How Did One Of New York's Most Ruthless Rappers Grow To Be Hip-Hop's Voice Of Reason?
Without having the actual statistical data to back this up, it sure feels like the Queensbridge Housing Projects in New York have produced more hip-hop talent per square mile than any other neighborhood in the world.
The 3,142-unit complex has birthed celebrated rap talent such as Nas, Mobb Deep, C-N-N, Marley Marl, MC Shan, Craig G, Tragedy, Roxanne Shante and Cormega, a rap veteran who released his seventh solo LP, Mega Philosophy, on Tuesday.
Mega Philosophy is a collaborative project between Cormega and iconic hip-hop producer Large Professor, who made every beat on the album. As a body of work, the LP signifies growth for Mega, who rap fans first became aware of after Nas shouted him out 20 years ago on "One Love," a track off of his classic debut Illmatic.
When Nas recorded "One Love," Mega was serving a prison sentence on armed robbery charges. When he was released from, prison he joined the Firm, a short-lived rap group which included Foxy Brown, AZ and Nature, who joined later on.
"The shout-out immortalized it. To be honest with you, there's been times when people were like, 'Oh sh--, Cormega's a real person'," he told MTV News on Thursday.
Mega and Nas would eventually have a falling out, leading Mega to a long independent career beginning with gritty-sounding debut The Realness in 2001.
In the beginning, Cormega's music was flooded with boasts of guns and drugs, though he also expressed the importance of loyalty, street honor and the perseverance of hip-hop culture on tracks like "American Beauty" and "Glory Days."
These days, Mega's music and his message has evolved. On Mega Philosophy, he warns of hip-hop's culture vultures on "A New Day Begins" and aims to uplift disenfranchised youth on "More."
"I guess I just realized that some of the greatest people in position used their position as platforms," Mega began to explain about his artistic growth. "Being that I came from those streets and that background, my voice is more significant to the people that are in the streets than the voice of somebody else just telling you what to do and what not to do. They can relate to me more."
On the aforementioned "More," he touches on a newsy topic and aims to build self-esteem. "Pick your pants up/ Enhance your appearance, it traps us," he rhymes just one-week after a law banning sagging pants was passed in Ocala, Florida.
"You never seen Malcolm X with his pants sagging, Martin Luther King," Mega argues. "It's like a lack of class that's displayed and a lack of discipline with ourselves. It doesn't look right, it's not cool."
There are plenty more highlights on the album. Raekwon shows up on the knocking "Honorable" and Redman, AZ and Styles P pitch-in on "Mars." With all of it's valuable lessons and thumping beats, Mega Philosophy provides further proof of Queensbridge's superior rap concentration.
"I totally agree," Mega said, reacting to the notion that QB just may be rap's Shangri-La. "I guess we knew that we had a lot to live up to just to survive, let alone be great. I think that's what happened with Queensbridge. That first wave of Queensbridge artists set such a standard. That whole Juice Crew movement that came before Nas and Mobb Deep, they set the bar so high."
As far as Cormega himself, he is a self-described "perpetual work in progress," an individual that will forever be tied to the legacy of one of the America's most notorious and talented neighborhoods.
"Since day one I was hungry, and here I am years later and I still hunger," he said. "Now it's a different type of hunger; I hunger for greatness; I hunger for legacy."