Artist: Cannibal Ox

Date Released: May 15, 2001

Label: Def Jux

Produced By: El-P


  1. Iron Galaxy
  2. Ox Out the Cage
  3. Atom
  4. A B-Boy's Alpha
  5. Raspberry Fields
  6. Straight Off the D.I.C.
  7. Vein
  8. The F-Word
  9. Stress Rap
  10. Battle of Asgard
  11. Real Earth
  12. Ridiculoid
  13. Painkillers
  14. Pigeon


At the beginning of the new millennium, the rap game started to make a descent towards becoming a shallow and redundant genre. In response to this, the underground rap scene began to flourish and release a number of new and exciting artists and albums that completely demolished the existing rap song template and jolting the genre into a whole different dimension. One of the labels at the center of this revolution was NYC’s Definitive Jux, the brainchild of beatmaker/emcee El-P. Within a very short period of time, the label dropped 5 albums from 5 very different artists the not only solidified Def Jux’s position at the top of indie rap, but also boosted these artists to solid careers. Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein, Aesop Rock’s Labor Days, El-P’s Fantastic Damage, Mr. Lif’s I Phantom and RJD2’s The Horror all made significant and warranted noise in underground rap and skewed the direction of the genre permanently. 4 out of the 5 artists went on to release more solid albums, but none that came close to matching the same level of intensity as their initial one (save RJD2’s Since We Last Spoke). Only Cannibal Ox, which released the first of the series, restrained from releasing another album… or any other music for that matter.

Harlem natives Vordul Megilah and Vast Aire had been in the NYC underground hip-hop scene for a good 5 years before they teamed up to form Cannibal Ox. As part of The Atoms Family, they made noise, but nothing too significant outside of the city. For their debut (and only) album, The Cold Vein, they enlisted Def Jux mongrel El-P for beats and production and it may have been their smartest move yet. El-P’s industrial pulsing beats and inventive production was the perfect match to the harsh, abstract street rhymes of the duo. The result was a rather long, 14 songs that usually clocked in around 5 minutes, full play that was only fit for the NYC streets if not the sewers. Every snare rattles the bones and every devastating lyric seems to pierce the soul and leave the listener mentally unsettled if not wide-eyed at the perspective given by Can Ox.

Vast Aire is definitely the initial focus of attention while listening to the album. His flow is slow but meticulous. Every word seems to be intricately picked out and debated over for maximum what-the-fuck effect. His style is reminiscent of a more pessimistic MF Doom, in that he utilizes simple word play to make rhymes that come off insanely clever or completely ridiculous. For example, “You were a still born baby/your mother didn’t want you/but you were still born.” Vordul Megilah is a worthy counterpoint, able to match the intensity and bring a variety of flows and rhythms to the table. While he does not concentrate as much on annunciation as Vast, his slight lisp and monotone flow comes off almost like an early Method Man. He does bring the same amount of smarts and cleverness though, spitting rhymes like “We pigeons turn phoenix with open minds.” El-P does a wonderful job with beats. He keeps them raw, almost sounding mechanical, while keeping subtle jazzy undertones to keep the attention and bring out the utmost emotion to each song. The overall effect brings an almost uncanny comparison to NYC, from afar it seems like an overwhelming concrete jungle of dark corners and rough streets; but if you are able to see underneath all that, there is an entire world of enticing possibilities and awkwardly beautiful scenes that can only be appreciated by the people that live there.

Released at the time it was, The Cold Vein became comparably the Illmatic or 36 Chambers of its scene. It was revolutionary and extremely influential on all underground rap from then on. It also boosted the careers of El-P and Vast Aire, along with putting Def Jux on the map. Vast has gone on to becoming a coveted guest artist along with putting out a decent solo album, Look Mom.. No Hands (though he works a lot better as a contributer) and a double disc remix album called The Way of the Fist. Vordul Megilah has not done as much, not really sure why, but probably has something to do with the fact that it’s tough to pronounce and remember his name. According to Can Ox they are not broken up, though it has been 5 years since The Cold Vein dropped. The question is now, will a follow-up give them a greater legacy… or establish them as one hit wonders? Mpardaiolo