New York’s own underground Hip Hop duo Cannibal Ox have finally released their highly anticipated comeback record Blade Of The Ronin. This is their first full length studio release since 2001’s classic The Cold Vein which, to this day, is celebrated for being one of the 2000’s most experimental and progressive Hip Hop albums.
One major, instantly recognizable difference between this new record and The Cold Vein is the absence of El-P’s production, who, after a feud with Ox members Vordul Mega and Vast Aire, has moved on to pursue other projects including being a part of highly successful Hip Hop duo Run the Jewels alongside Atlanta rapper Killer Mike. This rift between Cannibal Ox and El-P sees Bill Cosmiq handling the vast majority of this album’s production with Black Milk being the only other producer credited for his work on one of the record’s singles “Blade: The Art of Ox”.
Cosmiq’s eerie production is consistent across the entire record and even Black Milk’s instrumental, whilst a little more soulful than the rest of the album’s beats, still fits in nicely with the record’s overall aesthetic, giving us a very cohesive project. This album is full of interesting features including better known artists such as MF Doom, Wu Tang Clan’s U-God and Elzhi as well as some relative newcomers, all of whom do well in supplementing Mega and Aire’s verses.
I was and still am a big fan of this album’s singles, particularly “Iron Rose” featuring MF Doom which has been remixed for the deluxe edition of the album by British electronic producer Skylab 3. The remix features a fantastic, atmospheric, string heavy instrumental which gives the track a completely different feel to the original. I also loved the song “Psalm 82“, which was also featured on their 2013 release Gotham.
As the name of the track suggests, Aire and Mega conjure up a lot of religious imagery with some pretty clever lines, the song also contains a really dark instrumental featuring the clunky, boom bap drums, which are a common component of most of this album’s beats, and an almost chilling repeating singing sample. Vast and Vordul continue to make obscure lyrical references across this record making their refusal to conform refreshingly unique compared to most of today’s Hip Hop.
For instance on the track “Gotham (Ox City)” where they compare their native New York to the dark, crime ridden home of Batman and even on the title of the album which is meant to signify their freedom in choice of creative direction by drawing parallels between themselves and samurais who have no allegiance called ‘Ronins’. Aside from Vast Aire and Vordul Mega’s rapping, which is consistently strong throughout the record, other high moments on Blade of the Ronin, include Elzhi and U-God’s respective features on “Carnivorous” and “Blade: The Art of Ox” and the fantastic, dramatic instrumental on the track “The Power Cosmiq“.
“Blade: The Art Of Ox”:
Whilst this record may be missing El-P’s production, Bill Cosmiq still does a great job of crafting a solid and cohesive collection of beats and Vordul and Vast have shown even after a hiatus of nearly fifteen years, they can still come together, pick up where they left off and create a really solid comeback project. Blade of the Ronin may not be considered the classic that The Cold Vein was, but with some great production and clever rapping from Vast and Vordul as well as great features all over this album, it is still definitely worth some ear time and makes me optimistic for any of Cannibal Ox’s future releases. Blade of the Ronin is out now on IGC Records/iHipHop Distribution, purchase it on iTunes here.