Gathering respect and official acclaim on record two decades ago with Illmatic’s famed “One Love” shout, mere mention of Cormega’s name still holds weight within Hip Hop. Throughout time thirsty drama mongers have honed in on his fallout (and eventual reconciliation) with Queensbridge’s most prominent emcee Nas, downplaying the much deserved clout bestowed upon him by legendary neighbors including Marley Marl, Tragedy Khadafi and Mobb Deep. Having put this once tense strife behind him, the QB veteran’s knack for independence has turned him into a self-sufficient success, with Mega Philosophy extending his relevance and demand into modernity.
Making one of the album’s themes clear and apparent from jump, Cormega’s opening words on “A New Day Begins” flex his gift for poetic imagery: “Under the sun / Vultures looming, hoping to consume a culture wounded / Boldly refusing to die, I’ve shown and proven.” Rightfully offended as an elder statesman to walk in the shoes of greats to inspire him (not limited to Rakim, KRS-One and Kool G Rap), his determined aim is to pay the favor forward and carry a torch to enlighten today’s lost generation. Without a shred of bitterness, the former Violator/Def Jam signee holds label executives, fair-weather fans, and contemporary performers all responsible for Rap’s woes on “Industry.” Proudly representing his 41 years of life experience, Cormega finds it futile to keep up with youth as he remarks, “What’s swag? I don’t care how you dress / Or what you drive, I want rhymes that really impress.”
Mega Philosophy is a collaborative effort fully produced by Golden Age favorite Large Professor, giving good cause to explain his and Cormega’s continued longevity. Though most of the project is an intentional departure from boom bap, “Honorable” knocks hard enough to please old school beat junkies. Here Raekwon glorifies street life while Cormega takes the opposite approach, speaking to the positive impact his Muslim faith has had on his life. A further exploration into his mind’s inner workings, the lessons on “More” transcend current Hip Hop as he teaches about (the Egyptian land) Khemet, adding congas to accentuate the power of his message. So as not to lose listeners, one of this song’s simpler moments is the clever metaphor: “Let’s compare slaves to rappers / They censor freedom of speech and very few leave with masters.”
Far removed from street life, Cormega would rather vent his present condition in lieu of promoting his criminal past. Despite his artistic rebirth, Mega Philosophy remains focused on manhood and loyalty, overarching ideas always prevalent in his music. The sense of disappointment in his closest loved ones bleeds through the sobering “Valuable Lessons,” detailing how his progress has come at the cost of treasured relationships. While these stories surely hold great meaning to Cormega, they ultimately falter due to a poorly sung hook. This minor fault (along with Black Rob’s uninspired appearance on “Home”) has the otherwise potent LP lagging just a bit towards its tail end, but it stands to reason why such personal diatribes wouldn’t be left on the cutting room floor.
Clearly well thought out conceptually, one would be hard pressed to find a title more befitting than Mega Philosophy. Still embodying the knowledge of self associated with his career since 2001’s The Realness (long before Peter Rosenberg borrowed the term for daily gripe sessions on Hot 97), Cormega’s kingly stances are transparent at all times. Requiring just over 30 minutes to sit through, his important conviction repetitively preaches to the choir, but multiple plays will help digest the cerebral gems and complex syllables he puts to good use. Proving an ongoing chemistry with fellow everyman Large Professor, their synergy connects with the already wise while aiming to bridge gaps with the less developed.