Cannibal Ox (The Cold Vein) - Groennfell Meadery (Valkyrie’s Choice)
The Cold Vein
In documentary footage from early 2002, with the camera roving around producer El-P’s hot couch style New York apartment, the casually bedheaded hip hop maven laughs about hunkering down and recording music during the “coming apocalypse”, all the while with a cigarette stuck between two fingers like an unnoticed fixture of his very being. This was but a few months after 9/11 (though The Cold Vein was made prior), when encroaching hellfire and surveillance ubiquity was apparent. The glistening, freezing, computerized panic attacks of the beats he would construct for rap duo Cannibal Ox’s debut LP come across as a textbook example of the cognisant artist’s keen ability to internalize the external and afterwards eject it back from whence it came as something distinctly other from its point of inspiration. Nothing expresses this better and more succinctly than the record’s iconic and introductory clip of dialogue from The Big Chill: “Yeah tell me about it. It's a cold world out there. Sometimes I think I'm getting a little frosty myself."
Rapper Vast Aire talks of coming up in an “average, decent New York ghetto”, casually and explicitly detailing the survival instincts naturally imbued in those living in and with poverty simply through day-to-day experience. Vast connects the unceasing undercurrent of stress to the resultant disconnection from the tangible nature of time – an existential weightlessness that we know is justified by studies that allude time and time again to anxiety’s deterioration of memory, as well as the woozying statistic outcomes of how often someone from nothing actually winds up with something.
by Groennfell Meadery
Based on Viking-era ceremonial meads, Valkyrie’s Choice is fermented completely dry and outrageously drinkable, both beautiful in color and powerful in taste fitting of the name Valkyrie's choice.
May the Battle for Asgard be sweet!
If the music of Cannibal Ox seems inaccessible and alienating, there is no more illuminating companion piece than this documentary film, titled The Making of “The Cold Vein” and readily available on YouTube. It does a remarkable job not only of documenting the time and the place and the event but of presenting visual ideas that perfectly express this crucial link between exterior and interior. From the disheveled streets to El-P’s claustrophobic apartment, to the way that the environment dictates the nature of the art and what it expresses: it unequivocally equates the city itself with the record that it was essential in the birthing of.
Even the mystifying absence of Vordul Mega, the second half of Cannibal Ox, is an amusingly unexplained anomaly befitting a rapper of such astute discombobulation amid shadowy intrigue. The heart of Cannibal Ox is the jousting rapport between the two MC’s. This dynamic serves to form a relationship that embodies something of the split into stylistic disparities that underground rap would come to follow. Vast Aire’s verbose and articulate version of punchline braggadocio still stands as something of the pinnacle of the form. Meanwhile, the type of abstruse puzzlebox lyricism practiced by Vordul Mega would become a hallmark of left-of-center rap, perhaps most notably through Aesop Rock (the master wordsmith who appears in the aforementioned documentary: sitting on the couch and playing Grand Theft Auto III, delivering a freestyle that will unhinge your jaw, speaking candidly about his depression and panic attacks.)
Vast’s verses, defined by varied rhyme schemes and his signature breathy, idiosyncratic delivery, sculpt lines to cut like razorblades. He is incisive where Vordul is guttural, and vice versa. Mega’s performances work best as onslaughts of syllables, long strings of stream-of-consciousness delivered in harsh and popping flows that hypnotize and befuddle. Their content and linguistic style is heady and poetically inclined, whereas Vast’s comparably sonorous and relaxed voice delivers one brutal, obscene and fiery punchline after another. It is a sort of clashing crossroads for the form, at an apex mid-fission by perfected disciplines – the type of lightning-in-a-jar fork that appeared for avant-garde jazz on John Coltrane’s seminal Ascension, where the big band format allowed players who were focusing on the stretching of melodic and harmonic boundaries to meet face to face and in antagonistic cooperation with those who were instead deeply exploring the textural and sonic qualities of their given instruments.
Much has been said about the way El-P’s production on the record seizes the mantle defined by RZA’s dusty and cold 36 Chambers beats, coupling that signature New York grime with a science-fiction grandeur evocative of the sounds of Blade Runner as wrought by Vangelis. But El-P’s dystopic soundscape of N.Y. is more like the Blade Runner-conterminous Sprawl of William Gibson – swaggering, cybernetic, heady, acknowledging the fetishization of a retrofuturist aesthetic as essential to a conceptualization of the ‘new’. Similarly, the instrumental for ‘Painkillers’ sounds like a Prince Paul beat that’s been canned and pickled in lactic acid.
We have paired The Cold Vein with Groennfell Meadery’s notably pared down Valkyrie’s Choice. This original craft mead boasts an unadorned ingredients list: water, honey, potassium sorbate (to protect flavor), sulfites. Fermented completely dry to arrive at a comfortable 6.9% ABV. The quality of the honey used in the production of this mead is apparent: Valkyrie’s Choice is sweet and uncomplicated sipping, rich and gentle. In a perhaps overcrowded craft beer market, the unique and decidedly different Groennfell deliver something as delightful as it is refreshing. May the Battle for Asgard be sweet!
Even among the wall-to-wall genius of The Cold Vein, Cannibal Ox’s magnum opus is nearly indisputably the climactic ‘Pigeon’. The track features two extended verses, standing in as two sides of the same coin. In each we see the clearest expression of Vast and Mordul’s dueling approaches to lyricism, united by a shared expressive metaphor that sees them taking up the mantle of the grime-encrusted messenger birds that lend the track its title. On the production side, El-P completely transforms a sample from duo Beaver & Krause’s 1971 new age LP Gandharva, anchoring it with a bass lick borrowed from Jaco Pastorius. The distortion drenched drones of the synthesizer progression trumpet in a regal indifference to the cluttering, clicking, jittering boom bap basement beneath. It sounds like the whirring and honking and striding above-ground harmonizing with the rumbling and clacking and sparking subway beneath. The sound evokes a swirl of that anxiety-laced panic, and the showcased vocal performances become the stately and expansive flights of a bird. Cannibal Ox is of and for every being who survives through and among the chaos that he calls his home. With The Cold Vein they created one of the most essential and ecstatically inspired hip hop records ever concocted.