Cannibal Ox, The Cold Vein (2001)
The Cold Vein is a collaboration between Harlemites Vast Aire and Vordul and former Company Flow rapper/producer El-P. The resulting soundclash is a dense web of jagged electro breakbeats pasted together with the precision of a collagist, leading to lyrics like Vast Aire’s “I grab the mic like Are You Experienced/But I don’t play the guitar, I play my cadence.” Concentrated imagism is the order of the day, and El-P’s (who rhymes on “Ox Out of the Cage” and “Ridiculoid”) infamous penchant for loquacious verbals takes root as Cannibal Ox spin stress rap out of obtuse metaphors flipped into unorthodox flows. Vast Aire’s voice sounds like a scimitar sheathed in a pillow, while Vordul’s resembles a baritone variation on Pharoahe Monch’s intellectual bark. Together, the three descend into the “Real Earth,” an “Iron Galaxy” of negative environments and meticulous societal deconstruction. “My Mic Sounds Nice” becomes “My life’s not right” on “Ridiculoid,” while Can Ox flirts with suicidal tendencies on “Painkillers.” This collusion of fantasy and reality makes The Cold Vein a challenging listen, a dilemma intensified by El-P’s textured production. Musically, it builds up steam, flushing out its rawest, most brutal cuts before ascending towards a hard-earned epiphany with “The F Word,” an entirely new spin on the boy-meets-girl-who’s-not-interested syndrome, and “Pigeon’s” world-weary survival tactics. “Birds of a same feather flock together,” observes Vast Aire, “Congested on a majestic street corner.” The Cold Vein‘s net effect is a trip to the psychotherapist. Creatively, it was the highlight of the trio’s career for years, at least until El-P achieved rock stardom with his Run the Jewels project. Meanwhile, Vast Aire and Vordul — who split acrimoniously with El-P — seem stuck in the The Cold Vein’s shadow, though recently there’s been newfound appreciation for Vordul’s influence on underground rappers like Armand Hammer. Definitive Jux.