City Paper is not for tourists
Much of Vordul Mega’s Megagraphitti is a thing of beauty. The first nine songs feature cinematic, fiery beats and verses that are dramatic and inspired. None of that is surprising: Those elements also characterized Mega’s 2001 debut album with his duo Cannibal Ox, The Cold Vein. Almost unanimously hailed as an underground hip-hop classic, The Cold Vein featured the focused rumblings of Mega’s MC partner Vast Aire and El-P’s dissonant, off-beat tracks. Since then, each subsequent project from Can Ox alums has faced high expectations, and while Mega’s first solo effort, 2004’s The Revolution of Yung Havoks, was uneven, he’s rechanneled that old energy for Megagraphitti. From the album’s first sinister keyboards, it’s clear Mega’s aiming for something that is both intelligent and tough. The second track, “AK-47,” features a postapocalyptic beat that grows more hopeful and inspiring as it goes along. “Know your 47 ways to swing a AK,” goes the chorus, “Drop 10 grenades/Sing serenades/We in the streets/Swinging blades.” For fans of science fiction and underground rap (two groups with plenty of overlap), it’s about as good as it gets. The only problem is that it reminds the listener just how much stronger a presence Aire can be; his voice is deeper, more distinctive, and more memorable than Mega’s. Still, Mega matches up well against other contributors from New York groups like Super Chron Flight Brothers and Monsta Island Czars, and the first two-thirds of the album is built on highlights like the slow-burner “Opium Scripts” and “Trigganomics,” whose beat recalls RZA and the Wu-Tang Clan. But the album starts wobbling by Track 10, “Beautiful,” which sounds like Mega popped ecstasy and suddenly feels the urge to confess every sentimental thing in his head. Against a by-the-numbers R&B beat, he raps: “I’m like, ‘Who’s one of the most beautiful artists?’/It must be Alicia Keys/And I ain’t talking her physical features/But the way she sings.” The sap completely kills the mood; the next track, “Peanut Butta Ups” takes the same attitude and adds a flute sample. “Imani” sounds like “The Thrill Is Gone,” and it’s tempting to turn off the record and put on B.B. King’s original. “Keep Living,” the sole track produced by El-P, is the only song near the end of the album with much of a pulse, and even that feels like something of a leftover. Shave off those tail-end clunkers, though, and Megagraphitti proves that Mega has hit on an idea that’s as good now as it was in 2001: Call it end-of-the-world movie-score rap.