Legal Hustle is the third solo album from Cory Mckay, released by the Koch graveyard back in 2004. It followed up the critically-acclaimed one-two punch known as The Realness and The True Meaning, which, as most bloggers would tell it, constitute the greatest debut and sophomore releases from a single artist since the dawn of our chosen genre. Your great-grandchildren will tell the tale of Mega Montana to their own kids, who will barely tolerate yet another story told by their parents, as they won't know what they fuck they're talking about, since hip hop will have evolved into an entirely different, chirpy, poppy, and ridiculous medium that only the children of celebrities and trust fund babies will continue to take seriously.
Until that fateful day, we have Legal Hustle. Mega's third effort was named after his Legal Hustle vanity imprint, on which he signed artists who he believed had the drive and passion to become the next big thing in hip hop, or, in the case of the female rapper Doña, at least had the voice of someone that you two are sure to recognize. (I wrote these introductory paragraphs after I finished the write-up, and I have to admit, I kind of go overkill on the whole "she sounds like (SPOLIER HIDDEN)" thing. Fair warning.) Legal Hustle originally started life as a compilation mixtape-slash-label sampler, but both Cormega and Koch Records quickly discovered that nobody in their right mind would give two fucks about Legal Hustle unless Mega played more than just a supporting role. Suddenly, Legal Hustle turned into a Mega solo project with a shit-ton of guest appearances, with only a couple of tracks betraying the original version's roots.
Even with the retooling, Legal Hustle wasn't a hot seller, and even kind of bombed at the critical level. Cormega would soon lose his imprint and virtually all but disappear from hip hop for several years, popping up periodically to record songs with his boy Lake and to take in a matinee of whatever Michael Bay had up his sleeve that summer.
1. INTRO (FEAT. DOÑA & MIZ)
Legal Hustle eschews the typical rap album intro, regardless of what this track's title leads you to believe, in favor of some actual verses. Our host kicks things off, flowing smoothly over a soulful Curtis Mayfield sample, explaining to his fans why there was a delay between The True Meaning and now. He sounds pretty good, but the song kicks into high gear when his weed carriers take to the mic, mainly because the background music hilariously morphs into a loop swiped from U2's “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” (from the Batman Forever soundtrack) with a faux-Neptunes bounce beat attached. Doña (who sounds exactly like Foxy Brown) and Miz each provide a verse, but while neither baggage handler technically sounds bad, they are both obscured by the U2 sample, which had my jaw dropping in awe of the sheer audacity on display from producers Ax The Bull, the Feil Brothers, and Cormega himself. Still, I'm sure there's a reason Mega Montana himself doesn't bother to tackle the second beat on here.
2. BEAUTIFUL MIND
As with most rap songs, this long one-verse wonder from Cormega doesn't adhere to any specific theme, unless you derived from the title that this song would be a stream-of-consciousness rant from our host, following his brainwaves wherever he felt like taking them; if that's the case, then you have just won a cookie. This would be why he kicks off his performance talking about people being jealous of him, skipping to his troubled childhood, and ending on a show of mic dominance. In short, this was like every other rap song ever made. Mega sounds pretty interesting, though. Too bad our host's piano-based instrumental isn't nearly dramatic enough to aid the bars in any way, shape, or form.
3. LET IT GO (FEAT. M.O.P.)
Considering how cold and calculated he tends to sound on the mic, Cormega probably would not have been my first choice for a collaboration with the Mash Out Posse. Still, he was voted the most likely member of The Firm to actually work with M.O.P. (in an older issue of Highlights For Children), so this pairing at least makes a little bit of sense. Unfortunately, “Let It Go” is an overlong exercise in futility. Emile's beat is boring as fuck, as it is not conducive to the talents of anyone appearing on here, and Mega, who admirably tries sticking with his guns (relatively speaking), gets lost at sea. The only lyrics I can even remember came from Fizzy Womack, and they weren't even all that great: he was just complaining that his label at the time still hadn't bothered to release the new M.O.P. album. Hey guys, we're still waiting.
4. THE BOND (FEAT. DOÑA)
Mega and Doña, his de facto costar on Legal Hustle (or at least the basket in which he seems to have placed all of his eggs), spit a single verse each on this boring ode to loyalty. Ax's instrumental is weak as shit: it's almost as though Cory has somehow completely forgotten how to choose a beat for his rantings. Both artists also say basically the exact same shit, but while neither is awful, they're also not very good, especially the bars from our host, who should fucking know better. Moving on...
5. BRING IT BACK
Mega Montana is a student of hip hop, and he'll show off his knowledge every chance he gets. The man clearly misses the time when rap music wasn't so goddamn stupid (as do we all), so he recorded this brief ode to about one hundred and fifty of his favorite rappers, dropping more names than The Game on any given Tuesday. The Ayatollah instrumental is simple enough for Mega to get his point across, and he does so in a fairly good manner: this is one of the most entertaining odes to the old school I've heard in a while, and he even manages to warn his contemporary peers that they will fade into irrelevancy if they don't start saying things worth hearing. Not bad at all.
6. HOODY (FEAT. DOÑA)
Cormega steps back behind the boards for “Hoody”, but doesn't need to do all that much: it's virtually impossible to fuck up a rap song if you're sampling ESG's “UFO”. Doña pops up again to drive her Fox Boogie-sounding voice into your subconscious: the vocal similarities are more than a little distracting at this point. Mega also kicks a verse, nearly tripping over all of his words at one point, but he pulls out a fairly lyrical performance in the end. This short diversion (with one verse from each participant, and Mega pulling an extended riff from The Notorious B.I.G.'s “Kick In The Door”, marking this as the umpteenth time Biggie Smalls has been referenced on Legal Hustle thus far) isn't original in the least but, but it all goes back to that sample, which is just hot. Also, the scratches from Tony Touch help out quite a bit.
7. DANGEROUS (FEAT. UNDA P. & VYBZ KARTEL)
I tend to hate it when rap artists veer off into a reggae subtext when that isn't in their wheelhouse, as it usually results in embarrassingly bad accents and general pandering to an audience that would easily be able to tell that they are simply tourists in a foreign land. “Dangerous” is decent enough, mostly because Mega Montana is too smart to cave in to peer pressure: the instrumental is dancehall-tinged, but our host sticks to the script and delivers his verse the Cormega way, leaving the reggae to the actual experts. Still not the greatest song in the world, though.
8. TONY / MONTANA (FEAT. GHOSTFACE KILLAH)
Pretty Toney and Mega Montana hook up for one of the most brilliantly-titled songs in recent memory. Unfortunately, the final product, which was highly anticipated (by me, anyway) ever since it was first announced, collapses at the starting gate and arrives at the hospital dead on arrival. This Feil Brothers instrumental, which can't decide if it wishes to ape The RZA (or, more accurately, maybe 4th Disciple) or Kanye West, sounds like a store-branded generic, and both Ghostface Killah and Cormega, who technically provide decent verses, sound like they can never quite catch up to it, rendering the entire experience alarmingly empty. Ghost has a funny line at the beginning, though, when he mentions that “pussy is the next best thing besides women”. Although I'm now left wondering where he gets his pussy from, I will admit that the line still sounds pretty good coming from him.
9. PERSONIFIED (FEAT. DOÑA)
I don't believe either participant on this track knows exactly what the word “personified” even means. Anyway, Mega spits some hip hop street savior-esque nonsense over Spunk Bigga's inconsequential beat, while Doña provides a chorus that sounds fucking stupid. However, her actual verse was pretty interesting and heartfelt, as she describes her struggles and the loss of loved ones, so she gets a pass, even though her bars contain the nine millionth reference to The Notorious B.I.G. on Legal Hustle. Seriously, I had no idea that Christopher Wallace was such a huge influence on Cory. Weird.
10. STAY UP (FEAT. KIRA)
Most rappers seem to think that the easiest way to follow a proper song structure is to include a bullshit R&B chorus. Most rappers are also fucking idiots that make lots of bad decisions. Coincidence?
11. DEEP BLUE SEA (FEAT. JAYO FELONY & KURUPT)
Have you ever listened to a song and just want to choke the shit out of the artist because it sucked so goddamn much? No? It's just me that has occasional violent thoughts when listening to rap music? Man, this blog is wearing me out. But anyway, that;s what I want to do to Kurupt, because his hook on the bi-coastal effort “Deep Blue Sea” (which doesn't even bother to mention LL Cool J or a shark eating Samuel L. Jackson, sadly) is so annoying that he should be run the fuck out of our chosen genre. Mega attempts a double-time flow over this Emile production, and he also doesn't look good as a result. The only person on here that emerges unscathed is frequent West Coast punchline Jayo Felony, who actually sounds really fucking good on here. Credit where credit is due, I guess.
12. MORE CRIME (FEAT. THE JACKA)
“So who the fuck is The Jacka supposed to be?”, you two may find yourselves asking. “And why the hell isn't Cormega featured on 'More Crime'?” Lest you forget, Legal Hustle started life as a mixtape-slash-label sampler for Mega's stable of artists: although it quickly morphed into a Mega Montana solo album (sort of, but not really), there were still a couple of loose ends allowed to breathe, The Jacka's solo effort being one of them. You can just imagine how much “More Crime” sucked if I devoted most of this paragraph to rehashing a topic that I already tackled in the introductory paragraphs.
13. MONSTER'S BALL (FEAT. BANGER, LAKE, & MAINO)
Ax (The Bull) produced a posse cut on which all four participants seem to be making the exact same boasts, which is never really good for business. Mega gets his verse out of the way quickly, so that he can get back to his part-time job at Aeropostale, while the remaining three artists (including Lake, who Mega would later record an entire album with) all fail to sound convincing in the least bit. Definitely one of the most dull songs of this type that I've heard in a while.
14. REDEMPTION (FEAT. AZ)
There isn't anything redeeming about this suck-ass Firm reunion: this just sounds like the same piffle AZ tried to pass off as “music” on 9 Lives. Emile's instrumental is a simple loop with a fear of commitment, sticking with old patterns and never accepting change, which will make the listener grow bored real fucking quick. AZ sounds meh as well, but I didn't expect much from hum, so that's fine. The shocker of this song is how terrible Cormega comes across, with the rhymes of an amateur who was just laughed off the stage at his high school's talent show taking place in the cafetorium. Seriously, what the hell just happened here?
15. RESPECT ME (FEAT. DOÑA)
The other holdover from the original label sampler concept is this Doña solo track, on which she unleashes her monotone growl across three verses and multiple hooks, all without changing the inflection in her voice, leading me to feel that this song lasts for thirty goddamn minutes instead of its actual three minute and thirty-seven second runtime. The Foxy Brown comparison, while tired at this point, is impossible to ignore: aside from the fact that Doña consciously chooses grimy street shit over the materialism that Inga praised, they might as well be the same fucking person. Since Cormega, who doesn't appear on “Respect Me” at all, is actually friends with Foxy Brown, I have to wonder how she ultimately felt about Doña's signing to his label.
16. SUGAR RAY AND HEARNS (FEAT. LARGE PROFESSOR)
Why in the holy fuck does the best goddamn song on Legal Hustle last for less than two minutes? Why is the sky blue? Why is water wet? I just don't know. Cormega and special guest star Extra P each spit a lovely verse over a relaxing J-Love instrumental that sounds perfect for zoning out, without being so spacey that it could possibly alienate the listener. While I believe this collaboration could have been even better had the Large Professor produced it himself, I still dug this song today. Once again, this is the best song on the album, by far.
17. THE MACHINE (FEAT. DOÑA & MIZ)
Legal Hustle concludes with a dramatic Ax loop that actually sounded really fucking good; it's just too bad that two-thirds of the track is wasted on weed carrier contributions which are so meaningless that I can't even confirm that they ever really happened. Mega Montana closes out the album with a fairly stellar turn, though, so he helps end the project on a high note. Of sorts.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Yes, it may be unfair to compare Cormega's Legal Hustle to The Realness and The True Meaning, but I don't give much of a fuck, I'm doing it anyway: the moment Mega Montana decided to alter Legal Hustle's purpose from label sampler mixtape to an actual album, he opened himself up to criticism, and this effort is, quite simply, his laziest to date. His reliance on guest stars (most of whom are his label's employees) causes the listener to lose focus on just who Cory Mckay is and what he is capable of behind the mic, and most of these cameos are weak as shit, as well. Music-wise, Mega relies on C-listers to provide his beats (when he doesn't just do them himself, to save his company a buck), and their lack of experience shows in just how fucking boring the majority of Legal Hustle is. I just had to sit through nearly the entire goddamn album before I remembered that “Sugar Ray and Hearns” was actually pretty good; that song is representative of what Legal Hustle could have been. There was no excuse for this shit, Cory.
BUY OR BURN? Burn this shit. Cormega's fans undoubtedly already own this one anyway, but even they should rip the tracks below and sell of their copies, it's that bad.
BEST TRACKS: “Sugar Ray and Hearns”; “Bring It Back”