Show Review: Cannibal Ox
The world wasn’t ready for a Cannibal Ox comeback. In 2001, the hip-hop duo of Vast Aire and Vordul Mega emerged from the underground with their debut album The Cold Vein. Over fifteen tracks, the two MCs’ vivid lyrics painted an intrcate image of urban poverty, while El-P laid a backdrop of haunting beats that eerily predicted the cilmate of post – 9/11 New York. Though the album was praised widely by critics, Cannibal Ox dismissed rumors of a second LP, and the group quietly faded out of attention as mysteriously as they appeared. Since its release, the landscape of hip-hop has changed, with warmer soul-inspired sounds being favored over the icy boom-bap of acts like Cannibal Ox. But on Friday night at Mr. Small’s Theater, the duo proved their durability at the release show for their long-awaited follow-up album *Blade of the Ronin*, taking the hip-hop world by surprise once again.
Local hip-hop crew PhonetX opened the show, followed by the laid-back rapping of Pittsburgh’s Hubbs and the duo Dos Noun & BZE. NYC supergroup Crimson Godz prepped the audience for Cannibal Ox, who joined the five-man squad onstage at the end of the night. A series of tracks from their The Cold Vein opened the set, bursting out with “Ox Out of the Cage” and moving through into more fan favorites. Cuts from their new album were well-recieved as well. Songs like “Opposite of Desolate”, “Screm Phoenix”, and especailly “Iron Rose” have a much harder, full-bodied sound than those from The Cold Vein, but the atmosphere in Mr. Small’s was not aggressive at all but relaxed and communal, with heavy smoke filling the air and hands being raised by all.
With the assistance of a large group of other rappers on stage, Cannibal Ox kept the mood upbeat and energized for the group of passionate fans who showed up. Because their cold sound never crept into the mainstream, their fanbase consists largely of devoted, hardcore listeners, making for an audience that was fiercely engaged with the music and into everything happening, not just the hits. Raucous shout-outs were given to the audience, to Pittsburgh, and to New York City. Yet despite the boisterous activity on stage, it was Vast Aire who held the most commanding stage prsence – not just because of his large stature, but his powerful flow and sage-like calm delivering his verbose wordplay amidst the frenzied behavior of everyone else. His style compliments Vordul’s more focused and rapid delivery perfectly, and the energizing Crimson Godz came in for verses adding some variety and excitement to the mix. Though they only preformed for an hour, Cannibal Ox left with the powerful impression that conscious and intelligent hip-hop will always have a place. “The duo dynamic is on call” Vast Aire announced during the closer “Gotham (Ox City)” , while Vordul issued a powerful reminder of how the two got to this point in the first place: “Knowing everything ain’t diamonds and pearls / Keep it up, that’s positive, patience is a virtue.”