Thursday, 4 February 2016

Cannibal Ox - The Cold Vein (2001)

Here's yet another one I missed due to it being exactly the sort of thing you would like. The actual thrust of the recommendation was I expect you must be listening to a lot of Cannibal Ox at the moment seeing as that's the shit which those of us with our fingers on the hip-hop pulse presently be banging and all, unless your finger actually isn't on the pulse because you only like commercial rap and the sort of stuff which chavs listen to because you think it's controversial, but that probably isn't the case so, Cannibal Ox - ain't they great!?

Well, that's how it sounded to me.

I'd never heard of Cannibal Ox. I regularly read Hip-Hop Connection and listened to the wireless and browsed the racks at record stores, but I'd never heard of Cannibal Ox because I've generally liked what I've liked without necessarily feeling a need to keep up with the latest sounds for the sake of it; and I'm pretty sure Cannibal Ox were turning heads mainly at the offices of Wire magazine, which has never really been my one-stop shop for beats and rhymes that be rockin' it hot. The Wire seal of approval seemed to suggest rap for people who, when it comes down to it, don't actually like rap, meaning Vast Aire and the other guy were most likely responsible black men with a positive message for the kids on the street and none of those street credibility words, so far as I could tell. Should Cannibal Ox deign to drop their sciences at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, there would at least be no need to quadruple the security arrangements for fear of all their working class friends trying to nick the fixtures or cause a rumpus because, not being racist or nuffink, but well - you know...

Eventually I realised that at least some of the initial fuss had been generated by Cannibal Ox having been produced by El Producto and promoted through his Definitive Jux label; and eventually fifteen years later I pick this up at the local CD Exchange and begin to see the error of my ways.

The Cold Vein takes a few plays before it begins to sink in, but soon reveals itself as right up there with other productions by the same guy. Musically it's ugly, primitive, dirty, and discordant, the spawn of a tornado blowing through a junkyard full of early Nocturnal Emissions albums and accidentally forming an hours worth of beats, and yet the whole has that peculiar, angular beauty of which more or less only El Producto seems capable - a weird, occasionally almost ethereal majesty coming together from God only knows where. The man is a fucking genius. Furthermore, this being production undertaken for somebody else's album, he seems to have reined in some of the weirder excesses you tend to find on his own records, the stuff that sounds like Nurse With Wound in a hoodie holding a spray can; which isn't to say The Cold Vein is smooth, so much as that it's less obviously mutated than Fantastic Damage, hence I suppose why it took a few plays to sink in.

As rappers, I don't find Vast Aire and Vordul Mega quite so listenable as El Producto, although they clearly share common stylistic ground and I can see why they all worked so well together. Lyrically they seem more personal, more realistic, and less prone to disturbing flights of paranoia; which is fine. So okay - I grudgingly admit that I see what all the fuss was about, at long last. It's just a shame the Wire never seemed to bother with all the other stuff over the years which has been just as good as this.

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