Thursday, January 10, 2013

The BDD Interview: Cormega, part 1

The BDD interview series was conceived with the intention of getting opinions on basketball and basketball culture from the perspectives of those outside the game's typical realm. For the inaugural edition, we reached out to Queensbridge rapper Cormega to discuss his hometown New York Knicks, which QB streetballers could beat Ron Artest pre-Metta World Peace, and the NBA player with the best rap career. Don't forget to read part two.
Photo courtesy of Cormega

What was your introduction to the game?

Growing up in the inner city, basketball is a part of our culture. I always expect that, if you ask any kid from the inner city, they’ll tell you that. There’s just something cool about guys who play basketball because of the way they handle themselves. They’re cool. I think the first name that stood out that I remember is Dr. J. Like that name “Dr. J” was like, that was awesome, you know what I’m saying? Like, "Dr. J! Dr. J!" It ain’t until I got older that I realized how great or how good he was on the court, but when I was younger, the name Dr. J, you just heard it. It echoed and resonated. As I got older, I just got into it and I loved it. I’ve been a Knicks fan since forever. My favorite Knick – the first Knick that really drew me in – was Bernard King.

Did you ever play basketball growing up? I know there’s some footage of you playing in a celebrity game with Allen Iverson a few years back.

Yeah, obviously I played a little ball if you seen the two NBA three-pointers I hit in that video. I used to play basketball, I played with [New York City AAU program] Riverside Hawks when I was little for a little while and I played in some other tournaments back in the day, but I’m not going to sit here and lie in the interview like I was destined for NBA stardom if I didn’t rap. I done shot ball. I wasn’t MJ. I wasn’t nothing to write home about. I always loved it, wished I was better than I was, but there was definitely a lot of guys better than me. I developed a wicked jump shot, though, that could compete with a lot of good guys, and I’ve just been a fan.

People live and die by the jumper. They can make careers out of it.

I’ve got a wicked jump shot. I can brag about that.

On your track “The Legacy” (warning for younger viewers, explicit lyrics) one of the lyrics is “Wee-Wop was the illest ball player.” Who was Wee-Wop? I assume this is basketball related.

He was a streetball player from Queensbridge and I believe he went to college, also. His name was Warren Walker. He died; incredibly talented. Ron-Ron [Metta World Peace, formerly Ron Artest] is a testament of hard work. Ron-Ron wasn’t even the best basketball player in Queensbridge, you know what I’m saying? The streets is so alluring that there’s people that was actually better than Ron-Ron and they decided to sell drugs. They wasn’t as dedicated as Ron-Ron, that’s why I say he is a testament to hard work. Ron-Ron could be outside shooting the ball when it’s raining, when it’s snowing. He worked to get where he’s at. There was a guy named Troy Battle who, say, if we were playing a pick-up game of basketball 15 years ago and Ron and Troy were standing there and if you had the first pick, you would have picked Troy without a shadow of a doubt. You see what I’m saying? Troy hustled. A lot of the guys that’s out of the hood, they hustle and they didn’t follow they dreams because the streets have a magnetic allure to it. Wee-Wop is one of those guys [who] just died, though. He went to college, and he was incredible. There was also a guy, Mark Morris, from our block. He went to Tulsa, I believe. He was good, but he was on Tulsa before Tulsa was Division I, before they got all the love like they get now. If he would have been on Tulsa when they had the spotlight, he probably could have made it to the NBA. He was just that good. There was another guy named Hi-C, who was so good I can’t even describe him because you’ll think I’m exaggerating. I’ve never seen nothing like this. But he was in the street. There’s a lot of guys in the streets who were some incredible guys. Some of them you never see them unless you go to a game like the Rucker and then you’ll see some guys and you’ll be like, “Damn, who the hell is this guy?” [There are lots of] guys like that that didn’t follow their dreams or didn’t make it for some odd reason, but they’re just good and not in the NBA.

You mentioned Tulsa and a bunch of guys who went and played college ball. Do you follow college ball, too, or do you just follow the NBA?

I follow college ball, but not as much as I used to. I lost some of my love for college once guys started leaving after one season and stuff. It’s exciting, but it’s not like it used to be. I’m a Tar Heels fan, though. I’ve been a Tar Heels fan since James Worthy and [Michael] Jordan and them. I like college ball, but the integrity of the game in college basketball is different now. I tend to like women’s college basketball more sometimes. They put their heart and their souls through war. You have a guy that’s incredible, but it’s like you can see it in their eyes. It’s like, “I’m only here because I have to be here for one semester. Next year, I’m out. I’m going to the NBA.” That’s what it feels like.

It’s like the Coach [John] Calipari system at Kentucky. That doesn’t exactly apply to women’s college basketball.


And the Tar Heels are having a down year, but they have a good lineage with Jordan, [Jerry] Stackhouse and Vince Carter, who came out of there, too.

They got my man Rasheed Wallace and they’ve got a lot of people out of there. I mean, Raymond Felton came out [of North Carolina]. They’re just a consistently good program. I’ve been liking them forever. I’ve just stuck with them. That’s the team that I’ve kept. Even if there’s another team that I admire, the Tar Heels is my team, just like in the NBA the Knicks is my team, but there’s other teams that I like. If you follow my tweets, every year I give my predictions of who’s a sleeper team and I’m often right. I think in the future I’m going to try to be some kind of sports writer or something like that with basketball because I be saying stuff and I be making predictions and I be right. Also, I be knowing some inside scoops that people don’t be knowing way ahead of people because I know people in the NBA, like I told people that Mike Bibby was coming to the Knicks before he came. A lot of stuff. If you look at my Twitter, dudes is actually like, “OK, Mega, I fuck with you, but now you’re going a little bit too far. I can’t believe that.” Then everything I said was true because I know guys in the NBA. I know coaches, I know assistant coaches, I know players, so there’s stuff that I be knowing before everybody. It’s just funny.

I do follow some of your tweets. I loved the “'Sheed is 'Sheed” tweet from earlier this season.

Which one?

The one where you said you told guys that 'Sheed was 'Sheed. It was when he came back and I think it was the first or second game he suited up for the Knicks this year.

It’s like this: people have to understand basketball. If you’re a fan of a team, it’s one thing, but you have to be a fan of the game to understand the game. There’s a difference between understanding the game and being a fan. Some people who don’t understand basketball are like... When we got Jason Kidd, I was ecstatic. People were like, “Ah, man, we’re old. The Knicks are old,” and I’m like, “Yo, you don’t understand basketball.” Jason Kidd is the Brett Favre of basketball. Even when he gets older, his brain mechanics supercede his athletic mechanics. Jason Kidd probably has the highest basketball IQ in the NBA. He’s just that smart. And Rasheed… One of things about Rasheed is -- if you follow the game -- Rasheed has an extremely high IQ, but people overlook that because they always look at the technicals, etc., etc. Two things about Rasheed: he has a very high basketball IQ, and then he has a streetball persona. He knows how to get under guys’ skin. He’s the only guy I’ve seen that would fuck with Shaq’s head, get under Dwight Howard’s skin, so with them players that we got, I was extremely happy and people thought I was all crazy, but now look, everybody’s like, “You was right, Mega. You was right.” I love 'Sheed. 'Sheed is just dope. 'Sheed can post up, he has a three-point game, he plays defense and he’s ball smart. What the hell else you want?

'Sheed, all around, is good. I figure it’s safe to say you like the current Knicks line-up.

I love it. I think this might be one of the best line-ups we’ve ever had. Ever.

What do you think of Amar’e Stoudemire coming back? Do you think that’s going to throw off the chemistry at all?

That’s another thing. People are not fans of the game; they’re not using their brain. Everybody’s quick to say that ‘Melo [Anthony] and Amar’e didn’t play well together. No, that was under [former Knicks and current Lakers coach Mike] D’Antoni. Carmelo and nobody didn’t play well together with D’Antoni. They was 8-2 under [current coach Mike] Woodson. So now Amar’e’s back and he’s working his way back into the line-up. The most honorable and smart thing he did was say, “I’m willing to come off the bench,” so now that he’s coming off the bench, he’s not going to interrupt the chemistry because they’re going to work him in slowly and if Amar’e gets back to form, we’re going to be one of the most formidable teams in the NBA because you’d be hardpressed to find a forward that’s going to come off the bench and be able to give what Amar’e’s going to give because he’s just that good, being Amar’e.

At the same time, Tyson Chandler might be the most underrated center in the league. There are other centers who might put up numbers, other centers who might grab rebounds better than him and they might be running back to play defense a little better than him, but he does all those things and, for a center, he knocks down free throws. I love this team. And then Marcus Camby… By the time Marcus Camby gets back healthy, I mean, c’mon, man. I love this team. Even last year, Marcus Camby was one of the better defenders and rebounders in the league. Once he gets his rhythm back, we’re gonna have solid defense and our offense is gonna be incredible. We’re gonna be a solid team.

And with Amar’e coming off the bench right now that means you have a solid guy coming into the front court, but you also have J.R. Smith, who’s been lighting it up this year.

If you look at my tweets, that’s something I said a while ago. People don’t agree with that. I said the Knicks need to re-sign J.R. Smith, ASAP. I said this. Look at my tweets. I said this. Prior to all this shit, I said it because I seen his motivation and I seen what he was doing early in the season. One thing that people need to understand is sometimes when you have a hothead or a guy that’s a little reckless abandon, all they need is guidance. They have that guidance in Jason Kidd. If you look at all the contending teams, the Lakers wanted Jason Kidd. LeBron wanted to play with Jason Kidd. Why do you think everyone wants to play with this guy? The Mavericks was very upset when he left because he’s a leader, so now J.R. has that leader to guide him. He already was incredible with his offense, now he has a leader to keep him from being reckless and to steady his game. That’s what makes him an incredible player. “We need to re-sign him” – look at my tweets. I said that.

He’s even playing defense this year. 'Melo’s playing defense. What do you think of the Woodson coaching change?

I like the Woodson coaching change. I think Woodson came from a background of defense, so that’s gonna benefit us. I was waiting to see why he wasn’t experimenting with the Twin Towers [Chandler and Camby], but now he’s doing that, especially when other teams go big. We don’t need ‘Melo trying to play power forward again.

You’ve mentioned a lot of players in your songs. On “Redemption(explicit lyrics) you said, “Like Vince Carter, I’m too intense/ For dude’s defense to stop me, I abuse the rim.” How would you update that for 2013?

Vince Carter’s still good, but he used to be a freak athlete. He’s one of the best dunkers ever. Vince Carter’s a competitor so he’s never gonna suck. He might not be a superhero any more, but he’s not going to be a regular human either. That’s how I look at guys like Vince Carter. Stackhouse, too. Those guys are never gonna suck. They might not give you what they used to be able to give you, but they’re never gonna suck. I think one of the biggest atrocities in the NBA right now [is] there is no reason why Allen Iverson should not be in the NBA. I just don’t get it. That’s wrong.

I was surprised no teams took a flyer on him when things didn’t pan out with the Grizzlies and then he went to China.

Yeah, he’s in China doing his thing right now. Somebody might say, “Fuck it,” when they’re in the hunt for the playoffs, but I just don’t get it. This guy was one of the posterchilds of the league for so many years. At his worst, he could do better than a lot of the point guards are doing right now.

One of the knocks on him was he was more of a scoring guard. Do you think there’s anything to that?

I think people were just looking for a reason to criticize him, because you can’t condemn him for the shit you glorify Kobe for. I’m a big Kobe fan, but Kobe’s a fucking chucker. Straight up and down. They call Z-Bo [Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph] the black hole. Kobe’s a black hole. Because Kobe draws so much of the attention, he takes away from other players. Dwight Howard was having a hard time fitting in because the ball goes to Kobe so much. Kobe takes away from the other guys, or often does, and he doesn’t allow guys to get confident because he dominates the ball so much. When it’s the final shot, the clutch shot, when it’s crunch time or when it’s hammer time, you know he’s getting the ball, so there’s other players that just sit around. They don’t get to build their confidence. They have to defer to him. Iverson, they say he’s more of a shooting guard. OK, so sign him as a fucking shooting guard. He’s more of a shooting guard, but he still was an assist leader in the league. He still was in the top 10, top 15 in assists. He’s still better than most of the guys in the league. He’s still in the top of his field. Then what are you going to say? “We want good character guys”? C’mon, man. This is the NBA, not a boy’s choir. You can’t say you want good character guys. The Knicks were supposed to sign Iverson and they decided they’d pass on him. He was going to go to the Knicks the last year Mike D’Antoni was there. Mike D’Antoni is the last guy who should be judging somebody on character. He can’t get along with anybody. So with Iverson, it’s just crazy that he’s not in the league. I don’t know if he’s blacklisted or what, even from a business standpoint. Iverson will sell you some jerseys. He’ll get some people in the stands. I don’t get it.

He’ll definitely sell the jerseys. His name still carries some weight.

Hell yeah. People love him. The average girl, if you ask them about the NBA, they’ll still be like, “Iverson!” Girls loved him, dudes loved him. He was getting too street for the NBA. Iverson was such a burden to the NBA, they didn’t want him to succeed. They made a rule about the handle because he was crossing everybody over, broke Jordan’s ankles. They didn’t like that. “You’re not going to be disrespecting our posterchild of the NBA.” So he broke Jordan’s ankles, he was killing people with his handle so they made some kind of rule – a palming rule or some bullshit – so he couldn’t do his crossover any more, then they did the dress code shit. That was some anti-Iverson shit. They told him he can’t fucking make a rap album. People critique him and condemn him, but this guy played injured. You can say what you want about him, but he gave 110 percent on that court. He was hurt, he was battered, he’d crash boards, he wasn’t scared to take the big shot. He’d pass to his teammates when needed. Look at the team he took to the Finals. You’d scratch your head like, “How the eff did they get there?”

He was the frontrunner for a lot of the guys who are in the league right now. AI didn’t make his record, but would you rank the NBA players who released rap albums or say who’s the best rapper? Iman Shumpert from the Knicks is doing his thing, too.

He needs to holler at me then.

Have you heard any of his stuff?

Nah, I didn’t hear any of his stuff. If he’s good, I’ll do something with him. If he sucks, I won’t do anything with him. If he’s ok, I’ll do something with him just because he’s a Knick. But my favorite out of all the basketball players who did music, I’m going to have to go with Shaq just because he had that song with Biggie that was just dope. He had a song with Biggie, for chrissakes. That shuts down everything. Isaiah Rider was pretty good, too, from what I hear. My guys from the Bay Area say Isaiah Rider was pretty good. He was real serious about that, though. I know Chris Webber makes beats. Kurupt from Dogg Pound introduced me to Chris Webber, so I know he’s a real Hip-Hop head.

UPDATED:  In part two of the BDD interview with Cormega, he shares insights on the Air Jordan XX8's, real sneakerheads vs. fake sneakerheads, and his new album, Mega Philosophy.

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