Cannibal Ox – The Cold Vein
Released May 15th, 2001 on Definitive Jux Records
Produced by El-P
A long, long time ago – right after the Wu-Tang Clan as a whole started slipping, and right before Jay-Z’s climb to supremacy with Kanye West – there was still gritty, grimy hip hop coming out of the streets of New York City. One such fiercely independent and largely unrecognized duo was Cannibal Ox, consisting of Vast Aire and Vordul Mega; these were not names to slap on posters and sell to suburban white kids across America, so after The Cold Vein they basically disappeared until 2015. The real heads kept their memory alive, though; they made their name on this album and it’s a testament to how strong that goodwill was that the release of their follow-up fourteen years later was grounds for excitement. Their focus was on hardcore lyricism; their flows were reminiscent of older Wu but without the non sequiturs that sometimes stud those classic tracks. There are, of course, any number of MCs with great lyrics and flows that have been plowed under by time, so what makes The Cold Vein such a perennially hard-hitting touchstone for independent hip hop heads? To answer that, I’ll quote from the inimitable Michael Render:
Producer gave me a beat
Said it’s the beat of the year
I said El-P didn’t do it so get the fuck outta here(Killer Mike)
Former Company Flow member and future jewel-runner El-P both produced on The Cold Vein and was the label head for Def Jux. His production style on the album and his voice popping up here and there should be instantly familiar to people who came of age well after The Cold Vein but just in time for Run The Jewels. The style that he put forward on The Cold Vein would be the same style he used first to produce Killer Mike’s R. A. P. Music and then from 2013 onward Run The Jewels records. It’s one that’s served him well over the years and The Cold Vein is a stellar example as to why: big slamming beats with psychedelic noise making laced among them, like you’re floating among thunderheads that are popping off all around you.