Hip hop is often referred to as music of youth, which is great for keeping the genre fresh and forward-thinking, but leaves many artists with overlooked careers. So many projects get rejected by life-long fans for being too far from the original direction said artist took on their debut. Atmosphere’s “Southsiders” is far from the likes of “God Loves Ugly”, just as Pharoahe Monch has grown artistically from “Internal Affairs” through to “P.T.S.D.”. Cormega is an artist that I feel has blossomed from age, minimising the cursing and braggodocio of earlier releases to the point that his latest effort is bordering on family hip hop.
Cormega is an emcee that is respected by many yet remembered by few. Establishing himself on the outer circle of popular New York rappers at the turn of the millennium, albums such as “The Realness” and “The True Meaning” mixed lyricism with street stories that exceeded the likes of what Nature, Mobb Deep and even AZ were doing at the time. Cormega was brash, yet intelligent enough to know that the criminal lifestyle he grew up in was only going to get him so far. Some regard “The Realness” as a classic, but I’d argue that 2009’s “Born & Raised” was Cormega’s best release. He’s an emcee that has grown and matured in how he tackles themes that are more “real” to us folk that aren’t street hustlers. “Live & Learn”, “Love Your Family” and “Journey” leant his previous album a reflective, level-headed perspective that is often hidden amongst imposing authenticity claims on other albums such as “Raw Forever”. It didn’t hurt that DJ Premier, Pete Rock and Large Professor were supplying timeless instrumentals either. “Mega Philosophy” then, should be superb given that it is fully produced by Large Professor who has recently combined with Mega on songs such as “M.A.R.S.”. I’m hard pressed to argue otherwise, but Extra P comes through with production that evokes timelessness. “Valuable Lessons” is the perfect combination of poignance and composure, utilising a delicate harp-like sound to great effect. The former Main Source maestro provides some of his better beats of the 2010s, not even dropping one clanger throughout this 11 song record, which includes two skits. Shorter albums are most certainly welcome in an era that bombards us fans with a constant flow of music, especially when they are showcasing older rappers such as Buckshot, Blueprint and Cormega in such an efficient manner.
You’ll also notice that some songs on “Mega Philosophy” feature singing, something you’d be cautious of on an album by a street emcee. But it works, particularly on tracks such as “More” where it drives the song forward with energy that Cormega’s presence naturally lacks. The guy has charisma and a slick vocal tone, but with crashing drums backing his verses it helps set the song apart from others on the album.
“Rap Basquiat” offers up further proof of Cormega “growing up” as he admits he spends more time with his family than he does out in the streets. The fact that he goes off on a R.A. The Rugged Man-style breathless approach to flowing is not only surprising, but proof of the passion that still runs through the QB legend’s veins. Cormega is certainly capable of lyrical hip hop, but I never had him down as an Esoteric type of emcee that can make your jaw drop. He’s taking shots at what the music industry has become on “Industry”, highlighting misdirected hate at rappers and the lack of positivity in hip hop overall. There genuinely isn’t a poor song here, with even the uninspiring duet with Raekwon (“Honorable”) benefiting from a punchy beat and Mega’s sensible rhymes making Rae’s nonsensical verse sound wacky.
Large Professor had a track called “M.A.R.S.” last year that featured Cormega alongside Saigon, Roc Marciano and Action Bronson; “M.A.R.S. (Dream Team)” one-ups that line-up with the mouth-watering combination of Redman, AZ and Styles P. While Reggie Noble dominates with his unrivalled character, it’s great to hear a dope AZ verse on some production that isn’t fluffy and hollow. Styles P does Styles P and while the song is succinct – it summarises “Mega Philosophy” in a way. There’s a nod to the 90s, but also a realisation that hip hop is getting on a bit now. All emcees will eventually grow up and approach both life and their music in a different way. Cormega is at his best when he’s focussed and while this album shows glimpses of the old ‘Mega (the collaborations with Nature and Black Rob in particular), it’s the more mature material that sets this apart from fellow veterans still releasing traditional hip hop.