want to win harder.
So it was both. I wanted to prove something to myself and I wanted to prove something to the world and then I wanted to represent my mans well because a few of my mans just died around the time of that album, so I wanted to represent them well. ‘Cause at the end of the day, when you’re in the streets and you do something good, your friends are your first fucking promotion team. They argue for you. “My man is nice. He’s better than this guy.” Or they put up money so you could battle people or they put up money so you could just do better in life or they just believe in you so much that you just want to represent for the mean for yourself. It’s just like a sport, man.
Has your writing process changed between The Realness and today?
Of course. You know the answer to that. I think you just asked me that because it sounds good for an interview! (laughs)
Really, I just like hearing you talk about your writing process.
(laughs) I don’t know. I definitely evolved as a writer. I think I take more risks as a writer. I’ve always been a perfectionist. I’ve always been not the type of guy that’s just going to put out any verse. I’ve always been like that. So now it’s like I think I’m better than I used to be. I’m just not as raw as I used to be. But I think I’m a better writer now.
What facilitated that growth?
I think sometimes you just come into your own. I think it’s like being an athlete. Like you realize that this is your go-to move. I just realized what the fans want from me and what they expect from me and then once I realized that, it made shit easier and then after that, I just got in a real good comfort zone with certain shit. I got more comfortable with my voice and my delivery. I just got comfortable with my shit. Instead of just having that inner confidence and competitiveness, I really started to believe it as opposed to psyching myself up. I really started to believe in myself and I think it’s from the fans too. It’s like when a fan tells you certain things, that’s like you having a job and your boss is telling you about how well you’re doing at your job. It’s like the fans are like, I don’t know what it’s called at work because I’ve never had a job, obviously, but it’s like when you have a job at work and they tell you how your progress is.
A performance review?
Pretty much. So when your fans are telling you shit, some artists, they just, some artists are so sensitive of fans and that shit bugs me out. Like, I’ve seen artists literally get mad at, don’t get it twisted, there are times when certain fans could be a bit annoying sometimes, like if they’re drunk. There are certain times when fans have gotten on my nerves, but very few. But whenever a fan gives you their opinion, that’s very important data for you to take. They’re telling you about your shit and especially if what they’re saying is consistent with what other fans are saying, you’ve gotta keep that. If you make a song and a fan says, “I really hate that song” and you meet another fan and they say, “I love your music but I hate that song,” and if it’s the same song that everybody hates, then you need to not perform that song or you need to not make songs like that song anymore.
Or you gotta know who your genre is too and know what they expect of you. There are artists that I respect that are pop artists and if given the opportunity to work with them, I would not work with them. Not because I don’t think they are good but because I think working with them could hurt me more than it could help me because pure hip-hop fans, they are very…you know how it is. They’re just real, they’re like gatekeepers. They don’t want to pollute the water so it’s like don’t step outside your box and work with somebody that the fans are going to hate you for because at the end of the day, there’s nobody in your life that’s more important than your fans when you’re an artist. The only person that’s more important in your life is God.
Your family’s not even as important as your fans when it comes to being an artist. You know why? Because your fans are the ones helping you take care of your family! So you have to respect that shit. So I will never do something that my fans are against.
There are certain artists who I think might be cool with me or I might not think they’re all that great or they might be cool or there are people that I haven’t worked with but if the fans tell me I need to work with this guy and if enough people say it, then I’m going to work with that person because people are saying it for a reason.
And that’s why you have loyal fans.
Yep. I’m thankful for that shit. I don’t take that shit for granted and I think my fans know that. I really, when I said, “I love you” to my fans, they know that shit is real. I’ve done shit for fans that I didn’t even have to do that took me out of my comfort zone. They understand.
And you grew up in the building where the album cover was shot, right?
That’s a hallway in Queensbridge. It’s not my aunt’s window but it outside my aunt’s apartment.
And that’s where you spent your teenage years?
Yeah. I lived there. That’s where I lived.
That was after you lived in Co-op City.
Yes, definitely. In Co-op City, I was a goodie-goodie. There was no drug selling and none of that shit. It was just Cory the Good Guy.
QB brought that other side out in you?
QB just intensified it because QB was like, fucking, I can’t even explain that shit, man. QB was like Harlem. It was just, I can’t even explain it, man. It was just the funnest place in the world, man, and the money was just crazy. Put it like that. Like we really had that attitude like, Why am I in this classroom when I make more than the teacher? Like, I really was feeling like that. Literally, I was feeling like that. And that’s the question we asked. We used to leave class, me and my mans Black Jay. There were times we left class and went to the car dealership or left class and went uptown to get some more cocaine and stuff.
Queensbridge…they blame rap for a lot of shit but I’ll tell you what really changed everything. That movie Scarface made everybody want to be a hustler. Scarface altered more kids than any rap song. You could ask anybody, even right now. Look at the obsession with Scarface. You see it in rap all the time. People do it in their videos, people wear the cloths,so peoples use the monologues on their albums, they got the pictures in their house. If you ask the average person that raps and sells drugs to name some movies that inspire them, I guarantee you 95% will say Scarface. That shit made everybody want to hustle.
It’s hard to find an album that doesn’t reference it in some way.
Yeah. Scarface was like the shit. That shit was fascinating to me, especially if you’re poor and in the ghetto. People see it as a come-up and it was like, Whoa.
The Realness came out a couple months before Jay-Z’s The Blueprint, which is probably Jay’s most anticipated album up to that point. Did you see yourself competing with The Blueprint or any other albums when The Realness dropped?
Hell no. I wasn’t even thinking about them because I’m different from them in every aspect of the word. I’m different from them. They’re in a whole different ballpark from me. They’re on majors and I’m like a people’s person. I’m the people. People relate to me more than they relate to a lot of rappers because they see redemption. They see ups, they see downs, they see the hurdles I’ve been through. More people can relate to that than Maybachs. I’ve never seen anybody with a Maybach in the hood. I’ve never known nobody from the hood that took a jet plane. Certain things people can’t relate to and there are certain things people can.
So it’s like no album, when that came out, when The Realness came out, I wasn’t thinking about nobody’s album at all. The only people who were consistent with me or what I was doing with the street music was like The Lox, M.O.P., Mobb Deep, shit like that. But also I’m not competitive with my friends, so it’s like if somebody’s coming out and I’m coming out, I’ll be like, Let’s go on the road together or some shit like that. Most of the artists who are street artists, I’m cool with. So when I make music, I know, especially now, I know I got a diehard, loyal fanbase and I know what they expect and I know that they’re ocing and I don’t think about nobody else because my shit is different. My respect is different. And the way I do shit is different and the goals I’m trying to achieve are different.
Some artists, if they have a platinum album or the album is terrible, they don’t give a fuck because they’re going platinum, so they’ll brag about the album being platforming more than the album being good. I don’t want a wack album. My biggest nightmare is if I did an album that went platinum but enough people told me my album was wack and they’re dead-ass serious and they’re not hating, they’re like, That album is shit, I’m going to feel like shit. The fact that that album went platinum is not going to make me feel any better and that’s what makes me different from other artists.
And that’s what makes me different from other artists. They use success as a shield. They’re like, Oh, you’re just hating. It’s to the point where you can’t have opinions anymore because people will call you a hater when in reality you’re just expressing your opinion. That’s where I’m at. I don’t want no wack…that’s my biggest fear is making a wack album. Now you know my secret. It’s a goal of mine at the end of the day when I retire or whatever or when I’m no longer making music, I want people to say, “Yo, he never made a wack album.”
What keeps you from making a wack album or putting out an album fans may perceive as wack?
Well, the first thing is, I’m not a dickrider. You can only listen to music with your ears. Some people listen to music with their eyes. What I mean by that is that they’ll get a hot producer. There’s been times I’ve seen rappers get a song from a hot producer and the beat was wack, but the producer was hot so they accepted it because of the producer. It doesn’t work like that. I’ve turned down beats from anybody you can name. There’s been beats that I’ve been like, Nah, I don’t want that. I don’t want that. If I don’t like it, I’m not going to do it. You can’t force me to do something.
That’s a big mistake most people make and I’m not going to make that mistake. Like if I hear something and I enjoy it, I have enough faith in myself that people will enjoy it also because I think I have a pretty good ear for beats in my opinion, so that’s what I go for. I go for stuff that I’m going to enjoy. It’s like if I taste something that’s great, I’m going to get excited and take my friend there and be like, You gotta taste this.
A lot of artists, they just jump on the dick of whoever’s hot. There could be a rapper that sucks but people would be quick to do a song with that artist because he’s hot. You could be the worst motherfucker ever, but you’re hot and people are going to do a song with you but they’re not going to do a song with a dope rapper.
I know exactly what you mean. 9/11 also happened after The Realness dropped. Did that have any effect on the album?
Nope. It had an effect on me. The “Get Out My Way” video was done the day before 9/11. If you hang up the phone and listen to the “Get Out My Way” video, I can actually-factually say that that’s the last video that the Trade Center was in. We did that shit September 10. That’s the last video that the Trade Center was in because the next day, that shit went down. The next day, I was home and my man was like, Yo. My man Tito called me like, Yo, son, it’s fucking, it’s a war, son. They bombed the fucking Trade Center. So I was mad tired because I was up late. A part of me was like, I’ll call you back but I was like, This nigga’s bullshitting. I think he’s joking.
But then when I woke up, I’m thinking he’s drunk and then I turn on the radio and Star and Bucwild are saying, “The World Trade Center has been bombed. This is not a prank. This is not a joke. This is real.” And then I turn on the TV and it’s on every channel. The phone’s aren’t working. Some of the channels was foggy and fuzzy. And then the channels that was working, they were all saying the World Trade center got bombed. I was like, Holy shit. That shit scared the shit out me so much that I was like, Whoa and I went down south. I didn’t know how to grasp that shit. Then they said some shit went down in D.C. and that they were trying to bomb some other place.
I remember wanting to get away from the bullshit so I went down south so I took a bus down south because there was no plane you could take. I didn’t feel like staying by myself in my crib because I was by myself in my crib and I had just got my house. I was going down south. It’s not like I was going to New York. You couldn’t even get in the city. I was like, Fuck it, my family is good. I’m going down south.
How long did you stay?
I don’t remember. I probably came back a week later, two weeks.
No doubt. When you look at your career, and this is a hypothetical question, but how would your career have been different if Def Jam would have released The Testament? Would we even have a Realness album?
Nope. I don’t think there would have been a Realness at all. I think everything that happens is meant to happen because first of all, certain songs that ended up on The Realness would have been on The Testament because I was getting songs from other places. And as I was getting songs, I was like, You know what? I’ll save this for my next album and then the next album ended up being The Realness but the only reason I said I was going to save it was they were taking long at Def Jam.
But I knew what songs I wanted to lose but if they had given me a date, I think I would have used different songs. But I don’t think there would have been a Realness because I would have had to bend a little bit for Def Jam. I made a song with Carl Thomas before and that’s not the type of song I would put on The Realness but that’s the type of song that I would do to make Def Jam happy.
But don’t get it twisted.I would do a song with Carl Thomas. I think he’s dope. But I would do it my way, more soulful or more urban sound as opposed to trying to get on the radio. So when you’re on a label like that, you gotta make songs to try and get on the radio. That’s, like, mandatory. You have to. When they say, “What’s your single?” that means what song are you giving them for the radio. They don’t give a fuck about your song in the street that everybody loves. They want to know what song is going on the radio.
There’s different ways to do music and the way that they do music and the way that I do music is totally different. But the beautiful thing about all of that is that I was able to get past that and I no longer have issues with Def Jam.
That’s big to not carry that around.
Yep. Actually, my last show in New York, I had Def Jam representatives there and he’s my man now. So it’s like, I definitely came full circle. I got Def Jam coming to my shows and I’m shouting them out onstage. And it’s beautiful because he gets it. He respects me. All bygones are bygones.
Is The Realness your best album?
I don’t think The Realness is my best album. I don’t think so. I think it was the favorite child. But as far as albums, I don’t know if it’s my best album ‘cause Mega Philosophy is like a whole different chamber and I think Born and Raised is my most underrated album. But I don’t know. There’s some people that say True Meaning is better than The Realness but I don’t know. THere’s people that say The Testament is my best album. I don’t know if I agree with that. But is The Realness my most popular album? Hell yeah. Anything The Realness will sell out. You could make a Realness hat, sneakers, whatever. Realness panties. Whatever. Anything Realness sells the fuck out. Whatever. It’s out of here.
We got vinyl, and first of all, the average artist, it might take them a year to move 500, if they can do that. The Realness, we just did vinyl for Realness and we pressed up 500. The shit ain’t even out yet and the preorders alone last week, we had 250 preorders. So it’s fair to say that by the time the release date comes for The Realness vinyl, that shit might be sold out. The Realness is a wonderful…The Realness was a perfect start to a career. I will say that.
It’s been two years since Mega Philosophy dropped. Are you happy with how that’s done?
Hell yeah. Now Mega Philosophy answered a question you asked earlier about if artists came up to me and gave me my credit. I don’t know if artists are stubborn or whatever, but I’ve never gotten that. But after Mega Philosophy came out, I got props from artists. I’ve never gotten props from my peers like I did from Mega Philosophy. Artists that i didn’t even know listened to my shit, like Talib Kweli, said, “Yo, that’s a good album, man.” I was proud and I was taken aback and that’s a good dude, but the fact that he took the time out to listen to my album, just because someone is cool with you doesn’t mean they’re going to listen to your music. And I didn’t give it to him. The fact that he knew about my album, that shit made me feel humble.
My man Lil’ Fame, he always shows love. He’s like, Yo, you rapped yoru ass off on that. Sean Price was like, Yo, man, you stepped your shit up on there, man. AZ never gave me my props. He’s like another brother. You always want to make sure your brothers recognize your talent and shit and that was the first record I’ve ever done where AZ was like, Yo, son, that’s the best album out and it ain’t even out yet. That’s a quote from him because I let him hear the album before it dropped and he said, “It’s the best album out and it hasn’t even dropped yet and I gotta get on that album.” ANd that’s the first album that he was ever on of mine. He was on the Legal Hustle compilation but that’s not a Cormega album. But as far as solo albums, Mega Philosophy is the first album AZ got on and he asked me and said that he had to get on there and I was proud.
Chuck D, the things that he said, he almost made me cry one day because he gave me so much props. Chuck D is like everything to me. That’s the ultimate big bro right there. Icon and everything. So when he gave me credit one day, I was blown away, man. It’s like making your big brother proud and the things that he said to me, I didn’t expect and I wasn’t ready for. Mega Philosophy made me realize that I found my zone. Mega Philosophy made me realize that people respect me.
Do you think you’ll work with Large Professor again?
I was just Large Professor on Sunday. We spoke about it. I’m waiting for him to get back in his zone and get back in the studio because he’s cooking up something soon. When he’s ready, we’ll talk about it. But for us to not do a follow-up after Mega Philosophy would be a waste of life and we both understand that and that’s something that we both want to do. That’s not something that we have to be convinced to do. We both know what it is and we’re both up to the challenge.
We did an interview a couple years ago and you mentioned that you have another project with a major producer. Do you have any update on that?
That’s still under wraps. I’ve learned a lot from working with these producers. Producers take very long and they’re very eccentric with their shit. But we’re supposed to be doing that shit soon. I’ve done the vocals and I’m just waiting for him to add some shit to the production and when that comes out, I think that’s going to be some shit that just really surprises a lot of people. It was frustrating making that album, but I think musically, this might be my best album musically, the upcoming one. Music-wise, it’s just a lot of layers and a lot of shit involved in it.
Do you have other projects that you’re working on at the same time?
Basically I work with a lot of artists. I’ve been doing a lot of features. So say I do a feature with somebody that’s cool with me, usually I’ll do a feature with them and sometimes they might want to do a feature for me or I might have an idea and I get somebody to spit on it and we do it but I don’t rush the music because especially when you’re working with people that’s involved in groups and you want to get more people in the groups involved, it’s going to take some time because you’re waiting for people.
So I just do songs and I sit on it, but I’ll tell you this. I have unreleased music with the Outlawz and Jacka. I just have to get somebody to do the beat. I have unreleased music with Jacka. I have unreleased music with Sean Price. I have unreleased music with Fatal Hussein and the Outlawz and it’s deep because three of those brothers have passed and that shows you how deep life is. The Jacka verse, I’ve had for a long time. The Sean Price verse, I didn’t have it too long. I just got it late last year. Thank God because I might have never had a Sean Price verse.
What are your thoughts watching this election?
This is the worst election I have ever seen. This is the worst election in the history of America. People don’t like it. Hillary is very unlikeable. The thing behind Trump is this. Trump has his view but Trump’s view is no different from a large percentage of America, obviously, or he wouldn’t be where he is right now. There’s a lot of people in America that just need to come to the realization that everybody doesn’t have the same vision. There are people that are bigoted. There are people that are a certain way and they’re not going to change. You have to accept that and move on.
And I’m Muslim and the things that Trump has said about Muslims and 9/11 and such-and-such, you know, it’s crazy but for one, [the Muslim ban] won’t happen because one, you have to get approval and two, America is a business and they have to understand that that’s a lot of money they would lose. And he’s also talking about building a wall between American and Mexico. That’s not going to happen because first of all, Latinos are the fastest growing population in America. So imagine you alienating those people and you losing that money. They don’t want to mess up those relations with Mexico. They don’t want to do that. That’s for one. And for two, some of his views sound perfect in a bar. Like in a bar with rednecks in it that don’t like nobody! (laughs) That’s who he’s preaching to. Those people are a large percentage of America in Oklahoma and Nebraska and all of them shits. People there have the same fucking view.
They’re not like the cool white people that chill with us in Williamsburg and skateboard with us. It’s a whole different breed and he’s speaking for them and they’re revved up. One of my neighbors is super-redneck and he thinks Trump is going to win. Me and him was having a talk one day and he was like, If Trump don’t win, there’s going to be a riot. I forget the word he used. “Riot” or “uprising” or “if Trump don’t win there’s going to be some shit.” And he said that shit with confidence like that shit had been discussed and I was like, Oh shit. And then I started looking at the things that Trump says and that’s no different than if you put a bug or eavesdrop on a conversation on any fucking bigoted town in America, he’s talking just like they talk. He’s preaching to the choir and the choir is responding in votes.
Now Hillary, I used to be a big Hillary fan. Now if she had ran for President seven years ago, she would have won it. But right now, after so many scandals and so many situations where she just lied, one thing I hate is a liar. Even in the polls, 67% of Americans don’t trust Hillary. That’s not good! So people don’t trust your word. What kind of leader are you? And one thing we said is that America is bigoted. The people who always caught it was people of color and the second people is women. Women couldn’t even fucking vote! Women don’t even get paid equal pay right now and it’s fucked up because they work just as hard as us.
So America is too bigoted to let a Black person be the President and then right after that let a woman be a President. Oh hell no. So I really think Trump is going to win because I know how America works and the shit that he says, he’s preaching to the choir. And the fact that Hillary fucked up her own image. I mean, she was just under investigation and now she’s out here running for President and she has a history of fucking lying. Nobody likes that. She has the feminists on board, some of them, and then she might have the Black people.
You know, a lot of people will blindly vote for Hillary and they’re voting for Hillary strictly because they don’t like Trump, but at the same time, those people are misinformed. They’re like, I don’t like Trump. He’s racist. But hold up. Hillary’s mentor was basically a member of the Ku Klux Klan and her husband did the three strikes law that sent mad people to jail. People of color. So I can’t say Trump is racist and I’m voting for her. She’s done shit that have fucked us up more than he has. This election is ugly. I wanted Bernie to win. I never voted in my fucking life except for this year. I voted for Bernie Sanders. I believed Bernie. He’s believable and as a person, he pulls up his sleeves for everybody – minorities, poor people, everybody. His people, their people, our people. He’s just for the people. He rolled up his sleeves and he’s been active since the Civil Rights Era and active on the right side of that! ‘Cause Hillary was active too working with her Klan leader and her Clan boss.
This election is just ugly. This is the worst election in history. It’s ugly. There’s two kinds of ways a snake that can kill you. There’s certain snakes that will kill you with poison and there’s certain snakes that will choke the shit out of you. How do you want to die? Pick your poison. That’s what this election is. For me, it’s deep. I’m not voting. I’m not voting for any of them. If we could not vote and none of them could win, that would be great. But unfortunately we’re going to have an interesting four years until Kanye wins.
No doubt. Have the Knicks done enough this summer to be in a decent place?
Hell yeah! The Knicks are looking great. And I would have been skeptical of D. Rose but I’m not skeptical because I see that he wasn’t hurt last year. Last year he played the most games that he’s played in many years. That’s for one. And for two, people say Rose is always hurt, but one of the things that people do is just talk without analyzing it. Yo, he got poked in his fucking eye. Then he gets poked and they mess up his retina. Is that him? I think that could happen to anybody. So you can’t hold that against him. He got poked in his freaking eye. That can happen to anybody. It’s not like his same leg injury came back and stopped him. It was something totally different from his ailment and last year when he got hurt, everybody was like, Ah, fuck, even me.
And originally when he was hurt, he wanted to sit out longer but he got criticized for not coming back soon enough and he was smart to want to sit out longer because if you look at history, guys who have those kinds of injuries that he has, when they sit out longer, they heal better. Grant Hill, foreample, sat out for two years and became an All-Star again and became one of the better defenders. Antonio McDyess, Bernard King, people that sit out and really heal their shit, let it heal and then let it heal more, they come back to have longer careers. So the fact that he sat out, he was getting criticized for it and then he came back and got hurt again. I have a lot of confidence in him and he’s still one of the best point guards in the league.
As far as artists go, what’s been in rotation for you lately?
Lately for me, I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz. Just different kinds of jazz. I’ve been listening to a lot of Ray Charles shit. I’ve been listening to Miles Davis. Sam Cooke. I have a song with Sizzla that’s going to be a fucking beast. I’ve been listening to that shit. That’s the Mega song I’ve been listening to the most lately. And I have a song with Havoc on it that I’ve been listening to. Havoc absolutely demolishes this shit so bad that I had to change my verse. And nobody makes me change my verses. I have that much confidence that I can say nobody makes me change my verses. Havoc made me change my verse. I said, “You know what? I gotta change my verse.” And I’m proud of that record because of what Havoc did on that record. It’s a perfect Havoc verse. I think Havoc’s underrated. He’s dope. This song is so raw and street. You’ll see. But that’s the shit I think I’m going to leak soon, but that’s what I’ve been listening to. That and jazz.
I hope we’re talking in another fifteen years about 30 years of The Realness.
I hope so. That would be beautiful. And congratulations on your book. I look forward to reading it.