July 17, 2009

Reader Review: Cannibal Ox - The Cold Vein (May 15, 2001)

(Cannibal Ox's The Cold Vein is so nice that I had to post about it twice. In the span of one week, even. Scotty Mac's original e-mail regarding this Definitive Jux classic is what inspired me to finally give my two cents about the disc, so now it's time for his take to see the light of day. Those of you who didn't like my opinion will now have another point of view to probably ignore, but try to enjoy the writing anyway.)

Like most listeners of this album, I can’t tell you much about the initial impact of this album. All I know is that it was the first album released on producer El-P’s founded Def Jux label (as it was called back then, before Def Jam Records threatened to sue and the name was quickly shifted to Definitive Jux), and remains a critical favourite. I first heard this a couple of years ago, and was immediately hooked by El-P’s futuristic production – honestly, it sounds like the album was produced on another planet. Rappers Vast Aire and Vordul Mega complement each other well, as they both provide grimy street tales and strong, and often humorous, battle raps (according to Vast Aire, the ‘Cannibal’ part of their name is a metaphor for battling). As such, the album has sort of reached a level of cult status since it’s release, and there are a certain portion of da innanets that are literally SCREAMING (in all caps, yet) for the now disbanded Cannibal Ox to reunite. That portion are the ones who have heard the groups classic and only album, The Cold Vein.

Bring me, the Dramatic Intro Machine! A lot of comparisons have been drawn between Cannibal Ox and the Wu on da innanets. If this is true, then “Iron Galaxy” would have to be Cannibal Ox's “C.R.E.A.M.” (we've even got a little Wu sample chucked in here for good measure, and Supreme Alphabet references are sprinkled throughout the album). El-P's soundtrack sets the stage to introduce both emcees, who both deliver some of their best verses. Vordul Mega sets things off with the slamming first two verses, before Vast Aire comes barreling through like an ox out the cage. “Iron Galaxy” is worth the six minutes of your life, and we are off to a great start here.

A common theme throughout this album is that El-P's production is tits. First time listeners beware, The Cold Vein may just set a new personal standard in production, and you may find other albums/songs unlistenable in comparison. Vast and Vordul should really tag team like this more often. Oh wait...Cannibal Ox has broken up, ay? Damn, I forgot about that. Scrap that idea. Sigh.

Well, it would be kinda boring if I praised all the songs on what is obviously one of my favourite albums, so I'll go out on a limb and say that this one drags on for far too long, and has definite meh-riffic qualities to it. I've never heard of the above mentioned guests, I don't think I'll ever hear of them again, and I don't know whether I ever should. This track is also a prime example of an easy criticism to be leveled at Vordul Mega - although I'm sure he's lyrically adept, he's not too inventive with his flow, and just seems to drone on and on and on, especially when compared to his charismatic counterpart. When you start falling asleep, just nudge that skip button...

Your significant other will NOT appreciate the first line of Vast's verse here. Don't let that dishearten you, though, as this beat is fucking slamming (I don't blame my use of profanity on hip hop, I blame Max). Just you wait until El-P's massive drums kick in - it's only 40 seconds, so don't get impatient. There's some nice scratching at the end as well, by... paWl? Well, I suppose you can’t really sign to Def Jux without a totally abstract name, can you? Anyway, “A B-Boys Alpha” = Awesome stuff!

For those of you who are not keeping up, the charismatic counterpart mentioned earlier would be Mr. Vast Aire, and while his false start doesn't seem to be a crowd favourite on da innanet, I'm personally a fan of his sarcastic jab at tight-arse critics - which is my perception of the "Oh my God, he said a word twice" part. I suppose you have to hear it to understand what I'm typing about. This track has kept the momentum rolling like a shiny Soulja Boy disc rolling down Mount Everest. Sidenote: I'll attempt to minimize my quoting of some of Vast Aire's hilarious one-liners and let the listener find them for themselves; however, this won't be easy as there are plenty to choose from throughout the album.

Now what have we here? This beat manages to be gritty, spaced out, hard hitting... Adjectives can eat my left nut. Just listen to this flesh-eating MONSTER. Both MC's spit fire here, but they could spit gobbledygook and it wouldn't matter. The rapping is irrelevant and consumed by El-P's cannibalistic beat, from the eerie vhum-vhum-vhum noise on the hook, those drums, and whatever the fuck else El-P uses to make these masterpieces. This track is brilliant, and one of the many that make me feel depressed when I remember that we are probably never going to get a Can Ox album again.

Just awesome. I feel bad for taking a pot-shot at Vordul Mega earlier, so I'll mention that he sounds really good over this beat. The target audience of Vast Aire's verse has left me scratching my head though, which 12 year old is listening to THIS? The poor bugger is probably shit scared right now! El-P has seen the novelty in altering vocals on the last two tracks, a good seven years before lil' T-wanye. Now please don't take that as a comparison between the two - THAT would be blasphemous.

By far the most accessible, and one of the best tracks that The Cold Vein has to offer. El-P has really struggled to put a step wrong so far on this album, and the production here is just beautiful; in a cold, I’m floating through space and it’s peaceful, but my head is about to explode-type way. However, the real star is Vast Aire, who is basically given a solo track (Vordul handles hook duties here). When Vast Aire has a particular topic to focus his raps on, most notably on “Iron Galaxy” and “The F-Word”, he has an almost poetic structure to his verses (please don't ask me to expand on that idea - he just tells his stories really well, okay?). The subject matter is original and, for most of us, relatable - breaking the fine line between best friend and girl friend. As I mentioned earlier, this track is far more accessible and is an easier listen than most of The Cold Vein, so I would suggest this track as an appropriate starting point for first time listeners. Bonus: You'll want to track down the RJD2 remix, which Max might provide a link for. If Max is too lazy, the track is, like most things, easily available on da innanet (why is it always ‘da innanet’ – damn you, Peedi Crakk!). (No links unless either RJD2 or El-P send me the track personally, but you can click here to at least listen to the remix.) While the remix does not top the original, and it would be criminal to think otherwise, it is an excellent track and deserves your time and is worth the space on your hard drive.

After the last 5 blazing tracks, I feel the momentum kinda dips a little here, but not too much. (I still disagree, but it is what it is.) This track is still cool. I could imagine Vordul and Vast Aire bumping this while at work at the local Maccas. Vordul is working the deep fryer, while Vast Aire is flipping beef patties humming-bird style - 70 times in one second. Crap, I quoted Vast Aire! Screw it. Tell me you didn't rewind that line when you first heard it.

In all seriousness, I don't know what Vordul Mega is up to, but I'm pretty sure Vast Aire's doing alright. He released an album last year, Deuces Wild. While "The Man Without Fear" and the Pete Rock collaboration are blazing, Deuces Wild doesn't really compare to, say, The Renaissance. Not a lot does. My favourite track on The Renaissance would have to be "Move/Renaissance Rap" - ridiculous dopeness. Does Q-Tip make reference to Vast Aire on "Renaissance Rap" - to quote, "We expand like Aire/we're Vast indeed?" Or have I got that wrong? Hmmm... If you're listening to "Battle for Asgard" while reading this review, then a guest rapper who yells waaay too much is gonna break your concentration right about...NOW.

A killer Vast Aire solo cut. Vast goes cannibalistic here, and proves that he one extremely proficient shit-talker. He also has an unmistakable aire of confidence about him; he's a funny bloke and damn well knows it. The beat is a winner (as always), and we have a nice Guru sample (Gangstarr’s “You Know My Steez”) to boot. Apologies for the terrible puns, I’m getting tired.

El-P steps up from behind the boards and jumps on the mic, which is good news, as the man usually has something interesting to say. By far the best guest appearance on the album. This track used to give me a headache, but it has since grown on me. Listening to this again, I reckon that M.O.P would sound awesome on this track, maybe they could do a remix in the same vein as Jay-Z’s “You Don’t Know”. That would be sweet.

Cannibal Ox says NO to drugs! No, seriously, if you are attempting to discourage your kids from abusing drugs, just quote Vast’s disturbing rectum line: that should sort them out. Vordul Mega does the droning thing again, and as a result, he almost puts himself to sleep. Apparently El-P had to switch up the beat to drown out the sound of Vordul Mega snoring. This was a good move from El-P, as the second beat takes the rest of this somewhat weaker track to the cleaners.

Rap songs with extended metaphors can work really well, in this case relating, um, birds to people and a pigeon’s life to that of a human, and the results are surprisingly good. Both Vast and Vordul drop great verses, and El-P’s production, which is really eerie and spaced out by now, fits perfectly. A lot of the songs on this album let the instrumental play for a fair while, resulting in more songs around the 6 minute mark than most hip hop albums.

The next track isn’t actually listed on the back cover of my copy of The Cold Vein, but Vast Aire makes reference to the track in the liner notes, and the track ties in the overall themes of the album far too well for bonus track status:

See how the bird metaphor is elevated here? The transformation from “Pigeon” to phoenix? Clever stuff! This is an absolute high and positive note to end what is a Liquid Swords-cold album, both Vordul and Vast contribute great ending verses, especially Vast’s highly visual description of ascending as a phoenix, which you don’t hear everyday. If this doesn’t sound very good on paper, I hope it motivates you to check this song out. Somehow, after an album of practically faultless production work, El-P manages to one-up himself and provides one of his best beats ever. Between this track and “Pigeon”, this album has one of the best finishes to any hip hop album.

FINAL THOUGHTS: An argument that has crossed my mind lately, and will be a point of discussion at the end year, is; What are the best hip hop albums this decade? Which albums are the exceptions to the general consensus that hip hop is on the decline? For the record, my top 3 offerings to such a list (in no order) at present are The Cold Vein, The Blueprint and Supreme Clientele. While The Blueprint and Supreme Clientele are centered around one universal fact – that both respective emcees are self aware of their potential gargantuan influence in the rap game, and are rapping their asses off – The Cold Vein offers an entire new world of futuristic production style while introducing two very competent emcees. Sure, I had a few criticisms of Vordul Mega, but when he’s having a good day, his street tales are comparable to the likes of Raekwon. But rapping is not all about lyrics, charisma really is just as important, and Vast Aire brings charisma and punch lines to the table in spades. As I mentioned earlier, it sounds like El-P produced this album on another planet. I’ve always felt that there are somewhat similarities in production between The Cold Vein and ATLiens (which is actually my favourite album, my bad Max), so if you are like me and prefer ATLiens over Aquemini, you may enjoy The Cold Vein just as much as I do.

BUY OR BURN? This album will not be for everybody, and The Cold Vein has missteps. However, it can open your hip hop tastes to a whole new world, that is, the works of Def Jux artists. There are also enough ridiculously good tracks here to recommend a purchaseit will not be a waste of your money. As a bonus, if enough people purchase this album, we may even convince the members of Cannibal Ox to eat humble pie and reunite(!) If you have never heard anything released by Def Jux before, I recommend downloading “The F-Word” and giving that track a listen, it will give you a fair idea of what to expect.

BEST TRACKS: “Iron Galaxy”; “A B-Boys Alpha”; “Straight Off The D.I.C”; “Vein”; “The F-Word”; “Real Earth”; “Pigeon”; “Scream Phoenix”

- Scotty Mac

(If you enjoyed today's contribution, be sure to leave comments below. Oh, and you should probably just buy the album, too. No, really. I mean it. Here's a link to my original post from a few days ago, if you're so inclined.)


  1. oh i must say, i rewinded stress multiple times after i heard the hummingbird line. that shit blew my mind, same goes for this entire cd


  3. also, you thought el-p's appearance on ridiculoid was better than "a lot of cats pop shit/i pop apocalypse/topple propaganda force fed to the populace" come on man, be reasonable. plus vordul ripped the fuck out of that track like there's no today. i should really stop leaving comments before i finish reading reviews but whatever bruh

  4. and the f-word is lightyears ahead of anything def jux ever released, yes i'm including aesop's first two albums. def jux is the boringest shittiest of shit aside from the cold vein, float, and labor days

  5. good review max i was wondering when your gonna do the blu & exile album cuz youve been saying your gonna do it for awhile

  6. Scotty MacJuly 17, 2009

    protoman, I said that EL-P's appearance, was the best guest appearance on the album, and made no comment on Vast or Vordul's verses. My review is long enough, let alone quoting every great one liner on this album.

    Also, "ISWYD" and "None Shall Pass" are top 5 hip hop albums of '07. If you can name 5 albums better, I'll read them, and laugh.

    Thanks for reading (sorta)!

  7. worst album cover ever.


  8. protoman - your comments throughout the reading experience are much appreciated. Feel free to keep it up.

  9. i liked the cover for the cold vein

  10. @scotty
    1. neither vordul nor vast spit those lines
    2. you commented on how vordul "drones on"
    3. 2007 was an awful year for hip hop, i can't even name one good album

    and gee, thanks, max :D

  11. Scotty MacJuly 18, 2009

    "2007 was an awful year for hip hop, i can't even name one good album"

    Touche, but I still stand by my views on the two albums I mentioned earlier. Each to their own I suppose.

  12. Scotty MacJuly 18, 2009

    and thanks to everyone for the feedback on the review!

  13. I find it odd that you seem to know about Def Jux but don't know who Alaska is- considering his group Hangar 18 put out 2 releases on the label and he is still making music with them. I think his new EP is being bundled with Def Jux Presents 4. I know you were late to Cannibal Ox, but I think many of us are aware of Cannibal Ox coming our of Atoms Fams and who all/most of those guys are. To this day I really like Alaska's guest verse. I assume the "yelling" guest you refer to is C Rayz Walz. yet another guy most "jukies" are very familiar with.

    Vordul's part on Painkillers is another highlight for me.. Nothing he does puts me to sleep and lyrically in some ways he really destroys Vast. Vordul is better when he is on.

    At the time this was released there was a lot of praise for El-p's production from some unlikely sources ( everyone from Mos Def to Burt Bacharach praised it), and I know a lot of people who play Oxtrumentals ( the instrumental only version) exclusively or more frequently. I own copies of both and will play either depending on my mood or surroundings.

    As far as the impact back in 2001 it was felt on an underground level. This was the first release for Def Jux and it wasn't like today where you can find it in Best Buy the day of release. It was a slow builder that sold through word of mouth and reputation. It sold around 20,000 copies the first year on the way to I think over 100,000 plus tens of thousands of F Word singles. This and Labor Days really set the label up as far as promotion and distribution and the ability to sign certain artists,etc. And it gave Vast and Vordul the ability to convince other labels to put out music that's nowhere near the quality. Not to mention the fact people still want a followup and get emotionally involved in petty beefs between the players.

  14. I can't believe neither you or Max named 'Ox Out The Cage' as one of the best tracks. It's one of my favorite songs [i]ever[/i].

  15. rossekutMay 20, 2011

    Best album ever, and all the people involved in making this happen, it's real,raw and timeless pure poetry. I havent heard anything better than this, defjux, atoms family. Its what happened in that particular period in time, in NY. Shit like that might never happen again. And i don't see that as a bad thing, it's a rare diamond in hiphop history.


  16. rossekutMay 20, 2011

    how about a review about,
    aesop's Music for earthworms?
    Vast Aire's scissor tongue?

    realy digging those
    like to see what people have to bullshit about that

  17. One of the few hip-hop albums that actually hit home with me.

    The Cold Vein, Illmatic, Enter The Wu Tang and Funcrusher Plus along with The Low End theory are a handful of greats.

  18. This album was the only thing i would listen to for MONTHS i just couldnt get over how awesome it was. gotta be one of the best albums of the decade, of any genre