Author: Pedro 'DJ Complejo' Hernandez
P: Cormega, what's up?
C: What's good?
P: You have the new "Born and Raised" album coming out, how did the idea for that album come about?
C: I don't know, it's just another album that I had to fulfill to myself and to my fans, you know.
P: Previously you had plans to come out with the "Urban Legend" album, what happened to that album?
C: You already know what happened to that album, somebody else came out with "Urban Legend" so that changed my plans.
P: So, was it just a matter of TI coming out with an album of the same name so you felt you couldn't go in the same direction?
C: Exactly. It's not like he's a small time artist so I didn't want to be looked at like if I was biting.
P: Is the "Born and Raised" album some of the same music that you planned to release as "Urban Legend" or did you decide to go a completely different direction with it?
C: It's a few of the same songs, but as the album went along I really started going in another direction musically and creative wise, lyrically.
P: What was that difference in direction?
C: When I first did the album I wanted to just try and make an album as good as "The Realness" or better. And then as the album started going along I started getting some of the producers that I always wanted to work with but I hadn't always gotten a chance to work with them. Like Easy Mo Bee came later, I got Easy Mo Bee last year, you know. So that was an accomplishment for me. And then like Havoc's track, I just got Havoc's track early this year. And you know, me and Havoc have always worked good together when we make songs. So, you know, some of the producers that came late shaped the direction of the album and some of the sound. Like I got a lot of live music. There's a track Lil' Fame produced called "The Other Side" and there's live keys on there and there's live saxophone, you know. And the song Havoc produced has live acoustic guitar. There's just a lot of experimental sounds on there.
P: How did the experimentation with live sound come about, did you decide to bring in musicians or was it the producers?
C: Some of the producers brought their own vibe. Like Buckwild has live music on his song also. As far as "Mega Fresh X," the song with KRS-One and all of them, Buckwild brought in somebody and they played it and Buckwild did what he did and that song came out strong. L.E.S. produced a song called "Girl" and I gave L.E.S. the idea for the song and I knew we needed it played over and when L.E.S. got it played over it just came out perfect and then he added his own elements to it. And then the song Lil' Fame did, Fame ain't even heard it the way it is now. Like Fame dropped a nice drum on it and he put a rhythm on it the saxophone and the keys, I added all that myself. He wasn't even around for that so that's definitely co-produced by Cormega. That's a song that when he hear it it's gonna surprise him. But the feedback for that song has been tremendous, one of the strongest songs on the album.
P: You mentioned you added the sax and the keys to that song, is production something that you're really getting into now?
C: I don't know yet. I don't want to sit here and front and act like something that I'm not. I don't want to dare ever call myself a producer. There's things that I have ideas for that I don't know how to implement but I could implement them better with the assistance of a producer.
P: You mentioned a new direction lyrically and in the press release for the album you mentioned how you open up about being a father and your daughter, is that part of the new direction?
C: It definitely is because I was analyzing my album today and I realized that I talk about my daughter in at least three songs. Not repetitious subject matter, I mention her in two songs and one song is about her. So that's something that you know how you'll listen to a particular artist's album and he might have three songs where he talks about a Maybach, or a gun, or, you know, such and such and such and such. It's like that's one of the things that is significant in my life right now so that reflected in my music, you know. And also I think I'm more aggressive with the flow on this album on certain songs. More assertive. Like the Primo song, there's a new Primo song, Primo did two tracks on the album, and the second song I really am trying to go crazy on the lyrics. Those are some of the differences on this album.
P: I know you mentioned getting the Havoc track this year, Easy Mo Bee came last year, you have two Primo songs, what's the process of putting together an album like this? Do you have these guys on speed dial, do they come up to you? How does it all come together?
C: I mean, to be honest with you, there's a few producers who have approached me about being on my album especially as it was almost done and they started hearing the line up, cause the line up alone is ridiculous. So a lot of people want to be a part of it, but unfortunately you got producers that are dope that just didn't make the cut because it was so late because I had to turn the album in. Like my man, J-Love, I always want J-Love on my official albums, you know. And he's on tour with Ghostface right now so he missed it. I just sent him a track that I want him to flip so if he can do it on time we could work it out. So J-Love missed the cut, JuJu from Beatnuts, he had missed the cut. There's a few producers that are well known that missed the cut. As I was going into the album the only producer that I really had in mind that I definitely wanted on the album was Premier. Large Professor, I always work with Large, so you know, I already knew that was gonna come. Easy Mo Bee, that was unexpected. L.E.S. was unexpected. Buckwild, he's like Large Professor, that's my man, like those dudes I can call and they are gonna be there. So some of the producers I knew were gonna be there, but some of them are just pleasant surprises. Like me having Red Alert on my album is a pleasant surprise, you know, cause I didn't expect that. This album had a lot of proud moments for me.
P: I know you mentioned that "Mega Fresh X" was your proudest moments with the Buckwild, Red Alert, and all the guest spots on there, how did that song come about?
C: That song is a miracle and a blessing at the same time because what I wanted to do was make a song that symbolizes New York. As far as symbolizing New York as it was when I was growing up. The New York that influenced me. I thought, what is New York? New York is five boroughs and then the two outer regions. The two outer regions are upstate New York and Long Island. So there's five boroughs and there's two outer regions that make up New York as a whole. So I said to myself, I want to get somebody that is a dope artist from each of those regions. So you take Long Island, my favorite rapper of all time from Long Island without a doubt would be Rakim. So that would have been my first choice for an artist from Long Island and I know Rakim personally, but Rakim is a hard artist to get in touch with so I said, who else do I like? I said I like Chuck D and I like EPMD also, you know. EPMD is one of my favorite groups of all time so I ended up getting Parrish Smith, which wasn't a bad fall back plan! So then I said, I need Brooklyn, my favorite rapper of all time from Brooklyn as far as the pioneers and legends is Big Daddy Kane. So when I got Kane, that was like "Oh my God!" That was like a blessing. And then we think of the Bronx, there's two people, KRS-One and Slick Rick. So, I ended up getting KRS-One and the thing that's symbolic about KRS-One being on the album for me is that his son is the one who did it. And his son passed away so it's like this album and this song is a part of his son's legacy as well because his son is the one who made it happen. So KRS-One came on the album so I said "Okay, I got my favorite rapper from the Bronx, I got my favorite rapper from Brooklyn," so Queens didn't count you know, so I said I need somebody from Manhattan and I tried to think who was my favorite rapper from Manhattan or Hip-Hop person period and I was thinking Doug E. Fresh and then the idea for Red Alert came and that just happened. So I had those so I needed someone from Worcestershire and Staten Island. So Worcestershire or up state I said all my favorite rappers from up state New York are all from Worcestershire so I said, ok, you got Pete Rock and CL Smooth and you got Brand Nubian. So I said, the one that I've listened to the longest would be Grand Puba, from Masters of Ceremony to Brand Nubian to him being a solo artist. So I ended up getting Grand Puba, you know, and the rest is history. Me getting that track done is a miracle and I'm proud of it. It was originally done by Emile but Emile used a sample that was also used by Talib Kweli so I didn't want to use something that Talib used before for a moment like this because I thought it was symbolic that I had these artists on this song. I wanted somebody that was as symbolic as they are so I got Buckwild and then the rest is history.
P: The first single from the album is "Journey." How did that song come about and why did you choose it as the lead single?
C: I mean, to be honest, that was really just the first street single. I don't even know what a single is nowadays, you know what I'm saying? I don't want to make my music the way industry people make their music, because they make singles for the radio. They make singles just to try to sell and they don't care about the music. That's the first song that's dope, that's how I'm going to look at it. Large Professor made that song specifically for me, he came through and was like "Yo, I got this joint for you" and he put it on and it just caught me and I was like "Wow!" So like everybody that was there was just like "This is dope!" It took me a long time to write to that beat because it's so different, but it felt so good. It took me probably over a year to finish that song, but I finished it. To be honest with you, it was different because we didn't put no chorus on it or hook, but at the same time when you listen to some of the best rap songs ever some of them didn't have no chorus or hook, they were just done, you know. So that song was an experiment for me because we wanted to do something different and the sound of it is so different. I'm going to be honest with you, that's one of the songs that I didn't know how the public was going to react to it, I just hoped they liked it, but they love it. Like that song has gotten such a big response that I just surprised me. I tried to grow on that song too. You know how on the internet they got artists that play their songs and then people who leave comments. So I seen some person left a comment, cause you always have a hater, and he said "Mega talking about the same stuff on every song." And I busted out laughing! Because I could understand if it was any other song, but that song! That song I'm saying, I'm talking about political, I'm talking about activism, I'm talking about if it goes over your head then maybe you need to rewind it. Like I said "Justice fucks us and conceives martyrs!" Like, I've never said nothing like that! I said "Police take lives and go free of all charges!" I'm talking about the Sean Bell situation! Like, I'm talking about other things, like when I said "Life was a journey before I went the rap route, served niggas off the bench like Stackhouse" I said BEFORE I went the rap route. I'm basically saying I don't sell drugs now, rap is what I do, know what I'm saying?
P: When I spoke with you last time you talked about the DVD you were releasing and the social and political aspect of the DVD. Would you say this album is an extension of that idea? With social and political themes?
C: I wouldn't say so because this album, every song goes in a different direction. Let me look at my list, you probably the first person that I'm breaking the album down to. Like the song L.E.S. did, I can't tell you what it's about, but it's a concept record, like it's conceptual and to be honest some people said that's the best song on the album. That's the last song that I got so it's funny. That's definitely gonna be one of the favorites on the album. Then the Havoc song, I'm talking bout my daughter and I talk about family. Then the Easy Mo Bee song, that's straight fight music. When you hear that you're gonna get hype! You can work out to it, you can play ball to it, or whatever. Then the Lil' Fame song, that's like a story, but the last verse I'm telling you how I quit hustling. The last verse is a true story, but the first two verses, like the first verse is somewhat socially conscious, the second verse, well that song is like a saga, lets put it like that. If you listen to "The Saga" on "The Realness," that song is like an updated version of "The Saga." Then the Pete Rock song, that's like me talking about how relationships change. Like when I was in the streets I got more love from certain people than I got when I became a rapper. It's like when people see you a little bit successful they tend to act different, whether it is jealousy, envy, or thinking you're different from them. It's basically talking about how you live and you learn from experience. The Premier song, the new one, is me spazzing out lyrically, trying to show you like "I Still Got It!" What I'm telling you is every song goes somewhere else. No one can listen to this album and say it's repetitious. Every song takes it somewhere else.
P: You speak about being in the drug game, switching to the rap game, and now being a family man – how has that transition affected you? Are there any similarities?
C: There's a lot of principles that are very different. Like the music industry, the average artist is gonna get screwed at some degree – even me. So if we were in the streets I would handle it a certain way, but you can't handle it that way in the industry because I might go to jail or it will mess up your whole image. Like in the streets you can have an image as a wild person or a crazy person and thrive, but in the industry if you have a wild or crazy image you're gonna get blacklisted, people are not gonna want to deal with you. And as a parent now, there's certain things that you would see that you wouldn't want to do. I don't use the word "bitch" in my music any more. Even when I used it in previous years I haven't used it much. You know, cause I have a daughter and I respect women more, now me having a daughter. I respect doctors more for me seeing my daughter born. I respect hip-hop more with me just being a rapper and seeing how the game has transpired within the last few years. So in the two worlds there are similarities, but there are big differences. The only similarities are when you in the street getting money you got the police watching you, the stick up kids watching, and the haters. When you in the rap game you got the police watching you, the stick up kids watching, and the haters. So those are the similarities. The similarities are hilarious! The other similarities are when you're speaking. Like, in the streets when you say "Yo, I'm about to spit these sixteens" you got a gun with sixteens. Cause in the streets you got guns with clips that hold sixteen, but in the booth you spit sixteens. Like if you in the studio and you say "Yo, I'm bout to go lay something down" you they bout to go do a verse, but if you in the streets and some one says "I'm bout to go lay something down" that means they bout to go shoot somebody or kill somebody so you want to get the fuck out of there. So its funny because the similarities are similar but way apart.
P: It's been a few years since you put out an album, what are some of the changes that you've seen in the game during that time?
C: I mean the changes are dramatic, I haven't put out an album since 2002. I put out a DVD, but that wasn't a Cormega album. I put out the Legal Hustle Compilation, but that wasn't a Cormega album. During the last few years you've had major chains go out of business. The recession is affecting music and the downloading is affecting music. You've got stores such as the Virgin Megastore in Times Square out of business. You've got stores like Sam Goody out of business. You've got stores like Wherehouse out of business. You got stores like Circuit City out of business. Those were places that we as artists depended on for sales. Then you've got small stores, the moms and pops that I always could count on. You've got Sound City, which is in Queensbridge, where everybody would go get records out of business. So a lot of moms and pops stores are closed. A lot of the bigger stores are closing. And then you got people downloading music and that's affecting the sales. That's the biggest change. It's the way that the music is sold, but also the way that music is being marketed. There's not really street teams any more like there used to be, you gotta find new ways to promote your music and to be savvy business men. The music in itself has changes as far as what you are doing as an artist. Do I try to fit in? Or do I stay with my sound and be consistent and loyal to my fans? Since my album came out we went from hip-hop coming back, to the club era, then it was the crunk era where Lil' Jon was the king, then we had the down south movement, and then we had the beef movement. People seen 50 Cent accelerate as an artist to a superstar so they wanted to try to what he did. Everybody started working out to try to diss people and make 50 million mixtapes. Then we had the robot era, that's what I called it, where everybody was using the auto tune. Then you've got six or seven years passed, some people who were in grade school have went to high school now. Those are the biggest changes that I've seen as an artist and those are the biggest challenges that lay ahead for me.
P: How have you decided to meet and overcome those challenges and market your music?
C: One of the things that I've learned is that even when music doesn't sell people buy what's good. Another thing is that you have to become internet savvy now. So you have to be internet savvy, street savvy, and world savvy because the world and the internet is two different things, you know. I was one of the first artists that had my own site and communicated with fans. I remember people on the internet, you know, the anti-Mega people used to try to diss me like "Why is Mega on the internet, he doesn't have nothing to do." Like it was a diss! Now everybody is on the internet and that's one of the things that I was one step ahead of the game on. The internet thing, that's one of the best things to try to market yourself with. Another thing that I've done, you know, I didn't put out a solo album but I stayed visible somewhat. Like, I didn't put a bunch of mixtapes, but I made sure I was on something every year and that also allowed me to experiment with certain songs and certain sounds. Like, on "Legal Hustle" I did something with Vybz Kartel, something I'd never done before. And I rapped with Kurupt and Jayo Felony and I was rapping real fast. And then I did songs where I've grown lyrically, like "Beautiful Mind." Me doing songs like that allowed me to see what fans want from the response I'd get at shows and people saying "Yo, this is incredible" and I said "OK, now I know what to do on my album." So that, and just people growing, because Hip-Hop is what? 30-something years old now, Hip-Hop isn't even 50 years old yet. So it's still a new form of music, but it just changes rapidly. So there's a growing audience out there that grew up on Hip-Hop that want to still love, they want to still appreciate it, but they don't know how. Because they are too old to want to hear some of the younger stuff and they lost faith in it. They want to like it, but they're not getting fed. So I've got to cater to those people too and I noticed that. So those are some of the changes that I made with MY music. Like, I'm getting older, so it's funny if you go to my show and go to my site I've got fans that's like 18 and up. 16 and up! How I have 16 year old fans I really don't know, but I'm not mad at them! So I've got to make music for them and I've got to make music for the people that's been there with me. For the people that are hip-hop from day one, still want to love it but aren't being fed. So those are the challenges that lay ahead of me.
P: I know you have a website and forum where many of your fans post. I also read that some of those fans either helped with your album cover, how did that come about?
C: Ah man! Like, I was working on this album and I spent so much time on this album I didn't know what I wanted to do with the cover, but I remembered for years we were saying we wanted to do like a collage. So my mans told me if you want to do a collage we should do a collage, because it's "Born and Raised" so I wanted to do something that showed the growth of me. I had pictures, we started going through and I was saying "I want to use this picture." Like, I had a picture of me as a baby, but I said I didn't want to do that because Wayne did it, Biggie did it, its been done. So I started going back and forth with this guy, Karma, and we started coming up with ideas and then we just stopped. I stopped it at that because we had one set plan and that was the baby picture, but we wanted to grow from it. So I started getting input from people from my site, like someone on my site named Victory, she's one of the moderators on my site. She was like "yeah, this is cool, so let's add this to it." So she actually cleaned up some of the pictures also. I don't know the word for that, it's a graphics term, I don't know if you call it photoshop or whatever, but a fan from my site, one of the moderators, she did all the photoshop for the cover. And then my idea was to show Brooklyn and Queensbridge, because I was born in Brooklyn, most people know me from Queensbridge, but I also lived in Far Rockaway, so somebody from my site named QN he came up with the cross city idea and he actually came up with the image for cross city. So I had to go and send it to my man Desmond, he's the one who does the art and he put that on the cover. And then somebody else named Steve did the actual letter that say "Born and Raised." So the fans had a significant impact on the album musically and creative wise because they had their input in the cover and the sound, so you know, I'm proud of that. It's like five different people from my site that are actual fans that did the cover, so I'm thrilled about that and also they let me know how the album sounded because I did a sneak preview of the album in April at SOBs and the feedback was tremendous. From there I realized the songs were dope and I realized I had a good album because they liked every song.
P: I know you stay busy in between solo albums, what's on the radar for Cormega and Legal Hustle after "Born and Raised?"
C: We got a lot of artists that's working with me right now and then we got different directions we going in. Like there's a few companies I'm trying to pump out. I'm going to work with another company called Aura in all kinds of business aspects, even with this album. And then I'm going to work with another website that has nothing to do with Cormega and it's going to be touching on different subject matter, like worldly subject matter. I don't want none of the controversy on my site. If a rapper gets punched in the face, I don't care, it's not my business. That's not hip-hop. I don't want that on the site. I want to talk about how good that rapper's album is, what that artist is doing as an artist, not the controversy. We have enough sites that's focused on the bullshit, I want to focus on the good stuff. We doing that, we trying to do clothing and we trying to do movies. Right now the main priority, the most important thing right now is "Born and Raised" and I'm going to push this album like I've never done. Because with all my previous albums I signed deals and left the marketing up to the label that I signed the deal with. Now I got hands in the marketing and I'm going to make sure it's marketed the way I want, because at least if I win or lose I know that I did it the way I wanted it done. So I'm going to push it and I'm not going to stop pushing the album. Like previously what labels would do is they would do is go off your first week sales and if your first week sales aren't what they wanted them to be or hoped they would be sometimes they pull the plug. Then you don't hear nothing else about the album. I don't want to do that because this album has so much life to it that I want to push this album for at least a year. Six months to a year, that's the priority. And then from that we'll release the remix album and we'll start introducing you to some of the new artists that we're working with. And then we'll go on to the next Legal Hustle album and then we'll start going to all the other projects, the movies, etc...
P: What kind of movies are you trying to make? Feature films, documentaries, or a little bit of everything?
C: All of the above. You know I gotta make a street joint, because a lot of street joints were done by geeks that's not from the streets and then they'll get input. Or they'll get input from rappers that's not really from the streets, that's just lived in the streets. Like, being from the streets and living in the hood is two different things. Like you could be somebody that lives in the hood and goes upstairs and watches TV and stays away from the bullshit. But there's certain elements, like I know the smell, I know the smell in the streets, I know how that asphalt feels. So there's certain things that I could say or put on film that's going to be new to people.
P: You mentioned taking a new, aggressive marketing approach with the new album, is there any particular region you took your inspiration from? For example, the Bay area is known for selling thousands of copies under the radar.
C: Exactly. If you look at the Bay, the Bay has been some of the biggest hustlers ever in rap. You got to understand, hustler is not a self descriptive word, hustler is a verb. A hustler is someone that does what he says, not says it, you know what I'm saying? If you think of some of the biggest independent people ever they come from the Bay. They might have moved to other regions, but Master P is from the Bay originally, then he went to New Orleans. The most successful rapper ever was MC Hammer! MC Hammer was selling records out of his trunk. Then you got Too $hort and then you take it to E-40 and then to street savvy cats like my man Jacka. So the Bay is always not giving a fuck about the charts because they got their own fans and they are going to buy it. They supportive of each other so they can thrive off that. At the end of the day, people are going to buy what they like. If you make good music, even though there's recession and sales are down, good music typically sells. There's been projects that came out recently that people didn't think would sell that sold because they had people's attention. That's one of my mottos, if you make good music it's going to sell. And then you got to cater to your audience. I'm not trying to get Kanye's audience, I'm not trying to get the auto tune audience, I'm not trying to go mainstream. I got support from people that support me, you know? The underground people and the street people and the Cormega fans, that's who I'm in it for so if I could cater to those people hopefully they reciprocate, you know?
P: October 20th – "Born and Raised" drops, run through the guest spots one last time to let the fans know what to expect.
C: Alright, I'm tell you right now, I got Khrysis, I got L.E.S., Havoc, Easy Mo Bee, Fame, Pete Rock, Premier, Large Professor, D.R. Period, Nottz, Ayatollah, and Buckwild. Guest rappers I got Lil' Fame, Havoc, Tragedy Khadafi, the legends KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane, Parrish Smith, Puba, and Red Alert. The album ends with "Mega Fresh X" so that's got Red Alert talking, but the album begins with Marley Marl talking. So you see where I'm going with that, Marley Marl starts the album off and Red Alert ends it. The fly shit is we're going to milk this album. Like the song "Journey" got such a good response that we already got a remix and we're going to leak the remix soon, that's me, Sadat X, and Large Professor. That should be out real soon. There's a song that D.R. Period did that has Queensbridge artists on it and there's a remix of it that's going to have additional Queensbridge artists on it. So we got a lot of surprises in store.
P: Finally, is there anything you want to say to your fans?
C: I just want to say Thank You to them and I'm back! I'm back in the building!
You can check Cormega on the web at LegalHustle.net.
"Born and Raised"
is in stores now!
Originally posted: October 27, 2009