Queens rapper Cormega talks hoops, sneakers and more.
by Adam Figman | @afigman
If you’re a hip-hop enthusiast who prefers gritty street lyricism to trendy, new-age fashion rap, we hope you’re already plenty familiar with New York MC Cormega. And though you also should be aware of the solid catalog of albums that highlights his impressive résumé, you might not know that Mega is an intense hoophead as well, having played a little ball in his early years and then developing into an intense fan as he got older. After showing respect to the basketball references that litter his raps, we got up with the man himself—whose new album, Raw Forever, hits stores today—to talk about bball, sneakers, music and more.
SLAM: What’s your personal history with the game?
Cormega: I used to play for Riverside [Church, NYC-based AAU program]. I used to play when I lived in Co-Op City [in the Bronx]. Back then I was probably a forward. I really wasn’t good, to me. The best person I ever saw play basketball back then was my friend Anthony Cole from Park City, and my friend Damon Williams. They were incredible. So I sucked, to me. But I used to play a little forward. Then I used to play a couple street tournaments when I got older. Then when I went to jail I played in a couple tournaments in jail. I was the three-point sharpshooter. If you’ve seen my Who Am I DVD, I played with Allen Iverson at a celebrity basketball game. I played and I had on my Tims. Joe Smith and Rafer Alston were on my team—well I was on their team—and I hit NBA three-pointers back-to-back with my Timberlands on. The fly thing is AND1 named a dunk after me; when they had people dunking with Timbs on, they called it the Cormega dunk. I was feelin’ that.
SLAM: Were you always a Knicks fan?
Cormega: I was always a Knicks fan. Don’t get me wrong, when I was coming up, Dr. J was so famous it was like he was a singer or something. Then you always knew about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But I always like the Knicks. We wanted Dr. J to win, but I always liked the Knicks. When I got older, the like turned to love.
SLAM: What do you think of the current Knicks squad?
Cormega: I think they could go further next year. I think [Mike] D’Antoni needs to coach with his brain and not with his man-crushes. Like, perfect example: Anthony Carter. Anthony Carter should’ve been in the game a lot more in the Playoffs. He showed his value. He should’ve been used a lot more. Toney Douglas, he’s reckless. We need another back-up point guard. And I think the Knicks need to stop acting like they’re credit is zero. You know how when you try to finance something with a credit card they’re like, “Nope, your credit ain’t good.” The Knicks need to stop doing that with basketball players. Like, “Oh, he’s bad. He had a bad attitude before.” D’Antoni is in no position to criticize someone for their attitude. This is basketball, we gotta stop judging players for their past or their off-court antics. How you could take Chris Duhon and stand up Allen Iverson? I will never understand that. There are players that they will ignore because they wanna make a goodie-goodie team. We’re looking for basketball players; we’re not looking for boy scouts. Get some players with some heart that can play some ball.
SLAM: I know you were close with Ron Artest. Do you still have a relationship with him?
Cormega: Of course.
SLAM: Get to see any of his games this year?
Cormega: Nah. The bandwagon is so thick, I don’t even call Ron no more. The bandwagon is thick. I know in my heart of hearts where I stand with Ron. I know when Ron played his first NBA game ever, in Chicago, I was there. I was there for his first three or four NBA games.
SLAM: You flew out to Chicago for that?
Cormega: Yeah, look at the Daily News. They ran an article in the Daily News and had my name in there. It said, “His friend Cormega.” They didn’t know I was a rapper so it just said Cormega. I was there, and I got Pat Riley’s autograph. Sprewell’s also. A whole bunch of autographs on one ball.
SLAM: In SLAM 81’s Dime Drop, when throwback jerseys were hot, you said it should be a privilege to wear throwbacks, not a fashion statement. Do you hate how they were treated like a trend?
Cormega: I think people don’t understand Mitchell & Ness is a nostalgia company. If you look at the people that wore Mitchell & Ness even before they were hot, the majority of them, who was it? Older men. Or white men coming from work. White men with button-up shirts and the jersey over it. A 6-year-old kid is not gonna appreciate a DiMaggio jersey or a guy that was on the Colts in 1950. When people stop wearing it, I just laugh because that means more for me! I have on a Mitchell & Ness hat right now—a New York hat. If they make a Rod Strickland jersey tomorrow, I’m on that.
SLAM: You’ve got tons of basketball references, but one that stood out was “Only time I chase the past is when Jordans come out.” You still collecting sneakers?
Cormega: Yeah. I mean with Jordan sneakers, I really don’t know how to put it. I feel like Hugh Hefner. What more can I do? I see a lot of rappers that are like, “Yeah, I got all the Jordans.” Then show them! I can go home right now and text you every pair of Jordans. Seriously, every pair of Jordans I have. So I don’t go crazy when they come out anymore. Like the number V’s recently came out and everyone was like, “Awww!” I got the number V’s unopened, unworn, still. I got three pairs of number V’s, the black and silvers, without the 23 on the side. So that means I got the vintage ones from like 10 years ago brand new. I got those—I got all the Jordans! Recently online I saw a list that showed the rarest Jordans. I looked down at that list and started laughing, ‘cause I got a lot of them. I was like, “Word? I could make a fortune.” I’m trying to get down with a sneaker company now to do a collaboration. I’m a sneakerhead for real—not just when it became fashionable.
SLAM: What’s in your holy grail of sneakers?
Cormega: One thing I tell people is there’s a difference between somebody that’s a sneaker collector and somebody that just has a lot of Nikes. Some people are like, “I have an ill sneaker collection,” then you look at their collection, and you just see Nikes. Or you might see some Foamposites and a couple of Air Maxes—that’s not a sneaker collection. My holy grail of sneakers—if you told me to give you my rarities—Vince Carter’s first sneakers were Pumas. Remember that? I have those, brand new, mint condition, never worn. Those are part of my holy grail. The black number I Jordans with the platinum wings on the side and the leather that’s like that real fancy leather that they have in cars? I have those; I wore them once. My Bathing Ape x adidas collaboration shelltoes. The first Louis Vutton sneakers came out in 1999 or 2000. The first ones, I have those. Gucci sneakers just recently retro’d their ’85 version—I have the high-top red ones from back in the day. My ’95 Air Max, I got those to match my Hummer [laughs]. I have a pair of sample Air Jordan number IX’s. They’re red and white; I’ve never see anyone with them. I also have another pair of number IX’s: white and patent leather yellow with the UCal logo on the back, made for the University of California. Only person I ever seen with those was Michael Jordan’s son. My Patrick Ewings—if you don’t have Patrick Ewing adidas in your collection, you’re not a collector, or you’re not a New Yorker. James Worthy New Balances. Viotech Dunks—with every color in the world on them and they’re all suede. Oh, Pippen Dunks. And one of my favorite sneakers ever created that’s really slept on is the silver Foamposites they made for Tim Duncan. I think they recently retro’d those. I still have the original pair. And of course suede Pumas.
SLAM: You reference Latrell Sprewell a lot in your rhymes. Was he your favorite player when he was in the League?
Cormega: Latrell was New York. I liken myself to Latrell, because a lot of times when people spoke about Latrell they only spoke on the controversy—they said, “Oh, he’s the one that choked the coach”—but they forgot he’s the one who choked the coach, but he didn’t choke on the court. He’s the one who put up 36 in the last game when the Knicks were eliminated in the Finals by the Spurs. And he’s the one who gave Kobe a run for his mothafuckin’ money when it was the Timberwolves—remember it was him, Garnett and Cassell against the Lakers? That was a hell of a series. And Sprewell was giving Kobe something to think about. I always thought a lot of times people overlooked what I’m able to do as an artist, and they just look at the controversy. So that’s why I always compared myself to Sprewell.
SLAM: Another reference I caught was “They question my potential like Pearl Washington.” That’s a bit of an under-the-radar shoutout.
Cormega: Of course, that’s what I try to do. That’s for the people that sleep. That’s why I put it on the song “Sleep Well,” because I know I’m underrated. People always question what I’m able to do. Before I put out an album, people said it’s over for him, because he’s not on Def Jam no more. Then I came out and shut ‘em own with The Realness. Then they said I can only make street songs, then I made The True Meaning. Got the first Source Award ever for any artist and got an Impact Award from the Underground Music Awards. So it’s like every time they question what I can do, I show them off. With Pearl Washington, he never lived up to his potential. Pearl Washington was supposed to be the second coming, and he never really lived up to it. That’s why I said, “They question my potential like Pearl Washington.” I started to say, “They question my heart like Eddy Curry,” but he didn’t deserve a mention [laughs]. He’s a disgrace.
SLAM: Let’s touch on the new album. What can fans expect?
Cormega: Fans can expect like an MTV Unplugged on one side, and on the other side it’s like a Best Of. So you’re not gonna have 14 new Cormega songs, but you’ll have me on the whole CD, with every song done by a live band on one CD, and then one side will be some stuff you liked from the previous albums and hard-to-find stuff that you didn’t have. And I sprinkled some new joints on there. It’s a celebration, and it’s also to prepare people for what’s to come, because what’s gonna come after that is gonna be monumental.