Madvillain’s Madvillainy vs. Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein. Which Is Better?
One year ago, Ambrosia For Heads launched a debate among its readers seeking to answer one of Hip-Hop’s most hotly-contested questions: who is the greatest MC of all time? “Finding The GOAT MC” lasted between September 2014 and May 2015, engaging millions of readers and ultimately producing its winner, as determined by hundreds of thousands of voters. Now, “Finding The GOAT” returns to ask a new question: what is the greatest of all time Hip-Hop album? “Finding The GOAT Album” will consider 120 albums from three individual eras (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. You and your vote will decide which album goes forward, and which one leaves the conversation. While there will no doubt be conversation between family and friends (virtual and real), only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click. By the 2000s, the Underground Hip-Hop movement seemed in decline. As Eminem, Jurassic 5, Mos Def, and others had challenged the rankings of industry-coiffed Rap stars, others weren’t breaking through commercially. Major labels shifted their interests to new regions of untapped talent more than the 12″ single community, and several labels were left to be the beacons of output. Stones Throw and Definitive Jux Records are two of the most successful indie imprints. There, with small budgets, limited resources, and critically high stakes, these labels (and others) would release some game-changing music that still threw a few bricks in the glass panes of the mainstream. MF DOOM and Madlib turned an unlikely meeting into a chart-challenging legend in Madvillainy. Cannibal Ox’s Vast Aire and Vordul Mega would use only their originality and mind-melting El-P production to inject dope into The Cold Vein. Both albums bask in their own mythos, spending decades unfollowed. Equally, both efforts thrive due to nothing more than the artistry of those who made them, giving all fledgling acts and inauspicious beginnings great hope. The Underground has never died, and works like this have proven as much. However, between two purebred Hip-Hop essentials, only one goes forth. Which shall it be? (Click one then click “vote”).
Madvillainy by Madvillain
In the early 2000s, MF DOOM was very much a dope-MC-for-hire. Following his late 1990s career renaissance thanks to Operation Doomsday, the super-villain adopted a Tupac Shakur-like work ethic of recording, producing, and releasing albums under a plethora of aliases and guises. As many suitors came to the table to break bread, Madlib and Stones Throw Records were great fans of the former KMD front man. After coming to an agreement, the emerging MC/producer of Lootpack fame got “blunted in the bomb shelter” (Stones Throw’s studio) with DOOM. Although the album may have had modest beginnings, the synergy between the two reclusive artists cultivated new career pathways for each. Madvillainy was a tremendous merging of two esteemed talents, who celebrated ignoring convention. Despite the whimsicality, they made a remarkably soulful LP. Behind the dusty loops and drenched lyrics is an album that’s become a hallmark to each artist, a label, and a redefined Underground Hip-Hop movement in the mid-2000s. Twenty-two tracks deep, Madvillain’s lone studio album is a sum of small movements. With most songs two minutes long, this album combated the trends of the mainstream in all ways, despite its surprisingly large (eventual) profile. Songs like “Accordion” played like a profound interlude. MF DOOM, hitting the pocket of Madlib’s quirky beat, blended cartoon references with brief allusions to his own mortality. Madlib did not just play a background role in the album. Like Metal Face DOOM or Quasimoto, Madvillain stood as a character of the pair’s concoction. Instrumentals, and subdued lyrical moments showed Otis Jackson, Jr.’s sound apart from his Yesterday’s New Quintet, Quas’, or solo work. “Rainbows” were anything but straightforward, and moments that enhanced the cohesion of the stylized album without being overt. “Figaro” put DOOM in a sound that was wildly different than his own productions. As a 15-year vet was rising the ranks of MC lists, the complex rhythms of Madlib proved to be a combine drill of skill. “Fancy Clown” was a no-laughing-matter break-up track. DOOM spoke from within emotionally, as the producer made the song cry—literally. Crossover single “All Caps” transported the group back to the 1970s, rewarding fans with a song that felt like a refined Operation Doomsday holdover. In the song (and much of the album), DOOM embraced his own legend. Madlib was able to take elements of what he heard in the Fondle ‘Em Records days, and build out his motifs. While the Oxnard, California native would make albums with another NYC underground vet in Percee P, as well as Talib Kweli, Strong Arm Steady, and Guilty Simpson, Madvillainy may be his most intensive workshop. Even if its mosaic approach, short songs featured detailed sequencing, beat-flips, and nuanced accents. This unlikely pair, acting upon Madvillainy as an experimental one-off, would make career-defining chemistry together—a bomb in the shelter.
Album Number: 1 (as group)
Released: March 24, 2004
Label: Stones Throw Records Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #179
Song Guests: MED, Wildchild
Song Producers: (self)
The Cold Vein by Cannibal Ox
At the top of the millennium, Company Flow had disbanded for three distinct solo interests. El-P seemingly built Definitive Jux Records as the change he wanted to see from observing his lauded label. In distinguishing his own offerings, El would tap two members of New York City’s Atoms Family, Vast Aire and Vordul Mega. With El testing some sounds wildly advanced from his previous work, the two relatively unknown MCs would form Cannibal Ox, a group that applied figurative poetry to a street vernacular, and a sound straight out of a Sci-Fi dystopia. Just as Co Flow had done for Rawkus, Can Ox would set the tone for what would make Def Jux a trusted brand throughout the decade. Vast and Vordul presented a Harlem never heard in Hip-Hop before. The lyrics could be sensitive in one place, and box-cutter slicing in other places. To boot, the album is shrouded in mystique. A true Underground Hip-Hop boom era product, the crew largely avoided videos, their likeness on the artwork, and spent the 2000s largely disbanded. The Cold Vein is a wrinkle in time, for the listener, and the three men who made it. Nearly 15 years later, it remains a mystery just when that place in sonic time truly is. Although entrenched in Hip-Hop, Vast Aire introduced himself as a Spoken Word poet. “Pigeon” used the urban bird to illustrate his own place in the world, and how he encountered passersby. The MC who would later join The Weathermen delivered his bars dramatically, with lots of musicality in his voice alone. “The F Word” examined the friend zone before the term was popularized. While Vast opened his heart in the verses, Vordul assisted in the chorus—as El-P channeled Tangerine Dream on a dust-high. “Iron Galaxy,” the duo’s breakthrough 12″ single from the year prior, set the album off with exactly how inventive this group was. Informed by grind-house films, comic books, and sociology, not since Kool Keith and Prince Paul had a group created such a detailed cosmos. However, unlike those examples, Can Ox took themselves and their message extremely seriously. “Stress Rap” was angst, urgency, and mean-mugging, set to one of the album’s more sparse arrangements. Here, the Ox drew comparisons to the likes of Ghostface Killah and The Artifacts, more than their clear-cut peers. “Ox Out The Cage” is what Hip-Hop sounded like in a nuclear war-torn future. El-Producto joined the MCs in this case, finding chemistry as strong as any of his rhyme partners. Vordul, whose skills often seemed downplayed on the album, proved to be the perfect complement. On records like “Scream Phoenix,” Mega’s own short, barbed bars thrived.
Album Number: 1 (as group)
Released: May 15, 2001
Label: Definitive Jux Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): N/A
Song Guests: El-P, C-Rayz Walz, Alaska, Cryptic One, L.I.F.E. Long, DJ Cip One, DJ paWL
Song Producers: El-P So what’s the better album? Make sure you vote above.
Related: Finding The GOAT: The Albums