In the closing week of 2018, Cormega self-released Mega. The five-song project (that also includes the instrumentals) marked the MC's first in more than four years. The New Yorker partnered with Streetrunner, the veteran Grammy Award-winning producer co-credited for Meek Mill, JAY-Z, and Rick Ross' "What's Free?" in addition to past highlights from Royce 5'9, Eminem, and Lil Wayne.
As an artist widely praised for his introspective lyrics, Cormega seemingly took his fans new places on Mega. He set new boundaries for himself too, as the veteran told Ambrosia For Heads last week over a dinner interview in Manhattan's East Village.
“I think my peace of mind reflects in my music now," reveals Cormega at one point during the conversation with AFH's Editor-in-Chief Jake Paine. On social media, the artist who is a part of the 1990s Queensbridge movement is mindful about clean eating, self-care, and being unplugging at times. Asked about how those lifestyle choices affect the music, he says, "The way I speak of women [is] definitely different. You haven’t heard the word 'b*tch' in my music for a very long time. Another thing I strive to do is if you listen to MEGA, you’ll notice there’s no brand associated with it. I didn’t shout out any brands – sneaker brands, nothing. And as far as health, I think I’m speaking about a peaceful mind. Like finding peace, inner peace and that’s reflected in my music.”
In addition to the personal growth, opening track "Say No More" includes the kind of aphorisms that have made Cormega's music a trusted brand for more than 20 years:
"I wear honor like a rare medallion, on my chest lays the burden of proof / My reputation earned, not given, no words could dispute / A wise man would rebuke a servant with juice / Cup overflows for the thirstiest fool / Yearns to consume what he's never tasted / Success is taken bitter with sweet and elevatin' / No expectation, no disappointment, a thorough thinker has great respect for preparation."
Cormega tells AFH about the process behind the bars. “I started saying to myself, ‘Okay, this could be like a short story.’ So the intro and the outro would have a similar sound. Even on The Testament, [the] intro had the same sound as the last song, which was ‘Love Is Love.’ This intro is the exact same beat as the outro. ‘Empty Promises’ is more produced. [Streetrunner] added drums to it; it’s fuller. I slowed up the intro. This project was conceived like a story – that’s the beginning, and that’s the end.”
While Mega may seem short compared to past efforts, the release is potent and evocative. “I don’t think I’ve ever gotten this kind of feedback from the fans in general. I’ve made projects with people like ‘This is dope’ – The Realness, such and such. There were always people who didn’t like something I did, but this one? No one’s told me they didn’t like this project,” he notes.
Cormega recalls several significant reactions. “[Video Music Box's] Ralph McDaniels, when he heard it, called me and was like, ‘Yo, there’s nothing like this out. This is amazing. This project can help people. I have a friend who’s dealing with something right now, and I would love for him to hear this.’ That made me like, ‘Wow, what did I tap into?’”
Meanwhile, another important Hip-Hop figure also reacted strongly. Cormega recalls Bernadette Price, Sean's widow, praising the works. “She said, ‘I cried during the entire project. It just moved me.’ And I was like, ‘Wow.’ It just humbled me. And a few fans said that too. ‘Yo, this made me tear up.’ So it was like when I first did it, I was telling fans on Instagram, ‘This project is making me emotional.’ But I didn’t know it was going to hit them like that.”
Whether his fans are peers or not, Cormega has made an effort to engage with his audience. They decided the title of this new release on social media. Across the country and the globe, the MC regularly does concerts. He makes special merchandise, including cassettes, CDs, and vinyl, as well as skate decks, hats, and more. Under his name Cory McKay, he wrote a book about the history behind 2002's The True Meaning album, co-authored by Hip-Hop journalist Brian Kayser. "I tell young artists that all the time and even older artists that don’t seem to get it," he explains. "I say, ‘Yo the most important part of your entire career is your fans, not your entourage, not your jeweler, not even your label. If you don’t have your fans your label's not even going to be with you. So it’s a chance to connect with people and build with them is beautiful because the fans are the most honest people in your life.' They let you know exactly what they want from you. They don’t have an agenda; all they want is good music.”
Several months ago, Cormega headlined a concert at Philadelphia's Silk City. He has done so several times in recent years. However, it was the MC's first appearance in the city since the 2017 death of Albert "Prodigy" Johnson. With an unrivaled intensity, Mega performed "Three," his 2000 H.N.I.C. collaboration with P, over-top of sinister Alchemist production.
“I think that night, the reason I was so intense was to stop me from [getting] emotional. Sometimes when somebody dies, it affects us, and it [does so] in different ways. When P first died the initial thing was the shock. The second phase of it was how did he die? Like, this is weird and then you have the conspiracy theorists. And then the third thing of it, like, we didn’t even get to finish grieving ‘cause his [Queens] mural got defaced. So then time goes by, and we settle in. And when you're from the street, you kind of...unfortunately, death is sort of the norm," admits the MC in an emotional portion of the conversation. "It happens so constantly. It’s like it’s not overwhelming to certain people because it happens so much and then after a while, you’re brought back to that reality like, ‘Wow, this dude is really gone.’ And it hits you and that’s when the emotions get to you. So at that show I think it was real intense because the emotions really hit me like, ‘Wow, dude is really gone.’”
Cormega has been close with several Hip-Hop artists who are no longer with us. In addition to Prodigy, Mega worked with Hussein Fatal and Tha Jacka. Speaking about the "Three" performance he continues, “Sometimes we take things for granted in life. I just [told you that] I’ve got an event March 9th. I should say 'God willing,' because what if I don’t make it to March 9th? So we’re taking for granted [that] here we are, amongst some of the greatest MCs of all time, but they’re our friends so it’s like we’re not looking at it like that. And now that they’re gone and you’re around the world and you’re taking a drive and you see your mural in this borough, you in another country you see a mural, you see people with tattoos and it’s just like, ‘Wow.’ You go on social media, old pictures pop up with this person and it’s like, ‘Wow.’ So it’s like that was a heavy one so I was probably intense to save me from having an emotional moment.” Over dinner, Cormega shares that Prodigy was planned to appear on "Live Your Best Life," the song that features on Havoc.
Nearly 20 years ago, "Three" transported Cormega and Prodigy to a night back on the QB benches. The memory was lucid, and the events that followed were palpable to fans beyond the 'Bridge, Coney Island, or Funkmaster Flex's night at The Tunnel nightclub.
At a time when 50 Cent is going back to 1980s New York City for the Power prequel, Cormega is asked if he would take his life experiences to a medium like film or television. “I want to do a street movie and I believe I have the ability to do a street movie unlike what we’ve seen. I think Dame Dash does not get enough credit; Paid in Full was amazing," 'Mega says.
One Of Cormega’s Philosophies Comes To Life With Large Professor & Maya Azucena (Video)
On fan-favorite "Beautiful Mind," he rapped, "From my people with secret indictment, freedom and triumph / Contemplating putting Spree's on the tires / Dominating this beat with my rhyming as if you need a reminder / I spit that drug dealer sh*t you might have seen on The Wire." At a time when authenticity reigns supreme, this storyteller could apply his lessons and lived experience. “I’m coming from the perspective of someone who used to go to Harlem as a kid to get my stuff from the plug, a guy that used to hustle in Brooklyn as a kid, a guy that was in Queensbridge in the street. So I have stories [set in] Triboro and within Far Rockaway."
Cormega longs for the New York City that raised him, and his eyes light up as he talks about the places. Vibes from those days may be hard to find on a 2019 frigid evening in Lower Manhattan. However, the author is certain that his keen imagery can go from page to screen. "So my story, it doesn’t even have to be about me I could make it about somebody else. From my knowledge of the street, the things that I’ve been through, the things that I’ve seen," he continues. "The things I’ve watched in movies and been like, ‘Oh, wow, I’m surprised no one’s touched on this,’ or even if you listen to my music or even if you see how street people gravitate towards me because it’s like, ‘Yo, 'Mega, he says stuff that’s real.’ So that’s what I could convey cinematically, if given the opportunity.”
Also during the interview, Cormega breaks down some of the bars from Mega. He discusses his influence on a new class of MCs, and more.