Cannibal Ox – The Cold Vein
2001: a Hip Hop Odyssey – Cannibal Ox dropped one of the greatest albums in recent history and then promptly vanished. It’s possible the group was simply too incredible to exist; the universe self-corrected, erasing the extraordinary anomaly. It’s a bit of a shame, but we have no place to complain when we’re blessed with this singular document of gravitationally scaled hip hop ferocity.
The Cold Vein is that rarest of creatures: an album that scales incredible heights both lyrically and instrumentally, stimulating all musical pleasure centers at once. Vocal interplay between Vast Aire and Vordul Mega is a perfect dance between partners with different strengths, complimenting each others’ style every step of the way. Throughout the record, they’re wrestling for control of the shambling, electro-crunch futuristic monster that is El-P‘s monumental production. This lumbering beast rears its multifaceted head into the atmosphere via the first track’s sci-fi laser synthesizers and keeps pushing through uncharted territory with every minute consumed. Feeling at times crunchy and nasty as the deepest early RZA work, a la Liquid Swords, the record’s more of a Transformer, flipping expectations and subverting comfort. The surfaces constantly shift below Vast & Vordul’s feet, erupting in action-funk horn blasts, spacey organ bursts, complex breakdowns where the whole spectacle threatens to break loose and fly apart.. then it’s reigned in by these dueling aural lion tamers. Combining cutting insight with surrealist connective tissue, the vocals flaunt every previously held rap paradigm.
Cutting through near-scatalogical Kool Keith-tinted non sequitors, and the dystopian settings of Deltron 3030 (or Can Ox forebears Company Flow), are the surprisingly confessional moments embedded throughout – showcased in particular by the psychological turmoil of The F-Word and Stress Rap. The one lyrical preoccupation easily indentified is the emphasis on power, ambition, loss, survival, and pre-apocalyptic tension. While not original in any conventional sense, it’s the way these themes are spun through nerd-genre sensibilities that lends weight and intrinsic appeal. Like the best comic book and science fiction flicks, all the fireworks and metaphysical effects are merely tools aiding in the comprehension of universal truth and personal revelation.
“I ain’t dealin with no minimum wage, I’d rather construct rhymes on a minimal page.” This album is for dreamers and thinkers, unsatisfied with the state of the world, angry about the mechanations of politics and culture, the stifling of creativity, the snuffed out aspirations. It’s fuel for those striving, hoping, and fighting for a better place – even if it’s mental space. Real Earth follows, after all.