Happy 15th Anniversary to Cormega’s second studio album The True Meaning, originally released June 11, 2002.
“You love to hear the stories, again and again, of how it all got started way back when.” The infamous opening bars by Queensbridge native MC Shan in his 1986 anthem “The Bridge” has since proven true as this public housing complex has produced more notable rap stars with classic LPs than perhaps any other American neighborhood. In the spirit of competition and through vivid street tales, many QB natives have defended their home turf in some of hip-hop’s most heated battles. Having emerged as one of the most prominent of the long line of QB storytellers, Cory McKay a.k.a. Cormega returned for a sophomore effort in the late spring of 2002 to add yet another adornment to the recorded repertoire that stood out amongst hip-hop’s landscape.
In arguably one of the most epic ways that an aspiring artist could dream of free publicity, we first heard Mega’s name in the memorable lines: “What up with Cormega, did you see him? Are y’all together?” Thanks to this shout out on Nas’ “One Love” single from his critically acclaimed debut album Illmatic, Mega was stamped and instantly elevated to must-hear emcee status. As Nas’ legend grew and he exhibited signs of becoming the premier lyricist of his generation, Cormega’s official entry into the game caused people to contemplate whether he was destined to be the author of the next great chapter of the Queensbridge saga. After receiving rap’s most infamous well wishes on the last leg of his prison bid, Mega came home with his spot secured as the fourth member of the Nas-led supergroup The Firm, which also featured AZ and Foxy Brown.
Mega’s first line on “Affirmative Action,” which formerly introduced The Firm on Nas’ sophomore album It Was Written (1996), almost proves to be prophetic in retrospect, as he asserts “criminal thoughts in a blue Porsche, my destiny’s to be the new boss.” Unfortunately, Nas and Mega never quite saw eye to eye leading up to The Firm project, which lead to the subsequent demise of their personal and professional relationship, with Cormega ultimately being replaced as an official Firm member.
Also following his prison release, Mega managed to secure a record deal with Def Jam Recordings. But with only a few leaked tracks, collaborations, and live concert footage of Def Jam’s “Survival of the Illest tour” in 1998, the promise of signing with such an established label failed to bear much fruit. Remarkably, Mega maintained a healthy street buzz, although his verses surfaced randomly and far too infrequently between 1996 and 2000. Perhaps his indifference with label execs at Def Jam, industry insiders like Steve Stoute, and even his growing feud with Nas and Firm replacement Nature added to his enigma. These factors may have also helped him to develop his persona as the street rebel, particularly with fans who yearned to see more of a return to the old for the future sound of the Queensbridge rap dynasty.
Seeming to put their differences aside, Nas summoned the full strength of his housing projects in 2000 for his collaboration album Nas & Ill Will Records Presents QB’s Finest, which featured another memorable 16 bars from Mega who stated, “Mega more mature, I’m on a record with Nature, minding my paper” on the posse cut “Da Bridge 2001.”
Opting for the independent route, Mega made his official solo debut in 2001 with The Realness, released by Legal Hustle and Landspeed Records. In the tradition of his Queensbridge forefathers, the album is mostly solemn recollections of his childhood and young adult years in the notorious housing development. Cameos from childhood neighbors Tragedy Khadafi and Mobb Deep’s Prodigy fit well, as much of the album is a memorial to fallen comrades lost as casualties of the ‘80s crack era. Like his guest appearances throughout the late ‘90s, Mega solidified himself as a worthy lyricist on his inaugural long player, making the melancholy theme of the album entertaining. The most notable moments of the LP, however, were the pop shots fired at his friend turned nemesis Nas Escobar, which fueled the flame of their unsettled rivalry.
With all the street credibility in the world, a solid debut album, and a strong collection of memorable guest spots as a frequent collaborator with Mobb Deep and other Queensbridge acts like Screwball and Infamous Mobb, Mega set his sights on distinguishing himself as a complete artist on his second effort. The appropriately titled The True Meaning shows a more than viable emcee, with more focus and mastery of his pen game than ever before. The 14 tracks with carefully selected production offer a nearly perfect backdrop to the poignant lyricism that boldly had little room for guest appearances. Not even an R&B sensation for a chorus could help Cory in conveying his autobiography.
As Shan once proclaimed, the setting of the world’s largest public housing development had long captivated us with stories of shoot-outs, sexcapades, and even riffs amongst the crowded landscape of emcees. Mega capitalizes on the intrigue of his hood, but changes pace, giving voice to the grandmother returning to her building from grocery shopping or the 13 year-old on his way to school on a crisp fall morning.
The album is consistently quotable with sharp lines like “I'm like a panther in the dark / silent when I strike the paper / like a dagger in your heart / when I write I leave a mark” on “Verbal Graffiti” which helps set the tone of the album. The track follows the album opener “Introspective,” during which Mega immediately establishes the potency of his content, rhyming “I killed it with The Realness now I'm bringin' new life / prestige is an illusion people tend to lose sight / I will always be Cory, youngest child of Dorothy / my brown eyes mirrors the pure ferocity.”
On “Live Ya Life,” Mega’s precise cadence takes you on a long stroll through the crevices of the 96 buildings that make up the Queensbridge housing projects, as you pause to speak with the single mom of the man returning from his state bid and her next door neighbor struggling to overcome addiction. Reminiscent of “Glory Days” from The Realness, “Legacy” returns to Mega detailing his childhood memories of the ‘80s within the context of the Juice Crew and lords of the ‘80s drug game.
“Love In, Love Out” is Mega’s detailed narrative of his tumultuous relationship with Nas, “I was never jealous of you, in fact I was proud of you / I smiled when I heard you on ‘Live at the Barbeque.’ / I respect you as an artist though I'm no longer fond of you.” The maturity he displays in giving his account of events over the years disqualifies the track from being labeled a diss record, but serves as another testament of how Mega’s penmanship elevated his storytelling perspective amongst his contemporaries.
Amongst the star-studded cast of producers, Queens’ legend Large Professor steps from behind the boards to offer the album’s only lyrical cameo as the duo trade bars on “The Come Up,” with Mega explaining, “My movement's like the automatic top on a coupe / smoothness, like Allan Houston got when he shoots / I'm consumed with, the essence of the street / I'm destined to be, on a level, I've yet to see.”
Making the most of the acquired heavyweights for production, Cormega shines over tracks supplied by Buckwild (“A Thin Line”) and Hi-Tek (“Take These Jewels”), and sounds just as comfortable with more obscure contributors J. Waxx Garfield who leant 3 tracks and J.Love who threw 2. Veterans Emile, The Alchemist, D/R Period, and Hangmen 3 also help season the gravy of Mega’s meat-and-potatoes style that sticks to your ribs with brutal honesty and well delivered rhymes, skillfully crafted in the tradition of Tragedy’s 1990 Intelligent Hoodlum album and 2Pac’s 1991 debut 2Pacalypse Now.
Even without a beat on the poetic a cappella “Ain’t Gone Change,” Mega’s flow draws oohs and ahs as his pen strikes, “I possess the ghetto essence of that which I portray / I'm an emotional chameleon, see how I adapt to pain / Before we enjoy the sun we must first get past the rain / a lyricist similar to Donny Hathaway / clearly superior to many all I really lacked was fame.”
He ends the album on as personal of a note as it began, but with another Queensbridge legend, DJ Hot Day, on the help-out. On the final track “Therapy,” Mega continues to convince us of why his name earned such mystique in the mid ‘90s, explaining, “To ease the mind I analyze between lines I vandalize / with rhymes, when I recite I hold the mic like a nine / I design like a composer / blow you like a soldier / go for mines with the smoothness, move with composure.”
One of the best albums of the decade, The True Meaning offers a deeper look into a neighborhood that first caught our attention on wax nearly two decades earlier, while expounding upon the criminal underworld that hip-hop often celebrates without expressing the perspectives of those truly affected. The album proved successful in helping to solidify the career and reputation of one of hip-hop’s more introspective lyricists who blazed his own trail atop the list of hip-hop’s great dynasties.
“I’m Queensbridge’s most respected rapper / that ain’t gone change.”