Cannibal Ox, The Cold Vein

Jess Harvell

By Jess Harvell

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
Underground hip-hop’s grimy ground zero.

Cannibal Ox's The Cold Vein blew indie hip-hop wide open in 2001, collapsing the false distinction between “street” and “backpack” rap way before Kanye (and with way different results). Vast Aire and Vordul combined Raekwon's airtight, stressed-out crime dramas with crackpot Egyptology (“Pigeon”), Marvel Comics pulp (“Battle for Asgard,” possibly the first time African-American rappers referenced Norse mythology) and even a little emo (“The F-Word”). But for all the duo's rhyme virtuosity and brutalist detail — “You was a stillborn baby/ Your mother didn't want you/ But you were still born/ Boy meets world/ Of course his pops is gone” — it was El-P's production that really flipped conservative indie wigs and garnered the duo attention outside of the rap world. At the same time that producers like Swizz Beatz were using high-gloss Casio keyboards to start the party, El-P was power sanding his beats and soaking his hooks in brine. El fashioned a wheezing machinefunk full of biting synth winds blowing through subway stops and sonic quotes from Wall of Voodoo's “Mexican Radio.” The end result was a grimy classic of 21st-century NYC hip-hop that kicked off El's well-regarded Def Jux imprint and that both rappers and producer have yet to top.