Ever since Nas declared “Hip-Hop Is Dead” on his eighth studio LP, a growing number of rappers have added their voices to the art form’s eulogy. Awakening from his five-year hibernation, Queens MC Cormega returns to decry the flossed out state of hip-hop on Mega Philosophy.
Throughout the LP, Mega aims his lyrical targets at greedy record execs, artists willing to sell out and a public unwilling to hear the truth. He warns of the politics of record labels on his single, “Industry.” “Rappers hate each other, not the labels that got rich/They don’t care about culture, they only want profit/If your album sales slow bet you get dropped quick/Q-Tip warned us, the industry is toxic.” The track features a sample of a speech from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. In the speech, Farrakhan implores rappers not to get sucked into the music industry’s plans of exploitation. The minister’s warnings, heard during the hook, gives the joint its urgency.
Cormega hands over the entire production reins to legendary producer Large Professor. Professor doesn’t break any new ground, but provides a quality New York boom bap sound that gives each track its back to basics approach and the album’s consistency. The beats are more aggressive with heavy bass taking the lead on faster pace songs like “MARS (Dream Team)” featuring Redman, AZ and Styles P.
While he shows little rust lyrically, Mega’s laid-back, straight talk approach doesn’t fit the faster pace tracks. But fortunately for him, Large Professor keeps things on a mostly mid-tempo keel.
Cormega goes acapella on the 42-second song “Reflections” spitting, “Maybe I’m stubborn/I refuse to be a grown man rapping about money, clothes and jewelry/Ain’t new to me/Not to be confused with these rappers fascinated with moving keys.” “Dream Unity” featuring Nature is definitely the most melodic track on the LP and one of the best, with the Professor adding classical piano to give it its daydream-like quality. Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon is featured on the street banger “Honorable,” while Black Rob helps Mega let other rappers know the “real” don’t come from fake facades on “Home.”
Listeners get a humor break on “Rap Basquiat,” with someone sounding a lot like comedian Tony Rock closing the song, mocking rappers with juvenile lyrics and skinny jeans. The track’s biting satire brings Mega’s points home better than most of his straightforward lyrical jabs. And then things slow down a bit on more contemplative tracks like “Valuable Lessons.” The song closes out the LP, focusing more on Mega’s personal issues than commentary on the troubles of the world. Most of the instrumentals here are minimal, allowing Cormega’s rhymes to stand in the forefront.
While at times Mega Philosophy gets a little too heavy-handed, it presents subject matters that should be addressed in this climate of mainstream dominance. Bringing hip-hop back to its true essence is a great mission, but sometimes it’s best to demonstrate what it sounds like than telling us about it. More often than not, Cormega simply shows ‘em how it’s done, making Mega Philosophy a class worth enrolling in.–Barry Ward