by: Douglas Grant
One of hip-hop’s elder statesmen campaigns for his culture, striving for truth through lyricism….
Opinions differ when the discussion of the state of hip-hop today commences. Many fans of the art form feel that there’s been a slow but steady decline in the last few years; that one has to dig deep beneath all the layers of the glitz and glam and auto-tunes to find any real substance. Whether or not this is the case, hip-hop fanatics who share in this belief will find hope in Cormega’s latest album, Mega Philosophy. With the focus on spreading his new truth through lyricism, Cormega has rolled out eleven new tracks that are both philosophical and anecdotal. Attempting to provide a cautionary tale that is contrary to what he fears is a detrimental message to today’s youth; Cormega can sometimes come off as preachy over the course of the album. Nevertheless, those familiar with his early work will recognize that the forty-one year old rapper’s maturation over the last twenty years has been a long process of trial and error, a road that has often been littered with obstructions.
Produced entirely by Large Professor, Mega Philosophy has that New York sound that gave rise to so many talented artists who hail from Queensbridge. Laden with undercurrents of R&B and jazz, the album captures that feel of the late 90s and early 00s that has been less prevalent in mainstream hip-hop in recent years. This is not to suggest that the album’s sound is dated. The music itself is relevant to the times. But whereas so many hip-hop artists seem to have taken a wrong turn according to Cormega, Large Professor’s efforts are a continuation and expansion of that hard-hitting but upbeat sound that some feel have waned, a sound fans of the likes of Nas, Mobb Deep, and Marley Mar will embrace with long-awaited enthusiasm. Beat junkies will be rewarded here, as will fans of heavy piano and soulful feminine hooks. Longtime heavy-hitters like Redman, Raekwon, and AZ lend their talents to bolster Cormega’s appeal to his fans, and the back and forth between Cormega and his guests flows smoothly and freely, even when sometimes their overall messages seem at odds.
The intimations of Mega Philosophy’s personal reflections vary from track to track. On display here is Cormega’s natural knack for poetic imagery, as is evident in tracks like “A New Day Begins”: Under the sun / Vultures looming, hoping to consume a culture wounded / Boldly refusing to die, I’ve shown and proven. His disillusionment with hip-hop’s corruption at the hands of greedy executives is present in the track “Industry,” where he puts forth a call to action to all artists who are being worked over by exploitative record labels. “Valuable Lessons” bleeds with regret over his personal relationships that have soured over the course of his musical career. “Rise” denounces the glorification of street life, with Cormega’s own personal memoir ever-present to remind listeners of the self-destructive nature of it. Although at times it seems as though he is beating his fans over the head with a recycled public service announcement, he’s an artist who has definitely “been there and done that,” and has identified all of the pitfalls that can do lasting damage to those who would follow in his footsteps.
Mega Philosophy is an independent artist’s state-of-the-union address to both those who aspire to the rap game and those who revere hip-hop music. It’s a deliberated case of personal growth that spreads wisdom through insight and experience. Cormega’s latest undertaking musically challenges fans—particularly the young—to strive for something better than the negative social expectations the mainstream has been inundating them with.