There are artists who speak of the struggle or their hardships, who express where they’ve been and what they experienced clearly to their respected audiences. Then there are artists who paint the struggle vividly, and proceed to connect the struggle to the listener. Cormega [click to read] does this as well as any emcee dead or alive. The listener sees where he was hustling in Queensbridge or locked up doing a bid, connects to the feeling of power, desperation, isolation or loneliness, and then is delivered a message. ‘Mega‘s art and his catalog rival that of filmmaker Spike Lee‘s. Both almost always deliver street life symphonies. However, if 2001’s The Realness [click to read] was Cormega‘s Clockers, his latest, Born and Raised may be his Crooklyn.

The album starts out with a cosign from the legendary Marley Marl [click to read]. It’s a simple introduction, a throwback way to start an album, but it effectively readies the listener for the music to come.  Reintroduce your finger to the rewind button because ‘Mega has several classic lines, with the Pete Rock-produced [click to read] track “Live and Learn” [click to listen] taking the cake. “Tomorrow’s not promised / Today is a gift / The present determines what your legacy is / What you did yesterday you can never relive / To pursue is to question what your relevance is.” You’ll find yourself repeating that line for days to come, examining, reexamining and applying it to your life. The line itself captures the album’s title and theme, Born and Raised. Cormega does a fitting tribute to Queensbridge and his life before rapping, without reliving it. It’s a rare accomplishment, an emcee standing on his ability and craft and not the fabrication or accolades of his previous life.

As historically the case with Cormega’s two “official” previous albums, the production is top notch. From Pete Rock, to DJ Premier, Cormega’s taste in beats channels Nas’ Illmatic and O.C.‘s [click to read] Jewelz at once. Every producer that contributes drops an incredible effort. Easy Mo Bee [click to read], Nottz [click to read] and Ayatollah [click to read] provide Cormega with some of their best work, while Fizzy Womack might have stole the show with stirring saxophones and melodic keys on his straight up Jazz work on “The Other Side.”

As quality as the production is, ‘Mega takes an obvious pride in his lyricism and is never once outshined or outdone by his producers. That in itself is a testament of his artistry. Lyrically, he balances the line of spitting those multi-syllable rhymes, while allowing his content to remain emotionally present. Neither aspect is compromised, which allows the album to be as effective as it is. The DJ Premier-assisted, “Make it Clear” [click to listen] and “Dirty Game” showcase that balance at its best, while Large Professor‘s [click to read] “Journey” [click to listen] truly capture ‘Mega’s sincerity and honesty. There truly isn’t an average cut on the album with the exception of “Girl,” the standard cocaine-as-a-woman metaphor track. Although tired in concept and perhaps out of place in beat, the song showcases the nuance of drug-sales that only a reformed man can see.

The album closes with “Mega Fresh X” [click to listen] a posse cut featuring four of New York’s legends alongside Cormega. Parrish Smith, Grand Puba [click to read], KRS-One [click to read] and Big Daddy Kane [click to read] bless the microphone in a classic posse cut where the legendary emcees attack the microphone for five minutes without a chorus. Cormega’s first verse would be typically show-stealing, but Kane, in classic form, ends the album with one of his famous one-liners that brings back memories of the “The Symphony.”

Hip Hop’s other favorite dealer-slash-lyricist provides his most mature album, rightfully belonging in an already-stellar catalog. Born and Raised is intimate journey through ‘Mega’s upbringings and struggles. He details everything from his childhood, to how he got through his bid. All of it is intriguing, and even more importantly, Cormega makes every aspect of his past relevant in his present by never trying to pursue what once was.