Sometimes, what appears to be a watershed moment in an artist’s career is simply a false alarm. Just as an artist reach the point where a meteoric rise seems imminent, everything from label interference to personal setbacks can allow a rapper's grasp of the zeitgeist to slip, taking said artist from the hottest thing out to, well, another rapper with fifteen minutes of fame quickly narrowing.

Cory Gunz, placed front and centre just as Lil Wayne’s The Carter IV era began, would deliver such a star-making turn that, despite the iconic "6 Foot 7 Foot" representing Wayne’s returns to the fray (and his working relationship with Bangladesh), it was the dizzyingly-high bar set by his Young Money signee that had people talking. 

LISTEN: Lil Wayne feat. Cory Gunz "6 Foot 7 Foot"

The son of Peter Gunz (of "(Deja Vu) Uptown Baby” fame), Peter Cory Pankey Jr had been touted as a future star for a long time prior to the track’s release, routinely finding himself in the airspace of soon-to-be greats and fully certified legends during the early stages of his career. 

Initially signed to Def Jam at the tender age of 14, Cory would bust out the gate with his acclaimed The Apprentice mixtape series in 2006. The original "Gunna"'s lyrical sharpness and arsenal of flows insinuated that the offspring of the Love & Hip-Hop star had limitless potential. Soon after, he appeared on Rihanna’s sophomore record on "If It’s Lovin’ That You Want Part 2" before checking in with grizzled NY vets The Bravehearts later that same year.

Proving himself to be equally adept at inhabiting the pop-inflected world or the grimey backroads of the underground, Cory’s insatiable hustle and skillset would obtain him a spot in the illustrious Gangsta Grillz lineage in 2009 with Heir To The Throne. 

Bubbling off of a mixtape that spotlighted his immense abilities and saw him embrace the mountainous expectations that its title had set forth, his profile would be further raised when he found himself in venerable company as part of XXL’s freshman class of 2009 

Flanked by independent kings such as Ace Hood, Curren$y and Blu, as well as soon-to-be superstars Wale and Kid Cudi, discussions as to who   was the MVP of the group ran rampant during the blog era, but after Cory’s aforementioned crowning glory on "6 Foot, 7 Foot," it appeared that he could be the one to embed himself at the top of the game. After all, it’s hard not to think that the crown is for the taking when a rapper outshines the man that's been the uncontested G.O.A.T. for the previous five years. 

cory gunz and young money crew

Corey Gunz, Mack Maine and Lil Chuckee of Young Money fame attend the 2011 BET Awards -Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic/Getty Images

The galvanizing verse and his spot on Young Money’s golden-age roster notwithstanding, Cory also had the good sense to gain name recognition by exploring other promotional avenues. Featuring frequent appearances from Nick Cannon, Cory would even receive his own MTV reality show. Dubbed Son Of A Gun, the six instalments provided a massive platform for Cory and humanized him at a time when all that was really known was that he had a prodigious ability on the mic.

In subsequent interviews that followed, Cory spoke of a second season that would, as he told DJ Skee, "document the album process" but it, much like the record that he alluded to, it would never surface. 

Poised to take a frontline position in Young Money alongside Drake, Nicki Minaj and Tyga, Cory spoke candidly about how he felt he slotted into their bracketology, telling BET that "Honestly, I’m playing for one of the biggest teams. I’m like Lebron right now at the [Miami] Heat."

Barrelling full steam ahead with the Son Of A Gun mixtape in July 2011, and linking up with marquee names such as 2 Chainz, ScHoolboy Q and Juicy J, it seemed all but a foregone conclusion that this laser-focused MC would be readying his debut album for a 2012 release.

But when the normally straight-laced MC found himself saddled with a gun charge, he’d face his first setback. In the estimations of his father, it was imperative that he cool his heels. 

"Young Money put up a lot of money, we fought and I kept Cory quiet," Peter senior informed HipHopDX. "He didn’t put out a lot of music. We smoldered him. When you making noise and you’re popping, that’s when they make an example of you. So we either had to keep him hot and he got his ass in jail or cool him off and try to get him hot again. But now that he’s got probation, he’s out in Miami trying to work on records and get himself up again."

Although he must’ve felt as though he was back to square one, the hype train kept chugging along as 2013’s mixtape Datz WTF I’m Talkin Bout arrived. 

As far as features went, his appearance on the 2013 Rich Gang project was supplemented by a contribution to Meek Mill’s now legendary Dreamchasers 3, and over the course of both tracks, Cory got the chance to flex his wondrous rhyming ability in the company of Busta Rhymes, Mystikal, Meek, Birdman, French Montana and Mase. 

LISTEN: Rich Gang feat. Busta Rhymes, Mystikal & Cory Gunz "Every Day"

Just as he appeared to gain a second wind, however, radio silence recommenced.

Lost in the shuffle while some of his labelmates began to morph into transcendent stars, it appeared that his sporadic features and mesmerizing freestyles during his frequent trips to varied radio stations weren't enough for the fans to latch onto. What was needed was something substantive, and in reflection, his father and mentor told DJ Vlad that he felt that, not only did they fail to strike when the iron was hot, but that the inner turmoil stemming from Lil Wayne and Birdman’s estrangement might have also hampered the Young Money artist’s chances. 

"He had the Son of A Gun show with Nick Cannon and we had '6 Foot 7 Foot,' we should’ve ran, but it didn’t happen," Peter asserted in 2015. "His album, he’s matured so much and he’s ridiculous with it, I hope he gets his due." He continued, "There’s a situation there that affects everybody on Young Money. Now, what I feel is that whatever happens or wherever Wayne lands, Cory will be with him. But, what’s going and does it affect Cory? That’s a concern."

nick cannon and cory gunz

Cory Gunz and Nick Cannon attend a private listening party for Gunz, 2010 - Johnny Nunez/WireImage/Getty Images

Although Wayne may have been preoccupied and therefore remiss in his duties as a label head, Cory still remained an infrequent collaborator of Wayne’s up until the latter half of the decade. In another impressive turn, Cory appeared alongside Nicki Minaj and Tunechi on "Lay it Down" before popping up on the infamous Free Weezy Album in 2015. With priorities continuing to shift, Cory’s last high profile placement came on Wayne’s Dedication 6, while in recent times-- March 2021-- Weezy’s YouTube channel hosted Cory’s video for "Different" to the tune of 700,000+ views.

And, as Cory told ThisIs50 during a 2019 interview, there’s still a treasure trove of music from the two that resides in the archives. 

"We got so much music man, we got some records that I be looking at him like, bro. He knows what he wants to do with it, so I’m like… I can’t tell him what to do. I can just be like, that’s fire, let’s put it out…. Me and Wayne got some shit."

Left at the mercy of his label boss and seemingly unwilling to step on toes to push for an album release, Cory has had to be content with working in his own sphere, self-releasing projects such as 2017’s Boogie Down Productions homage of Kriminal Minded, and occasionally reigniting the public imagination when he gets the chance to freestyle on a major platform, such as Funk Flex.

However, even with what he’s claimed to be a goldmine of collabs with YMCMB’s all-stars and eternal name value, it’s possible that due to his status as a torchbearer for the bar-heavy art of MC’ing, there simply wasn’t a marketable hit that they could anchor the record around. 

"Cory’s just a lyricist, and he won’t bend. If he went in the studio and did a '1,2,3, ABC / I’m down with Young Money,' who fucking knows?" His father foreshadowed in 2013. "He’d probably be a star by now. But he won’t bend. We have to hope that people go back to wanting to hear from spitters, and not need to hear a hot, finger snap record. Cory’s sticking to his guns—no pun intended—and trying to be a lyricist."

Faced with a position on the fringes of history and with one platinum plaque that is not too dissimilar his father’s, Peter senior has continually lamented over his son’s arrested artistic development. And despite many fans likely assuming that he’s left Wayne’s camp, his dad has maintained that the elusive Cory hasn’t stopped grinding.  

"People don’t believe me when I say that it’s bittersweet, 'cause I know how the industry can spit you out," Peter declared in 2020. "You ask where he is now, he’s still on Young Money believe it or not. He’s got a million songs that he’s working on. He’s still going and hopefully one day, people will get it… Cory’s still got a lane and he just gotta put that right shit out that’ll get people’s attention."

cory gunz and peter gunz

Cory Gunz and his father, Peter Gunz, attend Peter Gunz birthday celebration, 2018 - Johnny Nunez/WireImage/Getty Images

As of 2021, Cory is back on his grind, with March’s Tims N Hoodies tape displaying him on typically-strident form, as he hooked up with Jahlil Beats and fellow forgotten son of Young Money, Gudda Gudda, on a solid project. But with every non-canonical drop that comes without the stamp of a major release, it only reinforces the confusion and frustration that surrounds the fact that his debut is the stuff of hip-hop folklore 

Renowned as a top-tier lyricist, but lacking the enigmatic mysticism that someone like, say, Jay Electronica has (thus ensuring his coverage for the Pitchfork-hip-hop crowds of the world), the skillful but introverted Cory needs to drop that definitive statement if he's to find the acclaim that seemed his for the taking in the early 2010s.  

But even if that moment never comes, and he must subsist with underground admiration, Cory seems to be at peace with the fact that while may not reside at the forefront of the genre, he’s managed to keep pushing forward with his soul intact.

"I’m able to look at myself in the mirror," he said in 2019. "If I wanted to be that ‘rapper’ everybody wanted me to be, quote unquote, have the personality they wanted me to have, that’d leave me people to blame. Me moving how I want to move and keeping it just me, I’m still able to sleep good at night."