Artist: Cannibal Ox
Title: "Stress Rap"
Album: The Cold Vein (2001)
Cannibal Ox's The Cold Vein is considered an underground classic, so perhaps including a track off of the project for my ongoing playlist/mixtape thing is more self-serving than anything else: most of you two are already familiar with the album, and if you aren't, you never gave a shit about Cannibal Ox anyway. But today I've chosen to highlight a song that doesn't seem to get all that much love on the blog circuit, which is ridiculous, since it's awesome.
"Stress Rap" is the ninth song on The Cold Vein, and by the time you get to this track, you've either bought into rappers Vast Aire and Vordul Mega's brand of articulate shit-talking, or you've tuned out and are still hanging to to the music, provided in its entirety by a pre-Run The Jewels El-P, who was so instrumental in the way this project sounded that he may as well have been the third member of the team (which is the main reason why I have zero interest in a Cannibal Ox album without production from El-P). Luckily for both camps, "Stress Rap" has something for everyone: the bars present are confident and cocky, with just a hint of oh-my-god-this-shit-is-depressing underneath, while El-Producto's beat is, as I wrote in my previous review, "magnificent", with Vast and Vordul walking and dodging the piano keys that are raining down upon them, while their deejay, DJ Cip One, provides light scratching.
Lyrically, Vordul Mega and Vast Aire, who will never appear on any best-of lists but have pretty good chemistry together, explore how stressful living in New York City can be, as the lure of the streets threatens to overtake every aspect of their lives. Mega, in particular, is "moving through these odd days watching every snake breathing", describing the NYC as being filled with "nothing but stressed cats" during the hook: this makes perfect sense because it is indeed fucking stressful living in New York, whether you're a hustler, an actor, a politician, or just some dude living in Brooklyn decrying the gentrification of your hood, although you may be a fan of artisinal mayonnaise, that doesn't make it right, you know?
Vast Aire goes a different route, layering his boasts with punchlines and threats, practically daring anyone to test him in a rhyme battle. He rides for his then-label boss El-P (The Cold Vein was released by Definitive Jux back when that label still existed) by dissing underground stalwart Sole, who was in the middle of a beef with the jewel runner that he lost spectacularly (that story has nothing to do with today's post, but you can find out more about it online), even dangling a carrot for religious zealots who will most certainly take offense at the line "fuck a soul (Sole), even God knows this body is hollow". He follows up all this by saying, "On the mic it's all magic, and I got short sleeves", which is possibly one of the best boasts ever delivered in a fucking rap song, so there's that.
El-P's gotten kudos from all over for his production on The Cold Vein, but while "Stress Rap" is more low-key than some of the other bangers present on the album, it still deserves attention. For fans of Run The Jewels, you may appreciate hearing a different side of his musical talent: "Stress Rap" doesn't resemble anything he's ever crafted with Killer Mike in tow. But it's perfect for Vast AIre and Vordul Mega, two NYC spitters who lucked out by having a master producer help bring out the best in them lyrically. And even though I've already made this comparison in my original write-up, that last sentence kind of makes Cannibal Ox seem like the more underground version of Group Home, which I suppose isn't really all that far off.
Anyway, listen to it. It's great.
Do you agree or disagree with this selection? Discuss below.
Cannibal Ox - The Cold Vein (review)