[7 September 2008]
Mention the name Vordul Mega and a hip-hop head will basically be forced into namedropping Cannibal Ox. And why not? That duo’s first and only album, The Cold Vein, remains one of the best hip-hop records of the past decade. Tracks like “The F-Word” and “Pigeon” are just as poignant and moving today as when they were first heard in 2001. Besides El-P’s astounding production, Vordul and partner Vast Aire spit a blend of refreshing lyricism and wordplay not often displayed on a debut. But for whatever reason, no follow-up has been released. The two emcees have appeared on one another’s respective solo ventures to tease a Can Ox reunion, though, which might be coming soon according to a recent interview.
In the meantime, Vordul has been working on his own music. In 2004, he dropped his solo debut, the solid and consistent Revolution of Yung Havoks. But for his sophomore effort, Megagraphitti, Vordul wanted to do something different. Rather than step into the studio and record an album, he took his time with this one. In between collaborations with acts including Vast Aire, C-Ray Walz, and Aesop Rock, Vordul hit the booth every so often to lay down foundations for what we have here.
And, unfortunately, his sporadic recording has created a lack of cohesion that sticks out like a sore thumb instead of keeping the album fresh. In particular, the eighth track, “Light”, is absurdly out of place. It basically comes out of nowhere. That feeling comes up again on “Beautiful”, though Vordul manages to save the day. It’s his chance to wax poetic about the ladies he admires in life, ranging from his mom to Mary J. Blige. While it might be slightly contrived, the track is not a complete miss. Songs like these are admirable in the sense that they show Vordul’s willingness to branch out, but he doesn’t sound as comfortable on “Beautiful” as he does on others. And even though “Light” is a brief instrumental, Vordul more than likely chose to include it, so don’t think he’s off the hook for that one. The one black sheep here that succeeds is the bluesy “Imani”. But its placement as the second to last cut mars its ability to pace the album.
Megagraphitti shines brightest when our host equips his sometimes slower-than-molasses flow for tales of his life in the New York underground. And Vordul comes out of the gate strong with “Stay Conscious”. He and producer Zach One mesh perfectly, making this a topnotch opening track. It’s a mellow and moody introduction that features stellar guitar and vocal samples that engulf you in the song’s atmosphere. Upping the ante is “Trigganomics”, which sounds like it crawled out of the Wu-Tang Clan’s vault. Besides having Wu-affiliate Bronze Nazareth behind the boards, Vordul raps fiercely about “ducking the fuzz” and other street topics, all brought to life through his rhymes. Another standout is the introspective “Learn”. Vordul spits flawlessly here about his homestate of New York while Ravage’s ambient horns soar throughout.
Those tracks aside, though, the cuts here that truly scream “play me” are the Cannibal Ox reunions. Hearing Vast and Vordul on “AK-47” and “In the Mirror” is like a dream come true for any Cold Vein enthusiast. Both tracks just further display why these two emcees are meant to rap together. Their ever-changing, juxtaposed flows don’t hit as heavy as those on The Cold Vein, but who can complain about hearing Vast and Vordul on the same track? Not me, that’s for sure. Although “AK-47” isn’t particularly outstanding, “In the Mirror” is something special. Sid Roams’s galactic beat bangs, especially the crisp and lush drums that capture the track’s solemn mood. And then there is the other reunion-of-sorts in “Keep Living”. Produced by Mr. Definitive Jux himself, this track features some of El-P’s best drums, which hit hard. They are further emphasized and balanced by the numerous samples floating in and out like a chaotic DJ set.
While the hits on Megagraphitti far outweigh the misses, this album is still far from perfect. Those few pace-altering tracks break the strong tempo created midway through the record. But just as Vast has shown growth with his latest release, Deuces Wild, Vordul’s maturity as an emcee here is clear. He has developed an ever-changing flow and his lyrics remain solid and consistent. It doesn’t hurt that he also has a good ear for beats. So there’s really only one thing left to say: Mr. Mega and Mr. Aire, can we get that Cold Vein follow-up? Please?