"Killaz Theme," writing on Cormega, betrayal and justice in hip-hop and other genres

Heh heh, yea
Hahahaha, right
Part the crowd like the Red Sea
Don’t even tempt me ”

Genre: Hip-Hop Style: Thug Rap, Conscious

Towards the end of a 2015 interview with Dead End Hip Hop (DEHH) that’s equal parts monologue and free-form talk, New York rapper Cormega says that remaking his début album The Realness was always an option, but that he wanted to do something more, something different to reflect his changed perspective. The man who made the music more than one decade ago was not the same one speaking today. “If we go back to the year of The Testament, (2005) I would have had at least 14 more friends physically still breathing, I would have no kids ...” Not only that, throughout the interview the Queensbridge MC stressed how he was aware of his position as a role model, as someone who could show others ways to move forward in their lives.

One of the DEHH team had suggested that his album Mega Philosophy was “preachy” in parts, then later clarified that he missed the “charismatic Cormega” (before listing all the tracks he liked). “If you speak truths, I don’t consider it preaching, maybe I’m wrong but I don’t,” Cormega replied. “Everything else I said was to uplift us, to say we’re not at the bottom, we’re more than ni**as standing on a corner dealing, jail is a business trying to employ our children, and destroy our mental; every day we’re more conditioned to conform to ignorance …” Starting to rhyme, momentum building as he interspersed lines about how he sees the world around him today with references to African lineage and references to pyramids in Egypt and Sudan to conclude that Black Americans “came from something great.”

Another DEHH host added that Cormega’s serious lyrical intent was “good preaching … (The word) preachy is now given a negative edge so when he says it sounds preachy it sounds like an insult … I say make it preachy as possible because we need that.”


In praise of: Havoc/Mobb Deep (“Apostle’s Warning,” Hell on Earth, Loud Records, 1996), notes towards an essay, part 1*

Exiting the office to rue de la Chapelle, near Marx-Dormoy on the city’s northern edge, I notice the drop in the weather. Even if the change won’t last and the unseasonable sunshine will soon return, I’m happy to see the “grey” that Henry Miller once wrote is full of meaning for a French person, or Parisian.

Mobb Deep instrumentals capture the constricted atmosphere of Paris for me, even if the music is indelibly tied to its city of origins, New York. This is music for Paris when it’s cold, not raining so much as cold; the chill that comes in through badly sealed windows of (my) our apartment/s, entering our bones as we wait outside. It’s music of faces in my neighbourhood, in and around Château-Rouge and Barbès, immigrant locations where the hotels advertise the fact that they have rooms with hot running water, shared showers in the hall.

I’m writing this fully aware that no other group better conveys the essence of the city New York in the 90s than Mobb Deep. If you wanted to re-visit that era in a social or psychological sense, this music takes you there. Mobb Deep’s music lets you feel what it was like in the city and boroughs, to imagine what it was like walking around the streets, steam spiralling up from the lower depths of the subway.

And as with any great art, this music while individual is part of a continuum. Listening to the “Apostle’s Warning” instrumental, I hear Lou Reed’s skittish ad libs during 70s live performances, spiking a vein, pulling a tourniquet sharp by his teeth, and the dense wash of Suicide: it’s punk-ish, unreconstructed, keeping things hidden, below the water-mark. The precise becomes universal. Music which represents New York comes to evoke Paris in the imagination of an Australian and so it goes.

This is the music of big cities, weighed down by history, where our shadows and ghosts co-exist.


Related article: “Prodigy, Mobb Deep (1974-2017)/”Up North Trip” (The Infamous, Loud Records, 1995) published 21st June, 2017

Gentleman Ruffin: writing on the ‘forgotten’ soul legend, David Ruffin

Of course, there are multiple measures of success and recognition, but on the most basic level when thinking about an artist's status - and as someone writing on them as a journalist - it often comes down to how much material there is on them (interviews, reviews, essays, memoirs and the like). How are they talked about, how are they remembered after their deaths.

Here, the former leader of the Temptations David Ruffin is badly served; even if, in this, he is not alone. It’s something that unites him with other black musicians (and perhaps others too) who, while famous when alive, after their deaths frequently fall into a kind of intellectual abyss. 

And yet despite the relative vacuum with the fans/music aficionados Ruffin isn’t really forgotten. Far from it. Remembered certainly with affection by most as the lead singer with The Temptations of some of the most important songs of the 60s, ‘My Girl' ...

(I love this video, slowed down, the voices unaccompanied adds to the atmosphere and makes it very moving; likewise, this marvel, ‘I wish it would rain’ – also in the acapella version that shows off the glorious range of Ruffin's voice alongside its quicksilver character and intensity. This is another nice version of 'My Girl' as well - the original video from 1964).

And he isn’t forgotten on this site, either.

Over the past few months my appreciation of Ruffin’s David has seen a real bounce and been the most shared individual piece of music-related writing that I've published to date (the essays on Borges and Houellebecq are still out front in terms of the overall content). I noticed that this piece was shared on a British group devoted to all things culturally mod not so long ago: fantastic.

So, in the spirit of keeping memories of this amazing singer alive, here's some new writing on Mr Ruffin; first, a piece on the psychedelic Soul gem, ‘I saw you when you met her’ (prod. Norman Whitfield) and a celebration of Ruffin's skill as an interpretative artist, comparing his version of '(If loving you is wrong) I don't want to be right' with other notables from his era.

Thanks again to you all; your ongoing support of my work means a lot to me.

Here’s an interview with David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks, date unknown, published on a blog where the artists talk about their position in the business and their roles as ‘entertainers’: 

'Neither gentleman has much to say about their reunion stint with The Temptations other than that the experience "was successful to the end of the tour, we enjoyed some of it and then we went our separate ways". David and Eddie spent almost a year on the road with that situation but then, touring has been a constant factor for both men since their early days with The Temps. They still enjoy the chance to travel "except when we have to fly and make stops all over the place. But being able to get out there and perform before the public is still a great opportunity and," says David, "I'm just glad that we can give so many people so much joy through music."

Eddie confesses that when he started out with music as his career, "I thought it would be much easier. But I've weathered the waters," he states candidly. "I never knew that I'd still be doing this so many years later," says David, "but I knew I always wanted to sing." "That's because you couldn't do nothin' else!" Eddie chirps in. "Well, I'm a pretty good cook and I'd have made a good mechanic too!" responds his partner. (…)

Asked what they'd like to achieve in the future, David says that "a starring role in a movie" would be very satisfying. Eddie is a little more philosophical, reflecting that "I've done everything I wanted to do and it's like a 360 degree turn to me now. I can clean up some things, mistakes I've made and I know I won't do them again."

David and Eddie see themselves as "trendsetters rather than followers in this business, we're good singers and we do good music" but when it comes to defining exactly what they see themselves as in relationship to the business, they're not exactly in accord!
"We're singers first, then entertainers," says Eddie.

"Naw, man, we're entertainers, not just singers!" David responds. "There are a lot of 'singers' in the business who shouldn't be in it, frankly. If you want my opinion, they give this business a bad name."