New York-born and bred MC Cormega is pacing around backstage of the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn anxiously staring at his phone. On Monday night (July 21), he’s here to perform his new album, Mega Philosophy, in its entirety, and he’s expecting a lot of longtime friends, family members and fellow MCs to show up in support.

“I got so many people coming,” he quickly tells me before answering a call. “It’s gonna be some shit.”

He answers the phone to yell at a friend named Fatboy, who can’t seem to find the venue. Dressed in an old-school bucket hat and a green-jeweled necklace that Sun Ra would wear, Mega embraces the disorder of the night with a smile. Meanwhile, the other star of the show, legendary producer Large Professor, who produced the entirety of Philosophy, isn’t talking to anyone. He quickly walks in and out of the backstage room, barely acknowledging me, to grab some slices of greasy cheese pizza. Curiously, he only takes one at a time (he’s up to three at this point). Mega’s manager informs me that Large Pro hasn’t had much of an interest in talking to the media ever since a journalist got hold of one of his albums at a listening party in the 2000s and leaked it. Luckily, I stumble upon him in another room, sitting alone on a cruddy Ikea couch, which serves as our icebreaker.

Despite their different personalities, Mega and LP seem to be in similar places in life. Both are revered figures in hip-hop, known for being experts in their respective crafts of rhyme spitting and beat making. Both have also somehow fallen into the state of being perpetually “underrated”—a term that Mega only now is able to swallow without any resentment. But the biggest bonding factor between the two is the fact that they both believe something is missing from the hip-hop culture. Of course, this is not a new sentiment; many veteran MCs and producers have said the same thing in years past. It comes off a little different, though, when you’re dealing with two musicians who’ve contributed to some of the genre’s greatest records of all time.

“We’re sticking to the roots of what we do,” Large Professor says.

That goal can be heard plainly on Philosophy, a vintage East Coast hip-hop album built on lyrical dexterity and sample-based beats for the tape deck of a chromed-out boombox. XXL talked further with both guys to learn about how the project was made and their history together. Queens is in the house.Reed Jackson