Lewd did I live & evil I did dwell

There’s no glory in Vordul Mega’s new songs of life on the street

Tom Horgen

Vordul Mega says life in his neighborhood is disgusting.

Not the people, though. Not the single mothers who work endlessly. Not the kids who play in urine-drenched hallways. The people are beautiful. It’s life that’s disgusting, where schools aren’t funded, health care is a fantasy and sirens equal terror.

Vordul is the more serious half of indie-rap duo Cannibal Ox. With his partner, Vast Aire, the two released their underground classic, “The Cold Vein,” in 2001. The record told tales of New York’s gritty boroughs, most importantly theirs, Harlem, U.S.A. They called themselves “pigeons,” a metaphor for the futility of their urban existence. Like the vulnerable, but ubiquitous, birds, they see themselves as defenseless against the systems of power that keep defacto segregation and poverty alive and well in New York.

Vast Aire was the first of the two to release a solo album. His “Look Mom Ö No Hands” dropped earlier this year. He stayed with the duo’s signature sound – spacey, impressive beats – but seemed more worried about dissing rival MCs than spitting real raps about pressing issues.

Vordul, who was dominated by his clever rhyme partner on their group album, emerges as the more ambitious of the two with his solo effort, “The Revolution of Yung Havoks.”

Not since Nas’ 1994 debut, “Illmatic,” has an MC spent an entire album describing the daily struggles of the inner city. Even the two members of Cannibal Ox took a break on “The Cold Vein” to rhyme about their love lives. But there’s nothing about girls here. And no rhyming about rap. None of that.

Vordul’s album is about observing the ills of poverty and processing the ways young black kids like him survive it. 50 Cent called his smash album a look at what he goes through, a look at what he’s seen. And yeah, 50 Cent’s been shot, but most of his rhymes are about killing people and the 6 million ways he knows how to do it.

Vordul’s album is about death too. But he’s not basking in it. He doesn’t see power in a gun. He sees misery.

There is beauty in the United States’ black ghettos, but Vordul reminds listeners that there are people who still want out of their oppressive shackles. Yes, there are people who need liberating in Iraq. And in Sudan. And in North Korea. There are people all over the world who need liberating.

But listen to this album and try to tell yourself that there aren’t people living in the United States – and in your own city – who need liberating too.

Vordul has created a masterpiece of U.S. life with “The Revolution of Yung Havoks.”