Legal Hustle

Artist: CormegaTitle: Legal HustleRating: 4 StarsReviewed by: Matt Barone

Having endured a dramatic career worthy of reality television, Queensbridge native Cormega has comfortably positioned himself in rap’s underground scene. After being neglected and eventually dropped by Def Jam, quietly pushed out of rap super-group The Firm, and engaging in long-term verbal combat versus former associate Nas, Mega went the independent route to release two top-quality, yet unfairly low-profile, albums. 2001’s The Realness and 2002’s The True Meaning were clear exhibitions of this NYC MC’s skills, matching nearly flawless production to his vivid narratives and seasoned street talk.

Already having proven that he can easily hold down a full-length on his own, Cormega has invited a slew of guests to participate in his 2004 Legal Hustle. Consider it Mega’s version of The Chronic, as he collaborates with his new rookie talent and some of the game’s most respected names to create a surprisingly cohesive and fluid release that bangs along consistently, track after track. Adding to the record’s unique appeal is that all beat-making duties are handled by either newcomers or Cormega himself, keeping the soundtrack pure and devoid of ‘been there, done that’ sounds. Beginning with The Feil Brothers’ triple beat changes on “Intro”, Legal Hustle wastes no time in bringing the audio heat.

Promising production novice Emile supplies the steady bass and militant whistles heard on “Let It Go” as M.O.P. bring out the grimier side of Cormega, while lyrical wizard Ghostface checks in with a sick sequence of bars on the soulful and cinematic “Tony / Montana”, as Mega’s verse equally impresses. “Deep Blue Seas” finds our host traveling to Cali to team-up with Kurupt and Jayo Felony, effortlessly blurring the line between the East and West Coasts and crafting a universal heater. Emile’s laidback pianos and violins beautifully surround Mega and former Firm brethren AZ on the blazing “Redemption”, displaying the duo’s obvious chemistry and inducing newfound anger in all those that felt disappointment in The Firm’s Mega-less album. Hip-hop veteran Large Professor even joins in Mega’s hustle, checking in on the oh-so-smooth “Sugar Ray and Hearns”.

Being an MC with significant abilities, it’s only right that Cormega’s fresh-voiced friends possess the necessary gifts to justify inclusion on Legal Hustle. This is thankfully the case here, with ferocious female rapper Dona shining above the rest. Flaunting a voice similar to Foxy Brown’s but coming off harder than the Ill Na Na ever has, Dona laces each of her songs with rough-edged words that should instantly inject fear into any estrogen-filled rapper. Ax [Tha Bull]’s emotionally powerful backdrop on “The Bond” is attacked brutally by Dona, as she and Cormega pledge their allegiances to each other with winning results. The familiar “Realms of Junior M.A.F.I.A.” sampled beat of “Hoody” is made engaging by this woman’s vicious vocab, while “The Machine” benefits from a haunting Ax [Tha Bull] creation and hungry verses courtesy of Cormega, Dona, and fellow freshman Miz. Simply put, Dona’s contributions on Legal Hustle make her a breakout talent, as she emerges as an MC to watch and a potential contender for toughest female in the game.

While all of these featured artists strengthen this disc, the true star of the show is Cormega, and he lets this be known throughout Legal Hustle. Riding the same piano laden beat of Mary J. Blige’s “I Love You”, Mega celebrates his skills on “Beautiful Mind”, coming off more aware than conceited. “Stay Up” conveys the softer facets of the QB MC, with a melodically funky and self-produced instrumental allowing Cormega to address his inner emotions, and his flow is rhythmically on-point as reggae crew Vybz Kartel bless the dancehall-inspired “Dangerous”. The real showcase of Cormega’s criminally slept-on capabilities is “Bring It Back”, a track calling for a resurgence of real hip-hop music. A steady vocal sample flipped by Ayatollah serves as a fitting foundation for Mega to deliver both a musical history lesson and admirable rant on how the essence of the culture has been lost in recent years.

Though not a picture perfect album, with some of the beats sounding similar at times, Legal Hustle is a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience aimed at those that like their rap music genuine and gimmick-free. Hopefully, Cormega will remain below the major-label radar, because as he long as he continues to deliver focused releases as strong as this, his discography will be hot enough to rival any heavyweight rapper. If you are one of the ignorant few that dismiss Cormega based on what Nas says or for his commercial avoidance, give this record a listen and see if your mind isn’t changed. Cormega is one of the best MCs MTV audiences haven’t heard of, and this tight album further solidifies his self-anointed ‘urban legend’ status.