With the "East Coast/West Coast" battle-ax long since buried, the future of inventive hip-hop has been invested in the skills of a "no-coast" underground. Currently, the hottest flash in the game is Cannibal Ox, a Harlem duo that has set a new standard in hip-hop with its long-awaited debut LP The Cold Vein.
The duo spins tales of drudgery, economic imprisonment, and spiritual bankruptcy, but never falls victim to stale rhythms or clichéd one-upmanship. What prevents The Cold Vein from wallowing in a depressing mire is its demand that listeners emancipate themselves, or "Scream Phoenix" -- Cannibal Ox's trademark phrase adopted as a cry for social uprising. The album itself draws from two things: the nebulous chaos of New York City, fused with the dynamic production of Company Flow veteran El-P. MCs Vast Aire and Vordul Megala complement each other; Vordul spits his lyrics nonstop, light-years ahead of established MCs who've made their name with similarly cracked flows (Busta Rhymes comes to mind). Vast replies in a steady pace while never endangering the momentum.
So, what about the beats? As a producer, El-P is without peer. His skittered rhythms (imagine flash-frozen steel crumbling under the crawl of transparent insects) provide a perfect layer of mild paranoia for Can Ox's rhymes. The effect he creates is almost funereal; he is undeniably inventive (who else could so deftly incorporate a Wall of Voodoo sample into the syncopated nightmare "Iron Galaxy"?). His beats add an undercurrent of poignancy to Can Ox's bleak landscapes.
This album is one of those rare slabs that crosses borders and will excite fans of unapologetic music -- people who understand that some records are infinitely more rewarding after exacting a pound of the listeners' flesh.
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