For Cory McKay, his rhyming career and the saying “it was all good just a week ago” go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Like KRS and Scott La Rock, Big Punisher and Fat Joe and Daz and Kurupt, having a partner in rhyme is often a gift and a curse in the game of hip-hop. For the Queensbridge native – also known as Cormega – he’s been an unfortunate player on both sides of that coin. While his QB compatriot Nas rose through the ranks of East Coast lyricism, an unfortunate turn of event led to Cormega being locked up for six years. But after Nas’ infamous shout out on his debut masterpiece Illmatic – “What up with Cormega, did you see ’em, are y’all together?” – what looked like another missed opportunity turned into considerable street buzz, and once released from prison he capitalized on his newfound notoriety, leading off on the original Firm’s Affirmative Action, and prepping his own highly anticipated freshman effort The Testament.
Sadly the d’evils of the industry drove a wedge between Cormega and Nas, causing him to be kicked out of The Firm and replaced with sound-alike Nature, his album shelved and a barrage of lyrical volleys to his former partners. Fortunately he has been able to withstand the pressures of rap, taking the independent route and releasing critically acclaimed albums, culminating with the long-delayed The Testament in 2005. after that two year absence, Cormega has returned with the multi-flavored Who Am I?
Rather than the typical East Coast-based, gritty boom-bap which has been the long-standing staple of Cormega’s sound, he instead sought after a different twist on his stalwart sound, creating something definitely missing from New York hip-hop today. After longtime Dip Set in-house beat maestros The Heatmakerz bless guest singer Dwele’s earnest wails and ‘Mega’s rhymes with the soul-driven opener Sleep Well, the head-knocking 718 is absolutely vicious, with the producer andMash Out Posse member Lil Fame promising to “come back to the game like Reverend Mason Betha… but without the hard-bottom shoes.”
While loaded with guests an impressive number of guest artists, Cormega’s graciousness with the mike tends to drag the album down more often than it should. While D-Block’s Styles P shows up to body Use Mad Clips, Bay Area natives Yukmouth and Keek Da Sneak unexpectedly appear on the ho-hum Lookin’ At It, and the unnecessary Live From The Caves could have easily remained in that cavern. Even the backpacker’s wet dream The Rap Game – featuring underground favorites Little Brother – feels forced, as ‘Mega’s monotone delivery struggles to keep pace with Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh’s dense lyrics. Fortunately, things get back on track with the pseudo-Firm reunion Who Am I with AZ and former nemesis Nature perfectly bookending Cormega’s fiery verse.
Unfortunately, the production largely doesn’t hold its end up of the bargain. There are too many dull points that don’t measure up to Mega’s talent (see: Time, Triboro). Although it has its moments, Who Am I? will only truly satisfy diehard fans of Cormega’s legal hustle. For the rest though, they should only continue to wait for the next Montana diary.