“I’m from the streets…” A term coined by legendary greats of the Hip Hop game, and those who command instant credibility. It is also a statement echoed by a familiar voice as he recalls his past.
Cormega started out knee-deep in the vernacular, dramas and ways of the streets before evolving into the man he is today. Mega says his cousin was a big influence for him: “Karenga brought me out to battle everybody, who he thought was hot. He believed in me before I really knew I could Rap.”Mega further sites Hip Hop legend M.C. Shan as a big influence: “I remember seeing him perform at park jams.” It was during this era that the crack epidemic took over the streets of QB and he quickly did what many of his peers did which was to write, sell drugs and live carelessly. Predictably, Cormega fell prey to the streets and landed in jail faster than on stage.
Nas created a buzz about his jailed crony when he said, “What’s up with Cormega,” on the One Love track off the Illmatic album.
Upon Mega’s return home from his brief stint in jail, he joined forces with The Firm and things started looking up for him, but he couldn’t escape the streets. Still dabbling in two separate operations, he managed yet to gain his notoriety as a hot rapper: “Things were looking good, but I was always a businessman first and when I didn’t sign a production deal with Nas, things got a little shaky.”
However, things quickly turned around for Mega when he signed to Def Jam, which he later recalled was a big mistake: “They signed me thinking that my affiliation with The Firm would generate better sales and make their job easier in terms of marketing me. But I live by my decisions. Every deal is not necessarily a good one – and the more money there is at stake, the more you have to pay attention. If I knew then what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have signed with them because they didn’t know what to do with me. Every artist that blew up, piggybacked off another label like DMX, who was signed before me, but it took Bad Boy‘s, ’24 hours to live’ song and others before they dropped him.”
While Nas and The Firm would earn their acclaim, Mega was the odd man out, signed to a label that he believed wasn’t marketing him properly and if that wasn’t enough, the scandal was all over the streets. Frustrated with the situation after years of being shelved, Cormega remembered growing, “…Impatient and I decided to give Def Jam and Kevin Liles an offer they couldn’t refuse: I clearly stated that if they weren’t going to put my album out, they needed to release me.” When Liles said he wanted to discuss it, Mega said there was nothing to discuss. He wasn’t playing and the streets knew that. Mega needed the opportunity to get his music and his life together. He did what his lawyers didn’t, which was to overturn a Def Jam policy. To this day people still ask him how he was able to get himself released – it’s unheard of.
Now a free agent, Mega pondered how to move forward with his music. He felt he should have probably went to Loud Records or Penalty Records, who also wanted to sign him, but focused on re-launching his music in mixtape form, and enjoyed the sales that came of it. Mega recalls, “…Learning about distribution and the business. My mixtapes began to pop and I started doing shows. After that, I met with the Land Speed Record label (this was when Koch was a graveyard), and signed with them. I was promised my album would be out in three months and without much publicity or promotion, the album sold 100,000 copies, which was unheard of at the time for an indie artist. I was the first New York artist to test the indie market and succeed.”
Cormega stayed loyal to the label that put his music out and put Landspeed on the map. He was the first indie rapper to receive a Source Award. He states: “I respect those who helped, and I’m glad to have seen a lot of success and money with Land Speed. I introduced a lot of people to them, such as Sha Money XL, the Mobb and Foxy Brown; I became the blueprint of indie success. But like many things that start off good, they have to eventually end; I should have been credited for a lot of things that happened, but the only real way to be successful is to be the businessman with a legal hustle, so I changed my life to reflect my business side: I named my label, “Legal Hustle Music Group” and have the distribution that all the other independent labels have. Who would ever think that despite every thing that happened, I’m now in a position to be a better provider for my daughter and better businessman overall? My career has made a full circle and I’m as focused and determined as ever to put my product out directly through my company.”
The lesson of his experience, is that as long as you stay focused and work hard, you can beat the odds. He believes that ownership is the only way.
Copyrite Nov. 12, 2007
Print Mag, December