GLOBAL GANGSTA: “When I first got back from jail,” says Cormega, “you could never have told me that I would do shows in Sweden, or that my rhymes would take me to the palaces in England, and the Eiffel Tower.”
Cormega's been to Paris, been to and from prison, and signed to Def Jam and a host of smaller labels. He's cut classic tracks featuring esteemed acts like Mobb Deep and M.O.P.; he's collaborated with Alchemist, Pete Rock, and every other raw top-shelf producer. Moreover, the Queensbridge-born-and-raised griot has proved that hardcore street rap can prevail on an independent imprint. Looking back on his accomplishments, he acknowledges that his success is largely the product of skill and gusto. But on the nurture side, Cormega credits none other than the Bean as a chief inspiration.
"Boston was the place that made me realize that the world is bigger than just Queensbridge. I was in a mall up there right after I got out, and a pretty young white girl came up to me and was like, 'Oh my God — you're Cormega.' I was like, 'How the fuck do you know who I am?' I figured only street niggas knew who I was. I thought she was just different, but that night at the Middle East, I saw people who were just like her, and from every race, coming out by the hundreds. I never knew hip-hop was like that — especially not my type of hip-hop. It opened my eyes."
To prove that he's not just humoring us, Cormega points out that his landmark show at the same venue this Saturday is his first ever tag-team gig with Nature. A fellow Queens cat, Nature replaced Cormega in Nas & AZ's the Firm crew in the mid '90s, setting off the inevitable beef. When the Firm added Foxy Brown as window dressing and swapped in Nature (for reasons ranging from contractual to personal), an aggressive Cormega, fresh off a bid for armed robbery, charged his adversaries with everything from disloyalty to fraud. But though he and Nas engaged in a word war for years and even now have only superficially quashed shit, Nature was never an intended target.
"The thing with Nature," Cormega explains, "is that we've been cool for a long time — even though a lot of people in hip-hop seem to be fixated on past beefs. That Firm situation was over 10 years ago, but since people still ask questions all the time, we figured that instead of telling them what's up, we could just show them."
Cormega's right — the hood media do cook beef until it's tasteless. Nonetheless, his rift with Nas is legendary, and perhaps the most important non-fatal feud in hip-hop history. Rival archetypes cut from the same crack-stained cloth, Nas and Cormega are, respectively, the commercial and underground kings of Queensbridge, each forever thriving on not being the other. For Cormega, that no longer means skewering his old accomplice; instead, he's relishing the indie path that big-label adversity pushed him onto. And he's more grounded than ever — these days, having just returned from a trip to Haiti, he doesn't even sport his trademark jewels, which were once known for being "so colorful, his daughter doesn't have to watch cartoons."