Customer Review

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best album ever made, 12 Mar 2003
This review is from: The Cold Vein (Audio CD)
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.
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