Legal Hustle, 2005
Cormega’s The Testament was for eight years one of the albums of legend, an unreleased classic in the eyes of numerous hip-hop fans, whose rep grew bigger every time a song leaked. Cormega finally managed to buy back the masters from Def Jam and retool it for release the way he wanted it to sound. In the harsh light of day, the album is good, but it is predictably not as good as its reputation suggested.
According to an AllHipHop.com interview, Cormega’s only changes to the individual songs were to have them mixed by their original producers, as opposed to by a Def Jam engineer. Other changes include the omission of a label-requested Carl Thomas collab and the inclusion of two versions of the title track. While the first change is understandable, the second change breaks the flow of the middle of the album by placing one version after another. The second version of “The Testament,” with rearranged drums and lyrics and the excision of a subliminal Nas diss (another A&R request/order), would have worked better as a bonus track.
In some ways, this album feels more like a retrospective compilation than an actual throwback album. Instead of offering a single view of Cormega’s early style, The Testament actually displays a variety of styles, and it would have had elements of the retrospective even if Def Jam had released it as planned in 1997 or 1998. “One Love,” surprisingly produced by Wu-Tang mentor RNS, is a response to Nas’ “One Love,” already three or four years old at the time it was recorded. “Dead Man Walking,” with its simple rhyme schemes and conventional flow, lacks the introspective attention to detail found in Cormega’s mature work, but makes up for it with its tense beat, courtesy of QB old-schooler Hot Day. On the other hand, songs like “Montana Diary” and “Killaz Theme” (which features an outstanding Prodigy verse) typify the late-90s glossy warlord steelo found on albums by Nas, AZ, Mobb Deep, and other Scarface-worshipping New Yorkers.
The sharpest display of Cormega’s lyrical growth between the recording and release of The Testament is found on the recently recorded hidden bonus track “Dead Man Walking Part 2,” which details the events that occur after the gonzo shoot-‘em-up of the first episode. There is little action, but the result is far more chilling, due to Cormega’s current ability to portray the emotions that lie beneath. Cormega is one of the few rap artists to have noticeably improved his lyrical ability with age, and while the work found on The Testament is good, it only hints at his potential.