Cormega’s “Raw Forever”Posted: October 4, 2011
In the mid 90s hip hop heads were as desperate to know who Cormega was as they were to peel off Ghostface Killah’s mask. Cormega’s name reverberated in the beautiful nightmare Nas described on One Love, his letter to a jailed friend: What up with Cormega, did you see ’em, are y’all together? When he finally released his first album The Realness in 2001 after disputes with his label and beefs with former associates, it felt like it dropped 5 years too late. On that album, he rapped with a straight-forward poeticism about the morally conflicted condition of the hustler, themes that Jay-Z had already monopolized by then.
Ten years later, he has released Raw Forever, an understated and intense work that feels like a small victory for the possibilities of rap to speak to the down-and-out in all of us. The two-disc set is made up of a best of compilation and a surprisingly effective collaborative effort with a live band called The Revelations, who played on Wu-Tang Chamber Music. Cormega titled the tracks with Roman numerals according to their order on the disc. Track 2 is titled “II” for instance. This small act of music biz mockery undercuts the expectation that there has to be a unique subject for each track; in reality Cormega has always rhymed about one thing: the uncompromising code of the streets.
Though his music hasn’t changed much over the last 10 years, the rap world around him has. New York boom bap fell out of favor in the mainstream and the South’s sound rose to dominate urban radio. It seemed like any rapper who wasn’t from New York had a shot at the big time, or at least their 15 minutes. Eminem from Detroit, Nelly from St. Louis, Kanye West from Chicago, Lil Wayne from New Orleans, T.I. from Atlanta, Rick Ross from Miami, and now Drake from Canada. As America’s economy boomed, rap softened; honesty, self-effacing humor and vulnerability became fashionable. In this new context, rappers like Cormega seemed cynical and reactionary.
But now in the midst of a global economic plunge, his directness when talking about his own uncertain place in the game feels right and exact as in when he fires off the following lines on “IX”: My cocaine flow solidified I spit crack now…Ever since I started rhymin the crime rates lower…I’m too young to die, too old to try the corners. Cormega’s outlook really hasn’t switched since he rhymed these words in “The Saga” in 2001:
uneffected by police intrusions
or street illusions we were consumed wit’
I’ve even grown away from people I grew wit’
I mean we cool, but I don’t need to bullshit
Perhaps the greatest victory on this album is “VIII” which re-introduces us to Red Alert, Parrish Smith of EPMD, Grand Puba of Brand Nubian, KRS One and Big Daddy Kane on an old school posse cut backed by a smooth funk melody. Red Alert introduces and closes it out in his helium tinged rasp and each rapper seems invigorated by the company. In the middle of it, KRS-One pulls out this line: they standing next to the flesh, I’m next to the soul. Cormega has stayed true to who he is, experimenting with the form of the music but not messing around with his narrative. This new album shows him as an important artist for this moment.