Representing hard-core ethics

Rapper Cormega puts a little politics back on the street

The events surrounding “The Testament” had never happened before in hip-hop music.

It was 1998. Hardcore rapper Cormega, a longtime Nas affiliate, was signed to rap’s biggest label, Def Jam. But after cutting what was whispered to be a classic album, Cormega left the label over creative differences, and his record was never released.

So there it sat. The album was shelved. Buried. Gone. Never to be heard from again.

Until now.

After a seven-year tug-a-war, Cormega has finally bought “The Testament” back from Def Jam’s ivory towers and released it, in its entirety, last week.

But Cormega has been doing a lot more than just tussling with Def Jam since 1998. For an artist who tasted mainstream limelight, he suprisingly went against the grain and has been travelling the indie route.

After reaping massive critical acclaim for 2001’s “The Realness” and 2002’s “The True Meaning,” and also selling major units in the underground, he’s carved out an exclusive spot in hip-hop. Cormega reps the underground, because he releases everything independently, but he’s known and respected by mainstream rappers because of his affiliation with hardcore rap group Mobb Deep and his recent feud with old friend Nas.

Listening to “The Testament” seven years after its conception is a strange experience, especially with the knowledge of who Cormega has become.

His style is steeped in “reality rap” (drug and gun talk). And “The Testament” shows the street poet at his rawest. His prison time and years of drug dealing get center stage on this album.

What’s interesting, though, is getting the chance to see how much Cormega has changed since “The Testament.”

Today, he’s known as the antithesis of 50 Cent. He’s a gangsta rapper who repents for his past crimes on almost every song. While he still raps about the street wars he experienced, he does so in a way that usually finds him trying to atone for a lifetime of misdeeds.

He’s even committed to never using the word “bitch” when talking about women. Now that’s a gangsta you’d want to take home to mom.

For Cormega, “The Testament” is a rare opportunity to see what could have been and a confirmation of who this great MC is today.