on 12 March 2003
The cycle of music causes such things to happen. Those who once were the trailblazers become the establishment. So, while Public Enemy, De La Soul, Wu Tang Clan have all joined hip hops upper echelons, consequently their work has become less important. This transition allows for a new breed of hungry underground artists to come to the fore. Many will cite Eminem and even 50 Cent as the hottest prospects. They are not. Most of them appear to coming out of the ashes of the Rawkus label, but the brightest sparks of all are emerging from the red-hot Def Jux label. Take two of the most intelligent and gifted MCs to emerge for a long time and combine them with the hip hop world's most innovative producer and you end up with not only a remarkable hip hop album but, in this writer's opinion, the best LP ever made.
Vast Aire and Vordul Megalah introduce a New York that the listener may have forgotten existed after so many bourgeois releases by the likes of The Strokes. As early as three minutes into the first track, Vast Aire gives the listener an idea of the exactly how dire their situation is, "Boy meets world? Of course his Pop's is gone, what you figure? / that chalky outline on the ground is a father-figure." It is the grim position that Cannibal Ox find themselves in that dominates the album, on 'Stress Rap' they admit, "You love New York / But New York don't love you." A sample is played mid-way through the opening track reminding the listener that, "You are one of the few predator species that preys even on itself."
However, this isn't a cynical attempt at proving they are from some rough streets in an endeavour to add some B Boy posturing. Cannibal Ox describe themselves, and others in their position as 'pigeons', feeding off scraps of pizza crust. The metaphor is a fitting one for individuals in such a hopeless position. Despite the squalor surrounding them, Cannibal Ox find time for a little humour. Vast jokes that he "blows heads like that dead clothes designer." There's even room for some humorous self-criticism as Vast Aire admits, "oh s**t I said a word twice" and then starts his verse again on 'Raspberry Fields'. It's this kind of verbal dexterity that makes this the most breathtaking collective of rapping ever released.
Essentially this is an album about living in New York's underbelly, but scratch the surface and you'll find many more twists in the album. In fact, all but the most robust individuals will enjoy the let up in intensity. 'Ox Out Of The Cage' is perhaps the most traditional rap track on the album with it's "Ladies and gentlemen" opening. But if you think Ox will dumb it down, you're mistaken. Vast Aire spits, "I grab the mic like Are You Experienced / but I don't play the guitar / I play my cadence." Vast then delivers a sermon on modern day relationships on 'The F Word', "Don't take it personal, I like you a lot but I don't wanna lose what we got / but what we got now is friction / she tellin' me intimacy and friendship she ain't mixing." Elsewhere 'A B-Boy's Alpha' combines Freudian theories with street fighting over a beat reminiscent of a mangled carnival. While all the credit in the world should go to Vast Aire and Vordul for their amazing lyrics, EL-Ps sonic landscape is equally worthy of praise. From the siren that begins 'Iron Galaxy' through the outrageous stuttering beat that furnishes 'Vein' to the majestic guitar that soars as 'Pigeon' takes the album to its conclusion there is not a single misplaced beat or mediocre melody on the LP.
While the album proper ends with the wicked message of hopelessness that is 'Pigeon', the hidden track 'Scream Phoenix' points to a more fruitful future for the impoverished New Yorkers, "Famine, disease and senseless dying is done / pigeon bird got a breath left / heart beat no more / phoenix bird morph and we live off the G-force." Seventy-three minutes after the journey began, it comes to a fitting end. 'Scream Phoenix' is a message of hope for not only the listener but for Cannibal Ox themselves as the mindless and hopeless pigeons have transformed into noble phoenixes.
As New York regains its status as the home of music, this album is the perfect accompaniment to Ryan Adams, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Strokes. This is the real underbelly of New York, and 'The Cold Vein' is the best album to ever come out of the city. But it is more than that, it deserves to join the realm of 'Pet Sounds', 'Revolver' and 'Nevermind's, as an LP that is regarded to be not only sonically phenomenal, but also culturally important. It never will of course. But one can dream.... Sometimes five-stars doesn't do an album justice.
on 8 December 2009
From the outset this album is jammed full of witty and sharp rhymes that never descend into the expected contrived cliches territory that unhappily dominates a wide area of hip hop. Vast Aire's unmistakable voice and cadence serve to strengthen his metaphor-strewn lyrics, reminding me of Asia/Lyrics Born unique contribution to the Quannum collective.
But the real star of this album is El-P who single-handedly lays down a whole new template and set of values for hip hop production. Synths swirl and layers of effects create a blanket of sonic emotion, whilst the drums rap out crisp and Vadim-like rhythms that hover on the boundaries of experimental electronica. Samples are abound, but of particular note is El-P's appropriation of Philip Glass's minimal compositions (Koyaanisquatsi if I'm not mistaken). El-P manages to combine the repetitive mantra-like ghostly voices and strings from various parts of Glass's work with his non-formulaic approach to hip hop production.
There are moments of pure bliss when these elements are combined (particularly on "Straight off the D.I.C." and a secret 15th track on the CD), which allow the Glass samples to elevate further the intensity of the rhymes and beats.
Breath-taking, staggering and immense are just some of the words that describe this milestone of an album.
on 14 July 2006
I would describe this album as first of all a classic,second of all as dope.When I say it has intangible dopeness i mean that it is a dopeness that you cannot explain.Ihavent put my finger on why this album is so good.Ill give it my best shot to explain:Vast Aires lyrics are full of wit and his delivery is unbelievable,Vordul Mega's flow is amazing and the thing that is best about this album is the legend El-p's atmospheric and apocalyptic beats.This album is one of the best underground hip hop albums ever.This is abstract hip hop at its best and if you like it you should check out the other Def Jux albums as Def Jux is the best label out.You wont be dissapointed with this album.
on 28 December 2009
Imagine all of your very very best hip-hop collection in a major car crash.. ball of flames.. dead forever. Who did this??? CANNIBAL OX did this. This thing is beyond jaw-dropping
on 18 August 2003
A tour de force, an instant classic. How would I describe it?
Menacing, urban almost industrial, lyrically intelligent, musically diverse, innovative and breath-taking.
on 25 May 2004
Anything I say about this album would already have been said by the other reviewers, so I will keep it brief. I am not normally into Hip/Hop or Rap, but this album is definitely an exception. The lyrics are just pure genius, riddled with frequent refrences to modern and classic literature and films, and they deal with issues that other hip/hop artists cannot understand. I would recommend anyone considering to buy this album to do so immediatley, as it is just so amazing.
on 13 August 2012
If you like hip hop you need to buy this. It may take a while to warm on you if you're used to smooth rap and traditional beats, but it'll be worth it. Get yourself a copy, put your earphones on, crank up the bass and pay attention because Vast Aire has some seriously intellectualised rap flowing on and on. The beat are superb too and will screw with your head, in a positive way.
on 21 November 2003
I could talk for a very long time about this album, but a bit lazy so I'll keep it brief. This is the most intelligent, challenging and uncompromising hip hop record released since Company Flows Funcrusher Plus, without exception.
This record refuses to conform, Vast Aire just tears the mic up on every track, avoiding the standard battle raps, he blows the darkest regions of his brain apart all over the microphone.
The production is left to El-P, who in my opinion is the best producer in America at the moment (closely followed by Madlib and RJD2), and despite the two emcees best efforts, this is his show. Don't get me wrong, the delivery and lyricism provided by Cannibal Ox is several laps ahead of any other group, with the exception of Anti-Pop Consortium, but the production has already won the race. Tracks like "The F-Word" and "Rasberry Fields" will leave any true hip hop head salivating.
This album is a classic, one of the best debuts EVER. Music like this transcends genre, it isn't "rap", it is art, the beats, lyrics, concepts and imagination make this album a must own. Please Buy it. These dudes deserve a Nobel prize each for this.
on 15 March 2002
Like all truly great albums, you won't understand The Cold Vein on first listen. It's too complicated, the beats and lyrics don't quite make sense. Don't worry, give it time and all will become clear. Cannibal Ox have reignited a genre too concerned with girls, guns and money with their wit and verse. And while Vast Aire and Shamar flow effortlessly from track to track, credit must also go to El-P for some of the tightest production on record. From New York crackhouses, alien conspiracies, dating and back again, no subject is left untouched by Vast Aire and Shamar. Every track is gold, but the standouts for me are Iron Galaxy, The F-Word and Pigeon. For carrying on the underground hip-hop torch left by Company Flow, Cannibal Ox must be saluted. A truly life-altering LP.
on 8 August 2004
I bought this album only because i wanted something new to listen to, with this album getting five star reviews on here and it being on everybodys best of hip hop lists, i decided to get it, at first listen i didn't like the beats in other words i just couldn't get in to it, but i listen a few more times, AND HOW WRONG WAS I, i love this album and now i think beats are great , maybe it takes a few listens for some people to really apprciate this album, anyway you shouldn't let this pass you by, GET IT NOW.