While it can be said that many underground crews have been floundering in the gray matter of indie hip-hop, Cannibal Ox filled that area in with 2001's The Cold Vein for El P's Def Jux imprint. The music press had been quick to point out that Vast Aire and Vordul Megilah's attack is at times highly derivative of the Wu Tang Clan, and the point is valid. Thankfully, El P (a serious candidate for producer of the year) lays out some of the most lushly intriguing sounds and beats that feel as herky-jerky as they sound gilded with silk. It's a bit misleading to harp on the Wu factor that The Cold Vein contains since this record's content is immensely original and the Wu references that seem present are in the enlightened gloomy flow and psychedelic backdrops -- not, (with all due respect) in the kitschy hooks and unfocused rhymes that Wu Tang are also known for. Aire and Megilah swirl around in b-boy posturing and obtuse nonsense as their innovation rears its head at every corner with scatter-shot lines like: "And I ain't dealin' with no minimum wage/I'd rather construct rhymes on a minimum page," and "You were a still-born baby, your mother didn't want you but you were still-born." While there's not a throwaway track per se, the album's length does run a bit long (at least they didn't make it into a double CD as a lot of rap acts have been known to do). To their immense credit, Cannibal Ox and El P have assembled one of the most listenable hip-hop albums in far too long. Headz be aware: Independent hip-hop has a new voice and this is your beat fix for 2001.
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AllMusic Review by Sam Samuelson