Loved by the streets as well as by critics, Cormega was the rare hardcore rapper to win praise from all directions, and while he never quite crossed over like some of his New York City peers, he maintained a respectable independence over the years nonetheless, self-releasing his work on the Legal Hustle label.
Born Cory McKay, Cormega came up as part of the early-'90s Queensbridge scene that also fostered such name acts as Nas and Mobb Deep, among many others (not to mention the preceding generation of artists affiliated with Marley Marl and the Juice Crew). He made his debut in grand fashion, rapping alongside fellow Queensbridge MCss Foxy Brown and AZ on "Affirmative Action," one of the highlights of Nas' 1996 album It Was Written. This alliance, which billed itself as the Firm, was short-lived for Cormega. He parted ways with the group before it recorded its one album, the largely unsuccessful Album. It was no big loss for Cormega, though, as he signed to Def Jam and recorded his debut album, The Testament. That album sat in limbo for years, unfortunately, as did Cormega himself. With the exception of some guest appearances here and there, such as on the How to Be a Player soundtrack (1997), Mobb Deep's Murda Muzik (1999), and Nas' QB Finest compilation, Cormega's recording career was on hold while Def Jam twiddled its thumbs.
It wasn't until 2001 that Cormega made his album debut, releasing The Realness on his own Legal Hustle label. It didn't benefit from the promotional push that Def Jam could have given it, but The Realness made quite an impact among the hip-hop underground, where it was revered. The second album followed, The True Meaning (2002), and was likewise critically acclaimed, earning Independent Album of the Year at the Source Awards in 2003. The album cracked the Top 100 of the Billboard 200 (peaking at number 95).
Cormega then took some time off to raise his daughter, born in November 2002, before he resumed music operations. In 2004 he returned with Legal Hustle, a collaborative album, and Special Edition, a two-fer including both The Realness and The True Meaning. In 2005 he released The Testament, his unreleased Def Jam album from ten years prior, to which he had recently secured the rights to the master tapes, and in 2006 he was co-featured on My Brother's Keeper, a collaborative album also billed to Lake, a fellow Queensbridge rapper of some renown. In 2007 Cormega released Who Am I?, a DVD documentary covering the time period of 2001-2005; a CD soundtrack comprised of newly recorded music was included as well. Also in 2007, he released Got Beats?, an instrumental show featuring an impressive roster of producers, including DJ Premier, the Alchemist, Ayatollah, and Ski Beatz.
After a seven year solo recording hiatus, Cormega released his third official solo album, Born And Raised (2009) which he calls “the truest look into me not just as an artist, but as a writer and as a person. I came into my own in a lot of ways on this album,” expresses Cormega. “Born And Raised is the first album where I talk about being a father and the impact my daughter has had on my life. It’s also the first time I experimented with live sound without the guidance of a producer and the first time I got to record with producers and artist whose work inspired me to become an emcee.
Born & Raised features production from DJ Premier, Large Professor, Easy Mo Bee, Havoc, Buckwild, DR Period, LES, Nottz, Fuzzy Womack, Ayatollah, Khrysis and appearances by Big Daddy Kane, Parish Smith, Grand Puba, KRS-One, Tragedy, Havoc, Lil Fame, Marley Marl, and Red Alert. His proudest musical moment during the making of Born And Raised was the recording of “Mega Fresh X” (produced by Buckwild) with Big Daddy Kane, Parish Smith, Grand Puba, and KRS-One introduced by Red Alert. “These were the emcees I looked up to so I wanted to pay homage to them. I remember the days when I had Kane’s posters on my wall, CDs by KRS-One and like everybody in New York, I used to record DJ Red Alert cassettes off the radio, so for me to do a song with Kane, KRS-One, Puba, and P.M.D. and then on top of that have Red Alert on it, is a dream realized.”