Cannibal Ox brings its 14-years-in-the-making sophomore album to Santa Cruz
When indie/hip-hop blog Pigeons and Planes published an article on the “30 Best Underground Hip-Hop Albums,” it put The Cold Vein by Brooklyn duo Cannibal Ox at No. 2.
But that wasn’t anything underground hip-hop fans didn’t already know. The Cold Vein has been universally adored since its release in 2001. It’s a brilliantly produced record with lush, foreboding post-apocalyptic beats by the consistently groundbreaking El-P, known nowadays as one half of Run the Jewels. Emcees Vordul Mega and Vast Aire take naturally to the glitchy boom-bap landscape with verses toggling between bleak realism and surreal abstract poetry. Fans, almost immediately, awaited a follow-up—which took 14 years to finally come to fruition.
“We didn’t just disappear for 14 years,” Aire explains, regarding the sophomore record Blade of Ronin released this past March. “Vordul put out solo music. I put out solo music, and with other groups. I think Cold Vein took off and it blew up and people expected an immediate follow-up. If that was my only group, I would understand. We don’t like all of that music being bypassed,” Aire says.
The duo continued working together, often with guest verses on each other’s records, and occasionally joining each other on stage. They’d suggested for years that a new album was on the way, but made an official announcement in 2012. It took them almost two and a half years to complete Blade of Ronin.
“It had to be right. It did have to be on our terms. People were begging us to do it for years. But there was no intention on rushing this project. We are real artists. You’re going to get some stubborn reactions, like a master chef when he’s baking. Everybody is prancing around the kitchen, but we know when the cake is ready,” Aire says.
There are significant similarities to The Cold Vein, and Aire and Mega’s distinct chemistry shines through. They bring the jumble of sci-fi vocabulary, gritty street life and high-minded philosophy to Blade of Ronin, but the beats are darker and starker, as they worked with producer Cosmiq (and Black Milk on one track), due to their public falling out with El-P some years ago.
It’s almost odd that they would continue the project without El-P, as he was a major part of pitching the project to the two emcees, who he knew from the Atoms Family collective. The Cold Vein became the premiere (and in ways, defining) release for El-P’s indie label Definitive Jux. The dark, paranoid imagery of New York, which was oddly released just four months before 9-11, struck a chord with a lot of folks for its blunt realism and profound sadness.
“I pay attention to my surroundings, just everyday experiences, current events, maybe something that happened with a close friend, jokes. All of that influences what we’re writing,” Aire says.
Since its release six months ago, Blade of Ronin hasn’t really had the same momentous effect as The Cold Vein, though Cannibal Ox fans seem happy with it. The new record is sprawling and dense, but lacking El-P’s lush beats, and the verses actually seem more grounded in reality and reflective in tone, which takes away from the mind-bending nature of the music.
The duo is happy to be back, and they’re excited about the new direction of the new record. As much as they were surprised by the enormous response their first record got, they don’t seem to mind not receiving the same level of accolades as The Cold Vein.
“Cannibal Ox is back to take over. We’re here to make some noise,” Aire says. “Just like with The Cold Vein, people are going to have to catch up to Blade of Ronin. Just when you thought you figured us out, that you knew our style, our style is different. You never know how we’re going to come.”
INFO: 8:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 6, Catalyst Atrium, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. $13/adv, $15/door. 429-4135
WHAT DOES THE OX SAY? Cannibal Ox perform Tuesday, Oct. 6, at the Catalyst Atrium.