ARTIST: CaNNIBAL OX
ALBUM: THE COLD VEIN
LABEL (YEAR): DEFINITIVE JUX (2001)
FOR FANS OF: WU-TANG CLAN, RUN THE JEWELS, DR OCTAGON
Words by Theo Kotz
I’ll be honest and admit that I didn’t have much of a clue about Def Jux until recently. Well, I loved RJD2 as a teenager, and I’ve got a small collection of abstract indie hip-hop with Company Flow nestled between Dr Octagon and cLOUDDEAD that I break out now and again. But originally I didn’t clock the label connection and it wasn’t until Run The Jewels that I’d even heard producer EL-P’s name. I love those RTJ records, the burst-fire breakbeats and general contorted squawk of the production stripped away years of indifference like a solvent. It got me looking for the producer’s fingerprints wherever I could and to my delight there they were all over records I’d had for years, including this leviathan, The Cold Vein.
This record slew me when I first heard it. Unlike other music of that time I had discovered through research and recommendation, it came to me in isolation at a time when my life largely consisted of just that. There in the colourless fug of my existence, escape obscured by thick black smoke, I was collared and dragged into a world as murky and convoluted as my head.
The dense thicket of triple-stacked prose burned pictures of steel-blue New York into my brain. From El-P’s icy and phantasmal beats a cold and deathly city would loom in my mind’s eye, populated by Vast-Aire and Mega Vordul’s fey tales dripping in Miller-esque darkness and a real fear so rare in the bravado-laden world of millennial hip-hop. New York, that most over-subscribed font of inspiration, drawn anew; it was akin to seeing a familiar painting in the flesh for the first time. El-P’s production owed much to what the RZA had pioneered a decade earlier, heavily leaning on descending minor keys and brooding depths of bass, a relentlessly claustrophobic march punctuated by fleeting moments of flight and expansion.
Somewhere in between all of these elements: the overbearing aura of dread, the unabashedly overblown wordplay, the comic-book mythology, the skittish percussion, the high-minded opaque imagery….. somewhere Can Ox hit a sweet spot, a Bermuda triangle whose co-ordinates no-one’s managed to pin down since.