It’s amazing how much faith people are able to lose just at the thought of a Hip-Hop group not having the same producer as they once did. Doesn’t that speak volumes about the faith they have in the MCs alone? It shouldn’t do. Cannibal Ox’s debut album ‘The Cold Vein’ dropped in 2001 is pretty much known as an underground classic for many people. With Icy production handled by El-P (of Run The Jewels fame), the rap duo featuring Vast Aire and Vordul Mega (both named after Transformers characters) took nerdy rap to a whole new level as they traded nimble bars about the streets. They drew influence from Hip-Hop greats such as Wu-Tang Clan and had them just rapping entertainingly throughout the entire long product.
Since then the duo have fallen out with El-P and rumours of them putting out new material has been dating back to 2011. But for a duo that were so consistently entertaining it’s been interesting to hear ‘Will they pull it off without El-P?’ thrown around so much. It’s funny because the production on here is actually fantastic in places and follows and extremely similar formula to the debut. The production is handled by BILL COSMIQ and Black Milk has his hands on one track too and considering the album is 19 tracks long is admirable to see that COSMIQ pulls through. They use old soul samples much like the way they did on the first album over boom bap drum beats. It’s consistently entertaining like on ‘Blade: The Art Of Ox’ which has these nice little guitar samples and harmonious soul snippets. It’s never quite as atmospheric as ‘The Cold Vein’ was and the vocals are a lot more clear and pushed forward in the mixing than before.
But this brings me to the part where annoyingly the doubters got it half right, because unfortunately, Vast Aire and Vordul Mega don’t quite pull it off somehow. On the surface level they seem to be all there. The nerdy flows and a subject matter that’s constantly refers to martial arts and the core theme of survival. But, these topics only ever feel half covered. The songs rely far too much on the hooks compared to their previous material and as a duo the chemistry feels slightly off. Vordul Mega brings some very good lyrics from time to time tackling themes that are extremely nerdy and out there, yet his delivery is so unbelievably subdued and relaxed that it’s hard to get into it. That’s made a lot worse by the fact that on the other side Vast Aire’s delivery is extremely entertaining which is why he’s on a lot of the hooks yet the lyrics feel uninspired. He delivers so many odd punchlines that don’t quite connect most of the time including some strange one about touching Pikachu.
It feels like the duo just didn’t connect enough during the making of the album to make something that actually feels coherent. This is evident on the song ‘Iron Rose’ where some of the bars that have them trying to reference iron feel like such a strain. MF DOOM on the track easily has the best verse on there and the guests throughout the entire album really shine giving extremely entertaining verses. Elzhi, U-God and many others break up the monotony of this album’s 19 tracks. each of them making it somewhat much more enjoyable to listen to. It kills me to say that so much has changed in the 14 years since Cannibal Ox’s last album. I hate to give it to the doubters, but god damn it, they got it right. But it wasn’t even the absence of El-P that killed it.
Best Tracks: Iron Rose, Carnivorous, Blade: The Art Of Ox