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Though an undeniably articulate and thoughtful rapper, Cormega's reputation in the hip-hop underground resulted more from his longtime adversarial relationship with Nas than from his own music. This seemingly endless verbal bout between the two kept Cormega's career afloat while he struggled to release an album in the late '90s. In fact, he didn't release an album until 2001, five years after debuting on Nas' "Affirmative Action." During those five years, Cormega rapped in the New York underground scene as a mix-tape favorite. He took a thug/hustler approach, rapping about the violent and tragic side of street life; however, he did so in a tremendously lucid manner, commanding a liquid-smooth flow and clear articulation. As a result, though it took him years of struggle to release a debut album, when he finally released The Realness in 2001, he thoroughly impressed many, earning many end-of-the-year nods from critics.
Nas and Cormega, who both represent Queensbridge, met at the dawn of the '90s and became companions. Cormega unfortunately went away to prison, though, as his companion's rap career began to take flight in a big way. Nas subsequently dedicated the song "One Love" from his debut album, Illmatic (1994), to Cormega, who soon after left prison. Together again, the two collaborated on Nas' second album, It Was Written (1996), with Foxy Brown and AZ on the song "Affirmative Action." The foursome called themselves the Firm and planned to record a group album. But Cormega ended up being replaced by yet another Queens rapper, Nature, reportedly because of Nas' manager at the time, Steve Stout. The Firm album flopped, but Cormega still resented being ousted from the group. As a result, he released the song "Fuck Nas and Nature" and spoke venomously of the two.

Of course, these sort of battles are a longtime staple of East Coast hip-hop and often promote all involved. It perhaps wasn't a surprise, then, when Cormega found himself being offered a contract with Def Jam Records. A double-sided 12" resulted from the pairing -- "Angel Dust" b/w "Killaz Theme II" -- but that was unfortunately all. The album that Cormega had readied for Def Jam to release, The Testament, continually got pushed back, never surfacing. The reasons vary, depending on who you ask -- most likely because the Nas-Cormega heat cooled -- but whatever the reason, Cormega parted ways with Def Jam and took the independent route. He created his own label, Legal Hustle, and signed a distribution deal with Landspeed Records. Finally, in 2001, after much bootlegging, Cormega's debut album, The Realness, finally appeared on the market. Many were quick to declare it one of the year's best hip-hop releases, and it seemed that Cormega's legacy had proven accurate. He indeed proved to be an incredible rapper: articulate and passionate, uncompromising and uncommercial.

Given all the fanfare surrounding Cormega's long-awaited splashing debut, it came as a bit of a surprise when Nas dissed him on the song "Destroy & Rebuild" from his comeback album, Stillmatic (2001). Just as he had done before with "Fuck Nas and Nature," Cormega readied a comeback track, "The Slick Response," which featured the beat from Mtume's "Juicy Fruit." Another Nas-related song, "Love in Love Out," would appear on Cormega's forthcoming second album, The True Meaning (2002). A few months prior to the release of The True Meaning, Body Shop Records released Hustler/Rapper, a collection of mix-tape recordings that featured Cormega. Though a shoddy collection, Hustler/Rapper includes a few key tracks such as "Angel Dust" and "Realmatic," the latter yet another Nas dis. Upon its release in summer 2002, The True Meaning demanded much attention despite being an indie release, like The Realness had, and featured production from such luminaries as Large Professor and the Alchemist. ~ Jason Birchmeier, All Music Guide
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