Cannibal Ox
The Cold Vein



by Robert Crumb USER (49 Reviews)
January 26th, 2005 | 860 replies

Release Date: 2001 | Tracklist

Released: May 15th, 2001; Definitive Jux

Getting a pulse on Harlem, New York hip hop duo Cannibal Ox isn’t too hard. Take a track like “Raspberry Fields” for example. Ignoring the obvious Beatles reference, the song is the epitome of New Yorker grime, a haze of rubbery synths and skittering drum kicks cooked up in a apartment clouded by bong smoke and too many RZA albums. Ox MCs Vast Aire and Vordul Megilah spit stoned verses, Vast Aire rhymes a word twice, decries himself and runs back around his verse and changes the last line. Despite the swampy track and the muddy lyricism, the track evokes hip hop at its most playful and finishes as thoroughly enjoyable as just about any other tune imaginable.

This is the running theme of Cannibal Ox’s debut, The Cold Vein. At first glance, it’s easy to get the impression that The Cold Vein is a expression big city cynicism but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Every track is not just a blur of crumbling, post-apocalyptic beats but rather it’s crumbling, post-apocalyptic beats superimposed on top of a bleak sense of optimism. While it’s not happy and especially not upbeat, there’s a feeling of undeterred hope in just about every track.

The emotional balance is divided between the two parties involved in the album. Gloom comes per indie hip hop godhead El-Producto, a.k.a. El-P, who takes the productions reins for most of the album. Recalling work from his original foray into hip hop, Company Flow, El-P delivers with his vocabulary of faux-electronica beats, sometimes sounding vaguely industrial, sometimes sounding vaguely ambient, mostly setting stake somewhere between both territories. It’s the broad, nebulous area between electronica artists like Alec Empire and early Aphex Twin, except designed to cater to the style of NYC hip hop not all that removed from the work of the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA.

Tracks like album opener, “Iron Galaxy” and “A B-Boy’s Alpha” display his more ambient leanings with their blubbering synths and subdued break beats. “A B-Boy’s Alpha” displays other shades of ambience, a stuttering, tumbling piano sample, alien squeaks and squawks as well as DJ Cip One’s distant scratches. On the other side of the ball, “Vein” and “Ox Out the Cage” grind like rusty gears. Each comes prepared for battle with buoyant basses and hard hitting rhythms which cry out in a sci-fi inspired pulsation. These and all the other tracks, despite some understandable reference points, sound absolutely recusant within the Church of Hip Hop. El-P’s production style is as independent as his business practices, however, without the lyricists, the album is naked.

“I grab the mic like, 'Are you experienced?'/But I don’t play the guitar, I play my cadence,” Vast Aire jokes on the aforementioned “Ox Out the Cage.” The comparison to Hendrix isn’t mere bravado, though. Vast Aire spits with crass tenacity, not caring at all whether he rhymes twice really, but poking fun at those who would actually care about such things. His rhymes rarely contain specific structure, he rhymes when pleases, drops the beat, slows it down, flips it around, and throws around puns like, “The sample’s the flesh and the beat’s the skeleton/You got beef but there’s worms in your Wellington,” off of “Raspberry Fields.” In fact, on The Cold Vein, nearly every lyric Vast Aire spits is near-flawless, whether raw abstraction or understandable street slang.

If we’re being critical here, Vodul Megilah is the weaker of the two on most tracks although he does manage to shine quite brightly on some tracks especially the album’s opening verse on “Iron Galaxy.” On it, he drops the classic line, “Vordul Megilah, the cannibal ate mics/Strive, live life, *** five, I want a-hundred and eight mics.” Take that, The Source. Vordul’s style is actually kind of similar to producer El-P’s own flow, he sometimes crams too much in each line, flowing with in a raw splurt of assonance and alliteration. Vast Aire’s presence does loom larger than that of Vordul Megilah but there never seems to be an ego battle on any tracks, each emceeing and willingly deferring the mic to the other. Comradery and chemistry like this is just another reason why Cannibal Ox and The Cold Vein continuously garner comparisons to the Wu-Tang Clan. While not completely unwarranted, both the MCs and production is unique enough to distinguish The Cold Vein from its forebear, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers.)

The single greatest aspect of the album is the simple maturity at which the lyricists attack subject matter. Even the most tenured hip hop artists drive at immaturity with lazy, comedic skits and segues and lyrical pussy-chasing. Certainly relatable but not exactly the apex of artistic expression. The Cold Vein divides itself from the rest of the crowd via the two hungry MCs who don’t ignore the violence, drugs and sex just express it in a way that isn’t seen often enough in hip hop. It’s probably among the least misogynist albums in the history of hip hop, especially with the sensitive-guy hip hop track, “The F-Word,” another clever pun among the dozens of others on the album. The track is another display of El-P’s ambient brush strokes. It’s got melancholy sweeping synthesizers and subtle electronic beeps and bloops which oddly help draw the emotion of Vast Aire lamenting being only a rejected friend by a girl. “The F-Word”’s love requiem is fairly unique on the album, though, which is mostly full of nostalgia, street-wise philosophy, and familiar battle rap swagger all tackled with a glowing sense of reassurance that is hammered home with the genius untitled album closer often referred to as “Scream Phoenix.”

On The Cold Vein, the MCs trump the production, which is definitely not to say the album isn’t well produced. It actually is very well producer, however some of the beats fail to distinguish themselves much from one another. El-P’s approach is cohesive but not all together distinct from track from track, each beat retaining a sci-fi tinge that it none really escape, save for maybe “Painkillers.” Compare this to his solo outing, Fantastic Damage, which has more individually unique tracks but less cohesion and consistency than The Cold Vein. The Cold Vein, though, is undoubtedly a very impressive affair when all the ingredients are combined. A great release that leaves the listener wanting more.

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user ratings (738)

Comments:Add a Comment 
Zesty Mordant
January 28th 2005


once again awesome review; no one can match you when it comes to analyzing hip-hop.

as for the album, i've always been disappointed in the fact that there will probably never be a follow up to this, because the cold vein is simply amazing. probably one of my favourite hiphop albums in the last 3-4 years.

March 10th 2006


Album Rating: 4.0

This is one of the most interesting hiphop albums to come out in the last few years.

I agree with you that Vast Aire actually has more presence, but I like Vordul Megalah better, especially when you consider their solo-outings (Vast's solo album is pure crap, Vordul's solo album is actually quite good). Productionwise this has some of El-P's best work around. His solo album was a little bit over the top really.

Robert Crumb
March 12th 2006


I still like Vast Aire better but I'd definitely concede your point about his solo album. I payed far too much for that shitty of an album. I think they work best as a duo, didn't really like Vordul's album much either, although it was much better. I hope that the rumors about a new Cannibal Ox album are true.

I bought the instrumental version of El-P's solo album and I like it much more than the regular version. I think it really does display how over the top the beats are for straight-up hip hop production, but they work damn well as stand alone tracks. I prefer it this way.

February 28th 2008


Album Rating: 4.5

This album is so fucking mind bending and unorthodox. El-P is a fucking genius and Cannibal Ox's style perfectly matches the galactic trip hop production.

May 10th 2008


Album Rating: 4.0

I can't stop listening to this. It blows my fucking mind.

July 15th 2008


Saying Vordul gets outshined by Vast is obvious but actually does not do justice to either artist. Vordul is a brilliant MC with many strong showings on this album, in my opinion the best example of this is on Vein where he absolutely short circuits. That being said Vast Aire has word play, similes and presence that cannot be matched. Even when you think he is going in straight, he is twisting words and thoughts. This is an incredible album start to finish.

December 12th 2008


Album Rating: 4.5

i love how the beats and vast's flow is incredible. this could be a classic for me with time.

January 14th 2009


Album Rating: 5.0

such a great fucking album. didn't like it too much first time i heard it, but it clicked on second listen. def one of my favorite albums, hip hop or otherwise.

January 14th 2009


Album Rating: 5.0

too bad they didn't stay together. the sum of the parts is much greater than either artist individually... vordul's solo stuff sucks, and vast aire's newest isn't that great.

January 14th 2009


I really want to give this one a listen. Sounds very interesting, in a good way haha.

January 14th 2009


see what happens when you fuck with the wrong people? you could get dragged into the kitchen and cut up

January 23rd 2009


Album Rating: 4.0

solid album, i recently gave this a re-listen and i'm digging it a lot. vast aire has some straight up stupid lines though. "some say i touch hearts like kano / now every time you see a mic, you just say no" or that line "i ain't dealin' with a minimum wage / i'd rather construct rhymes on a minimum page"...the hell is he talking about?

that said, he's good, and vordul mega is legit.

oh and this is an awesome review too...almost forgot to mention that bit!

August 23rd 2009


Yo, see what happens. Fuck with the wrong people. You might get dragged into a kitchen, and cut up.

January 18th 2010


This is good.

March 5th 2010


great album, minimalism is the only ism i support. oh yeah and cannibalism, sarcasm...

March 29th 2010


yeah this is an awesome album

Mars Blackmon
March 29th 2010


Album Rating: 4.5

I wish they made another album

March 29th 2010


Album Rating: 3.5

sometimes I feel like the lyricism on here is overrated, but it's still awesome

Staff Reviewer
March 29th 2010


yeah ive heard this album rules

April 6th 2010


Album Rating: 4.0

battle for asgard is so damn amazing

cant believe how much hip hop im listening to

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