How El-P and Cannibal Ox Crafted a Cult Classic

DJ Pizzo, writing for Cuepoint, on Medium:

With Company Flow disbanded, it would take into the next year for Def Jux to get off the ground and plant their flag with a full-length album release. But on May 15th, 2001, the label would present Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein, introducing the world to rappers Vast Aire and Vordul Mega. Produced entirely by El-P, the album would set the stage for Definitive Jux’s future. It was critically hailed by Rolling Stone, Stylus, The Village Voice, and made Pitchfork’s top albums of the 2000s list. Notably, if you Google “top hip-hop albums of 2001,” Google ranks it as #3, following Jay-Z’s The Blueprint (#1) and Nas’ Stillmatic (#2).

Released just four months before the Twin Towers fell, it was as if the sound of The Cold Vein accurately predicted a post-apocalyptic New York City, one where it didn't matter whether Jay-Z or Nas was king. Even on that double 12-inch released a year before the attack, the cover artwork featured two figures—presumably Can Ox’s Vast and Vordul—running through the narrow streets of Harlem while the sky burns and the buildings turn to ash. When it finally happened in reality on September 11, 2001—the same day Jay-Z dropped The Blueprint and officially began a battle for rap supremacy with Nas on “The Takeover”—it was as if everything Cannibal Ox and El-P had predicted on The Cold Vein had come to pass.

It doesn’t mean it’s perfect, and it doesn’t mean it’s for everyone (and I think this article undersells the miracle that is an indie label as small as Def Jux ((I went to a Def Jux label party in 2004, that’s how small it was)) selling 100,000 copies of something), but I’m still yet to ever hear a hip hop album that sounds like The Cold Vein. If you’re a “Music Person,” and you’ve never heard it, I highly recommend it.