Cormega

The Testament

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Cormega's long-unreleased debut album, The Testament, finally got an official release in 2005 after nearly a decade of bootlegging. It's not quite the masterpiece it's been rumored to have been, but it's a great album nonetheless, especially for a debut -- a fascinating relic of the mid-'90s East Coast gangsta scene that spawned a number of classic debut albums, among them those of the Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Jay-Z, Mobb Deep, and Raekwon. The back-story goes like this: Cormega burst on the scene in 1996, when he guested on "Affirmative Action," a high-profile posse cut from Nas' sophomore album, It Was Written. He was fresh from prison, in a gangsta state of mind, and lyrically gifted. Def Jam brought him aboard quickly, and The Testament was the result, except it never saw the light of day, shelved for years until Cormega obtained the rights to the tapes and finally released the album on his own Legal Hustle label in 2005. Clocking in at a dozen songs in 40 minutes, the released Testament is unchanged from its original version. Cormega wanted it released as it had been intended, and the result is a raw, emotional work by a young man with a lot on his mind and blessed with the means of rapping it eloquently. The production is handled by an array of beatmakers, among them Nasheim Myrick, Sha Money, and Havoc, and the pervading aural mood is somber and foreboding, very much in step with the mid-'90s East Coast gangsta style, especially that of Mobb Deep. Though there aren't any particularly standout tracks here (perhaps why Def Jam balked), there isn't any filler either. Every track here is part of the bigger picture, exploring a different mood and telling a different tale, and guests are few and far between. Again, though The Testament isn't quite up there alongside the half-dozen or so masterpieces of its era, like Ready to Die or The Infamous, it's definitely up there -- one of the best mid-'90s gangsta albums, no doubt. Too bad it took so long to get the album released -- too bad for Cormega above all, for one senses that The Testament would have made a strong impression during its time, even if it wouldn't have been a big commercial hit (it lacks a pop edge -- again, not unlike Mobb Deep in particular). Heads would have loved it, for sure, as would have the streets, and thankfully The Testament can now get its due, albeit belatedly.

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