“Why do you need new bands? Everyone knows rock attained perfection in 1974. It's a scientific fact” – Homer Simpson
That jaded old man attitude is a good starting point for this week’s Friday Tunes. My love of turn-of-the-century indie rap, or ‘backpack rap’ (what a daft name) runs deep. I don’t want to be one of those old men shaking his fist at the sky grumbling that they don’t make ‘em like that anymore, but it’s hard to deny the effect this music had on me growing up. From the west coast antics of labels like Anticon to the New York power-moves made by el-p’s Definitive Jux label, the late 90’s/early 00’s were a goldmine for me. Up until this point I wasn’t overly fussed with hip-hop, I was more of your average rock kid. It must’ve been late one night surfing MTV2 (when they still played music videos), that I came across el-p’s ‘Deep Space 9mm’. It really was one of those ‘what the fuck?’ moments. Here was this guy who looked like me, dressed like me and seemed to fly in the face of what I presumed hip-hop was. I duly snatched up his 2002 album ‘Fantastic Damage’, released on Def Jux, and subsequently began hovering up the label’s output along with a whole host of other hip-hop acts. It didn’t take me long to come across ‘The Cold Vein’ by Cannibal Ox.
‘The Cold Vein’ was released way back in 2001. From the opening quote from 1983’s The Big Chill – “It’s a cold world out there. Sometimes I feel like I’m getting a little frosty myself’, the tone was set for a depiction of the underbelly of New York that just blew my mind. Vast Aire and Vordul Mega’s flow was incredible with their distinct vocal styles playing off each other perfectly against the backdrop of producer el-p’s beats and soundscapes. Seriously, to this day the production still sounds like the soundtrack to some kind of Blade Runner-esque future dystopia. What keeps it grounded in the everyday dirt and grime of NYC is the duo’s raps. Tracks like ‘Pigeon’ and ‘A B-Boy Alpha’ present a warts-and-all depiction of everyday life that was a million miles removed from the luxurious lifestyles extolled by many mainstream hip-hop acts. Within verging too much into hyperbole, I really do believe that ‘The Cold Vein’ exists as a perfect example of a modern hip-hop record. It’s kind of fitting that the album was never properly followed up and the duo eventually dissolved. A recent live reunion was met with a somewhat muted response, but the effect of this album had can still be heard today. I’ll always be more Aesop Rock than A$AP Rocky, but I reckon this record still has a lot to offer.