Cormega: Born and Raised (Album Review)

AllHipHop Staff

Long before his fellow New Yorkers caught on, Cormega epitomized the independent grind. After severing ties with Def Jam, Mega kicked off the 2000s strong with a pair of critically acclaimed LPs in The Realness and The True Meaning. Through the remainder of the decade, the Queensbridge native stayed busy by dropping a compilation for his label [Legal Hustle], a joint album with Lake [My Brother’s Keeper], and an official copy of his shelved Def Jam offering, The Testament. Now entering another decade, Cormega finds that Hip-Hop has shifted away from his sound, as the Queens’ emcee pointed out in his recent critique of Drake. But Mega has always thrived away from the big lights, and he seeks to continue his independent success with his latest album, Born and Raised (Legal Hustle).

What has separated Mega from many of his Queensbridge brethren is his ability to give inner-city narratives a three-dimensional perspective, as opposed to just stereotypical gun talk. On the L.E.S. produced “Girl,” the former Firm affiliate personifies cocaine as a woman that brings death and destruction. To drive home his point, he alludes not only to the disarray selling the narcotic brought to his life, but also that of several celebrities in Richard Pryor and Sugar Ray Leonard (“She burned Richard Pryor when he piped her raw…Sugar Ray couldn’t even fight her off/Soon as that blow hit him/His title was lost.”). While the production is plodding and undynamic, Cormega’s rich allusions and commanding narrative voice keep you engaged.

On “Love Your Family,” Mega shows a gentler side by advocating his immense love for his first-born daughter and mother. Havoc supplies a basic low-key melody and handles guest verse duties. It’s the type of track that’s usually reserved for the end or second half of albums, and shows Cormega’s desire to show versatility immediately for any first-time listeners.

For Born and Raised, Cormega has gathered an impressive list of name producers from the 90s and today’s underground scene: Easy Mo Bee, Fizzy Womack, Large Professor, DR Period, Nottz, Ayatollah, Buckwild, Pete Rock and DJ Premier.

Womack laces Mega with a lush, jazz-tinged arrangement on “The Other Side.” The production features a piercing saxophone as the centerpiece, which creates a bittersweet tone that goes perfect with Mega’s verses. The rapper opines on a individual destroyed by street dreams, and details how a fellow drug dealer helped push him out the game and to his calling as an emcee (“He would rather give me money/Than give me consignment…I could use my voice to rhyme/Or pursue exploits and crime...”).

Premier and Large Professor’s offerings mesh well with Mega’s style. Premier supplies two cuts in “Make It Clear” and “Dirty Game,” with both showcasing the legendary producer’s signature boom-bap and scratch choruses. The latter is superior courtesy of a harder bassline and sprawling violin loop, making it a strong contender for single status. Large Pro’s “Journey” also utilizes an engaging violin loop, but sets itself apart with a scatting vocal sample. Here, Mega focuses on his success in pursuing music and the return of New York’s Hip-Hop scene.

Despite the established production names, everyone doesn’t supply Cormega with the type of heat you’d expect. Easy Mo Bee’s “Get It In” is basic and by the numbers, and that is reflected in the rhymes schemes of the emcees despite guest Lil’ Fame trying to up the energy. Pete Rock’s “Live and Learn” suffers from the same listlessness, and Mega’s recycled betrayal cautions can’t save the track. From listening, you can tell Cormega picked these selections to retain the uniform feel that’s missing from many of today’s albums. However, several are too close in structure and drag the LP down and the listener out.

Born and Raised does end strong with an old-school posse cut in “Mega Fresh X.” DJ Red Alert provides the intro, and Cormega gladly takes a back seat to let PMD, Grand Puba, KRS-One, and Big Daddy Kane shine. Each emcee does well, with KRS’ energy and Kane’s bars being the highlights.

As we move into 2010, Cormega’s new LP marks a solid solo return following 2002’s True Meaning. Yes, the mainstream may have moved on from Mega’s style of Hip-Hop, but the Queensbridge vet has not made it this far by concerning himself with industry trends. And as long as Cormega continues to supply “the realness,” his fans will have it no other way.