Love In Love Out
The departure of the Cormega is commonly cited as one of the principal reasons for 1997's Firm Flop. And while it can be argued if anything truly was lost with Mega gone and Nature in his place, the move ultimately epitomized a project full of curious decisions, destined to be watered-down. Previously, Cormega had been Nas' comrade from the pre-fame QB block. And when Cormega did a behind-bars stint in the early 90's, Nas made sure to keep his name out there, immortalizing him on Illmatic's One Love. Then when Mega came back to civilian life, Nas welcomed him home with a recording contract and eventually a spot on an album that would coast to platinum status in seemingly no time. That album, It Was Written, and that spot, Affirmative Action, introduced The Firm to millions and set anticipation in motion for a full-blown LP. Plus, a Dr. Dre cosign didn't help. However, The Firm's cliché mafiaso scenes grew more and more contrived, and any anticipation quickly wore away. Then the Dre cosign fell back into the shadows, and soon Mega was removed for good. That particular story, as relayed on the song Love In Love Out, goes that the once-prison circuit champion boxer was given the ultimatum of signing to an exclusive production deal with The Trackmasters / Steve Stoute or be gone. Gone he was. From magazine covers to verses, the fix was in: Cormega was out. Nature would later take his place, and the rest happened as it did, for better or for worse. To trace the change in lineup and in music, there are three songs which serve as a suitable guide for this fracturing of The Firm.
Affirmative Action remix
With the original four in tact, the Affirmative Action remix is essentially the last "untainted" Firm track. The beat, although credited to The Trackmasters, simply involves pressing record on Marley Marl's The Symphony, but the connection to that classic posse cut does set the remix up in good company. Foxy begins with a verse thankfully not nearly as long as her go on the OG, then AZ does his "neck-a-lace" thing, with the two embittered MC's left to close the song out. Coincidentally enough, Cormega ends his verse, which then transitions immediately to Nas', with the line, "fake thugs could either take slugs or bury me." Later, the idea of "fake thugs" would be the centerpiece of Mega's attacks against Nas. However, since the AA remix was recorded some time before the beef actually became locked in place, it's more than likely just a general threat on Mega's part. Nas, for himself, gets in his own subliminals, though directed not so much at his borough-mate, but rather at Brooklyn's Finest, Mr. Frank White, Biggie Smalls, "I take the crown off the so-called king of the town and lock it down."
The Foxy Brown B-Side La Familia is when trouble really started to jump off. Two versions of the track exist: 1) the unreleased original with the lineup of Cormega-Nas-Foxy Brown-AZ 2) the official, second take with the order of Foxy Brown-Nature-Nas-AZ. Theis difference in the lineups marks the split in The Firm. On the original, Cormega once more comes with a read-between-the-lines verse, "snakes plan up ways to set they own man up . . .you just a hand-to-hand soldier, I'm a general." Nas, on the other hand, unfazed, preaches loyalty, "I die for my niggas, stick you for pies, and lie for my niggas / plead guilty, get the chair, then fry for my niggas." However, what's maybe most curious is that on the second take, with Nature in place already, Foxy Brown's specific reference to Cormega remains unchanged.
World Famous (Firm Biz remix)
By the time the Firm Biz remix rolled around, Nature's spot had been more than solidified. Here he's joined by the rest of his Firm Family, with Mary J. Blige (once rumored to be a regular fixture in the group herself) and Half-A-Mill (RIP) alongside. As mentioned above, the popular argument is that as soon as Nate subbed in for Corey a lot was lost. However, if you compare the two, at the time, line for line, while Mega certainly has the harder-edge, grimey element over his counterpart all day, Nature, with a clearer voice and delivery, is no slouch either. Adept at laying down memorable punchlines and solid double rhymes, Nature proved himself the one member of the four-headed Firm to really be putting any consistent effort into the group, "keep the shows packed and the money close, kid / niggas on my nuts like they honey-roasted." Interestingly enough, closing out the remix, as opposed to with La Familia, Nas comes off less trusting of loyalty:
Never stress small things, what's promised to comeThe Firm: Affirmative Action remix
If you rich, then expect all drama to come
Broke niggas don't see it yet
When you get a ki, I bet
Friends ain't friends
Girls wanna see you wet - up
Hoping that you self-destruct
Got my balls and my word and I just don't give a fuck
The Firm: La Familia (w/ Nature)
The Firm f/ Half-A-Mill, Mary J. Blige: World Famous
BONUS: Cormega: Love In Love Out
BONUS: The Firm: La Familia (w/ Cormega)