Cormega Says Hip-Hop Is ‘Chilly Willy,’ Album Shows ‘Growth’
"I don't want to talk about rap all day," Cormega tells The BoomBox. "I'm a human being." With 20 years behind the mic, the Queens native may get tired of discussing the genre that pushed him to the forefront of hip-hop but that's something he's had to grown accustomed to, considering he has more than a handful of studio albums to his name, one being his lauded debut effort, 'The Realness,' and a short-lived start that includes working with Nas as part of The Firm.
Now the rapper is releasing his latest LP, 'Raw Forever,' out Sept. 27, a double CD that includes a best-of collection of classics like 'Dead Man Walking' on one disc and new material recorded with live band The Revelations on the other. With new tracks featuring AZ, KRS-One and M.O.P, Cormega, born Cory Mckay, is proving that hip-hop isn't dead; he's revitalizing it and adding his own kind of sophistication to his music in the process.
Read on as he compares hip-hop to one cold cartoon character, names who he feels does right by the genre, which female MC he'd collaborate with and the secret project he has in the works.
Some artists go into creating an album with ease while others come across roadblocks. Were there any struggles you faced while recording this album, whether personally or professionally?
Only struggles I faced during the making of this album was I lost one of my closest friends. The first show that I did with The Revelations, the band, one of my friends was with me, and it was really a show to see if I could perform with a band, to see if I would like it. Everybody loved it. And now he's gone, and he's a big part of that. As far as artistically, one of the only headaches, or struggles I had was the scheduling, because when you're dealing with an eight-piece band, you've got to work with eight people's schedules.
Speaking of the band, they play a huge role in this album, being that they support the second half of the project's sound. What kind of music lesson are you hoping to teach by bringing them on?
I'm just trying to show people that hip-hop has growth to it, it has legs to it. It's not a one-trick donkey. That hip-hop has sophistication 'cause when you start adding live music, it just elevates whatever genre of music you're doing, it elevates your artistry. That's all I'm trying to do is show hip-hop has maturity.
The second disc is labeled with Roman numerals rather than specific track names. Why did you decide to go that route?
I wanted to just be different . Sometimes I think we get too comfortable -- the consumer and the artist. Everybody learned Roman numerals when we was in school, but a lot of people might have forgot it. I want people to think. That's something Prince would do. I wanted to do something different.
On one of the 'Raw Forever' tracks, 'VIII,' you have Big Daddy Kane, Grand Puba and KRS-One, to name a few. So how did that track come about?
There really was no discussion. That was something that was heart. That was in my heart. Ever since I heard 'Raw,' Kane, and 'Set It Off,' 'Ain't No Half Steppin'.' Ever since I heard KRS-One, ever since I heard Grand Puba, EPMD. We're talking about some of my all-time favorites, some of the all-time greats. I just wanted to do that.
You recently posted this statement on Twitter to one of your followers: "When friendship becomes about business you have to question is it worth the investment!" We know your personal experiences in the past with Nas. What does that statement mean to you now?
I mean, I forgot I said that. I be coming up with a lot of quotes. That one you just said, I like that one a lot. What I do lately, I write quotes. Sometimes I put them on Twitter, a lot of times I don't put it on Twitter and I'm saving my quotes and accumulating them. People really gravitate towards them. That quote is just a philosophical statement and a question at the same time. Because sometimes you have to say, if money ruins a friendship, then the friendship wasn't worth it. Or is it worth it? Sometimes if you have a friendship where people only see you as a product, and forget who you are as a person, then is that really your friend?
I read a press release where you compare hip-hop to being a whore who needs some sophistication. Do you feel like that's where we're at with hip-hop currently?
I still feel that way. It's not like I woke up with a change of heart. When you're a grown man, like if you're in your 30s, and you're still wearing big ass, baggy pants, like one thing about hip-hop is that we tend to critique each other to extreme sometimes, like a lot of older people criticize younger people for wearing skinny jeans and all that, but at the same time, baggy isn't cool either. So maybe we should meet somewhere in the middle. Like me, I'm not a big guy, and now when I look through my closet, I'm like, "What the f--- was I thinking?" I got shirts that were 2X, 3X. Your shirts should not hang down, it should not be on your thighs on a man, baggy shirts, baggy pants is not cool.
Being loud is not hip-hop. Sometimes some of my friends, the ones that are trying to fit in, they'll be like, "When I went to the club I had a fight," and I'm like "I don't want to hear that." We have to grow up. Even the subject matter also. When I turn on the radio, there's times I count how many songs are talking about alcohol or adult relations. Where's the substance? Nobody wants to grow. It needs sophistication. And the people who are sophisticated and try to grow, they don't get the recognition they deserve. Like we need more people like The Roots, we need more people like Q-Tip, we need more people like Dweli, Talib Kweli, Hi-Tek, we need people who are not afraid to grow with the music. Where are the classy women at? I don't want to just turn on the TV and see skimpy outfits. What about when LL Cool J made 'I Need Love'? He had a classy woman in the video. You know what hip-hop needs? We often compare hip-hop to a woman, I know I do, that woman needs a big mirror to look at herself and see what's really going on.
If you could choose a fictional character to represent hip-hop, who would it be?
Remember that cartoon 'Chilly Willy,' the little penguin. It's like he wanted to do anything. Like, "You want more syrup?" "Mmm, mmm." He used to answer like that. Like whatever's poppin', he wants to do. That's what hip-hop is, Chilly Willy, 'cause it wants to be cool but it wants to do whatever it takes to be cool. Like people will do songs with an artist that they hated. This is how you know that people don't have any integrity -- people will do a song with an artist they don't even feel, just because that artist is hot. That's corny. Hip-hop has a lot of flaws with it but I love the culture.
You're next album is titled 'A Different Cloth,' correct? What side of Cormega will this album showcase?
I think I'm gonna go with that title. The only way I'm not gonna go with that title [is because] I'm working on a secret project too, and if I do the secret project and that person comes up with a title, then if he doesn't want to use ["A Different Cloth,"] then we'll use something else. For 'A Different Cloth,' I already have a lot of the material done and I'm still writing towards that. I'm writing two albums right now. I'm writing 'A Different Cloth' and I'm writing a secret project too. I already have my two lead singles already for 'A Different Cloth.'
Can you give an indication of who you are working with on this secret project? Is it a rapper?
He does everything.
How will the new project differ from 'Raw Forever'?
Because 'Raw Forever,' the first disc is ignorant Cormega, an ignorant, wild guy glorifying the streets. Songs like 'Dead Man Walking,' I don't even like performing that anymore, like that's' not me. 'A Different Cloth,' its something different, it's a change in me. I'm a changed person. I'ma parent, I'm more spiritual, I'm more active in the community. I'm more receptive to the struggles of minorities. This stuff is going to be a part of my music and at the same time there's gonna be that, "I know I can" within me. That stubborn athlete that refuses to give in. Like I can do this, there's gonna be songs where I show you I can still spit like I did before but there's gonna be more maturity. Will I be talking about, "I got a kilo in the crib"? No. Will there be songs where I'm talking about shootouts? No. It's different, it's a different time in my life and in my mind,
Have you thought of collaborating with a female artist on your next LP?
If I do a song with a female artist, it has to be someone I respect. I don't want to do anything I'll regret. Like I said, I don't want to f--- with an artist that's hot right now, then two years later that artist isn't even on the map. Then you're keeping it real with yourself because you know you didn't like that artist and you just did 'cause they were hot, but then that's a stain on your resume 'cause it's on your album. The first two females that I would want to do a song with, it would be MC Lyte or Lauryn Hill. It's not even debatable. I wouldn't even mind doing a song with Trina, real talk.
You've been in the music industry for 20 years and you're still creating music and putting out albums, on your own label. What are you most proud of at this point in your career?
I'm most proud in my career that I've been able to put out albums for 10 years straight, 'cause a lot of people don't reach that mark. I'm proud that my album, 'The Realness,' is one of the most celebrated albums of the last decade, especially independent albums. That I was the first artist to get a Source Award. And that I use my music to speak for my views. Like the song, 'I Made a Difference,' with all the money going to Sean Penn's organization to help the people in Haiti, I've done a lot of things I'm proud of.
Hip-hop has changed drastically since you first entered. Have you ever felt one particular artist disgraced the genre? Who has always done right by it?
A lot of artists disgrace the genre, but I don't think it's my place to say. Nowadays, that's the thing like that that will get more attention than the substantial things we've talked about in this interview. I don't want to do that because I don't need that all over the place and meanwhile it'll overshadow my project.
First of all I think M.O.P., they deserve way more credit. Guru's death should have been received better. I think Large Professor is one of the most important and impactful people that hip-hop has ever had and he doesn't get the credit he deserves. I think Havoc is an incredible producer who doesn't get the credit he deserves. As far as MCs, I think if Rakim would have put out more music, 'cause Rakim takes these extremely long breaks, I think if he would have put out more music, there would be less room for debate. I think Eminem has earned the respect that he garners. I felt when he first came out, the white media was just trying to give him his spot before he earned it. But no he's earned it. I think Eminem is an incredible MC. Snoop Dogg might be the most popular rapper, period. Snoop Dogg was hot since '92. Jay-Z wasn't hot since '92. Lil Wayne wasn't out in '92. He's got successful TV shows, movies. I think Lauryn Hill is the most phenomenal female MC ever, it's just that people want to focus on her personal life.
What's one of your fondest memories of working as part of The Firm?
I don't think The Firm is part of my history. I don't have any real history with them. When you think about it, I was on 'Affirmative Action' and 'Affirmative Action (Remix).' Those two songs were affiliated with Nas' album. And then there was a song called 'La Familia' that I was taken off and they put Nature on it. So once The Firm album came out, I wasn't even on it. A lot of fans even get confused. I was not on one single song with The Firm. So right now at this point in my life, I don't really feel no attachment to them. The only one I got attachment to and history with is Nas. Whether our ups and downs, we the ones who got history. I knew Nas' mother, Nas knows my aunt, Nas knows my cousin. I know Nas' brother, I met Nas' pops. Me and Nas could argue and fuss, but at the end of the day, we got love for each other.