Happy 5th Anniversary to Cormega’s fifth studio album Mega Philosophy, originally released July 22, 2014.
Cormega is one of the main reasons I maintain an Instagram account. Not only a great resource for updates regarding his shows and new music, his profile has become a place where diehards of his cult-like following converge to discuss intimate and very real topics. Cormega’s lyrics have leaped from CDs, cell phones, and vinyl to find themselves inscribed on t-shirts, embraced as personal mantras, and even imbedded into human flesh as tattoos. Some might find this astounding for an artist whose catalog has been almost entirely independent, but what I find more curious is that this all precedes the release of what I believe to be his magnum opus: Mega Philosophy (2014).
Let’s begin with super-producer Large Professor, who hails from Flushing, Queens and whose earliest credited work includes beatmaking for giants of the Queens borough like Tragedy for Intelligent Hoodlum (1990) and Kool G Rap & DJ Polo’s Wanted: Dead or Alive (1990). Most are familiar with Large Professor for being the frontman of the group Main Source who released the monumental album Breaking Atoms in 1991. Breaking Atoms served as the official introduction of another well-known Queens native, Nasir Jones, whom Large Professor would mentor leading up to his role as the unofficial executive producer for Nas’ acclaimed debut Illmatic (1994). Large Professor would go on to amass one of the most revered production discographies in all of hip-hop, while always maintaining close ties with his borough mates, as a trusted affiliate of South Jamaica, Queens groups like A Tribe Called Quest and Organized Konfusion.
Cormega, who laid a strong foundation for his own lyricism, was formally introduced to the world with the bars “criminal thoughts in the blue Porsche / my destiny’s to be the new boss / that nigga Paulie gotta die he too soft” from the song “Affirmative Action” featured on Nas’ sophomore LP It Was Written (1996). It would take years before the two Queens representatives would collaborate, but once it happened the chemistry was undeniable. Large Professor produced “The Come Up” from Cormega’s sophomore album The True Meaning (2002), one of the standout performances across the album-of-the-year contender.
By the time the duo reconvened to complete a full project for which Large Professor would produce every track, Extra P had constructed a lengthy and profound resume that places him in a class with titans like Marley Marl as the best at accentuating the unique brand of street journalism from Queens natives.
The opening bars of Mega Philosophy are delivered over a minimalist beat with Cormega providing a poetic invocation: “Under the sun vultures looming, hoping to consume a culture wounded / boldly refusing to die, show and proving / I embodied what only few can, wearing sincerity not the robe of Judas / my golden rule is live no lie.” Cormega is immediately daring in his ambitious attempt to snatch hip-hop from its comfort zone of commercialization.
Cormega’s opening bars establish the tone of the entire project, as Large Professor takes his seat in the musical cockpit. For the song “Industry,” Extra P juxtaposes the beat with a sermon delivered by Minister Louis Farrakhan, while sprinkling in some of hip-hop’s most noticeable adlibs like the “brrrah!” from M.O.P.’s Lil Fame. Meanwhile, Cormega expounds on A Tribe Called Quest’s industry rule number 4080 and even pays homage in the line, “Don't care about culture they only want profit / if your album sells slow bet you get dropped quick / Q-Tip warned us the industry's toxic / for reference check out BDP’s Sex and Violence.”
Cormega’s catalog reigns as a streak of rugged brilliance, but even this proven veteran reaps the benefits of the undivided attention of a musical mastermind in Large Professor. “Rap Basquiat” explodes like a duel between two craftsmen. One of my favorite Large Professor beats since “You’re the Man” (2001) ignites Cormega’s usually methodical flow, almost to the pace of Kool G Rap or Big Pun. The tenacious delivery still allows the listener to absorb every deliberate bar like, “N****s fronting so I'm coming back / spitting that shit that had Pookie doing jumping jacks / getting money when you was watching Thundercats / we not the same; my lifestyle ain't come from rap / until recently, instinctively I must adapt.”
For “MARS (Dream Team),” Mega and Extra P assemble a cadre of the most respected names in lyricism. AZ, Redman, and Styles P make up the all-star cast as Large Professor conducts the orchestra of wordsmiths.
In true Cormega fashion, the guestlist is highly exclusive and well thought out, as fellow Queensbridge native Nature accepts an invite to trade observations on North America’s largest public housing development for the aptly titled “D.U. (Divine Unity).” The partnership is also a testament to their maturity, as the two had a brief rivalry during their younger days in the mid ‘90s, a subject smoothly given closure with Nature’s rhymes: “Me and Mega so close we like twins, n***a / reporting news like the 1010 WINS / around the way Big Willies going MIA / and I ain't talking ‘bout Florida, bodies decay.”
For his fifth outing, Mega again proves that he is one of the best in rap at comprehending the art of album construction. “Honorable” features Raekwon the Chef, whose moniker comes from his own penchant for a meticulous approach to artistry. Another perfect pairing, which extracts a solid verse from Rae, when he explains “the library of slangs / Dutches’ up in Ukraine / political prisoner, check the chain / out the country with my dame / televised gangsters, see me up close, nothing's changed.”
Mega Philosophy is a 32-minute return to early ‘90s Boom Bap when producers worked exclusively with emcees and seized the benefits of unfettered partnerships. Cormega and Large Professor’s styles mesh like Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, as Extra P controls the tempo while Mega pounds much needed jewels about the preservation of hip-hop culture. In his revered career as a lyricist, Cory McKay uses a pen to critique social ills and raise the bar for his peers in the same vein as Jean-Michel Basquiat and his paintbrush. While his conscious decision to remain independent has arguably limited the size of his fanbase, his devoted and knowledgeable audience rightfully recognize Mega Philosophy as a contemporary masterpiece.