Cannibal Ox is a hip-hop duo from Harlem, N.Y., composed of emcees Vordul Mega and Vast Aire. This is the group’s second album and first album release in 14 years, but the group switched producer El P for Bill Cosmiq for this album, with one guest production spot by Black Milk. Their first album is a lot to live up to, but unfortunately “Blade of the Ronin” doesn’t manage to live up to the hype. Boring vocal delivery by Vordul Mega, some very awkward lyrics from Vast Aire and a lack of diversity on very straightforward and uninteresting beats all culminate in this album being a letdown.
The album opens up with “Cipher Unknown,” which sets the tone of this album. This song sets the precedent on the album with heavy drums and distorted synths found in any basic hip-hop producer’s arsenal, accompanied by the lyrical abilities of Cannibal Ox. On this album Vordul Mega sounds half-asleep, bored and his lack of energy takes away the power any of his rhymes may have had. His lazy flow remains throughout the entire record. Some of the lyrics Vast Aire spits leave the listener scratching their head, and not in a good way. For example, on “Iron Rose,” we are told a multitude of forced rhymes about how Vast Aire relates to iron, such as that his girlfriend apparently wears iron panties, his children eat iron candies and he was born in an ocean with iron waves. Not even a feature by MF DOOM could save this track.
Another big problem with this album is the lack of variety on the beats. When compared to “The Cold Vein” the rhythms on this album just seem plain and dull. All of the instrumentals on this album are ‘90s boom bap drums, with samples of operatic vocals or dramatic synths. This combination isn’t necessarily a bad thing but when every single song on the album sounds like this, it’s a problem. They are essentially made of the same elements and some of the beats are hard to differentiate, especially when compared to how diverse and interesting the instrumentals made by El P were on their first album.
The group also likes to showcase a love of popular culture with references to sci-fi films, martial arts films and psychedelic imagery. The references are not subtle at all: Obvious references to Yoda’s “Do. Or do not. There is no try” quote are found in a few places on the album, as well as the somewhat cliche track “Gotham (Ox City),” which opens with Bane’s darkness quote from “The Dark Knight Rises”: “You think darkness is your ally. You merely adopted the dark. I was born in it, molded by it,” as well as a corny verse with Vast Aire bragging about sleeping with both Diane and Selena (Wonder Woman and Cat Woman).
These awkward lyrics from Vast Aire also come out on “Thunder in July,” where odd phrases are thrown throughout, such as “Islam is math so I study pi,” and “Chasing them white rabbits,” a very overused drug reference. Yet another track on this album with this sort of odd lyricism is “The Power of the Cosmiq” which boasts Vast Aire’s odd and sort-of-comical-but-not-intentionally so lyric of “I got a merry-go-round shotgun, like did you see-saw? Talk about peek-a-boo, ain’t you that dude that got caught touching Pikachu?” These odd lyrics, combined with the fact that they are outshined by the features on this album, in particular U-God and DOOM, really make this album fall flat. The only salvageable songs seem to be “Psalm 82” and “Carnivorous.” They aren’t particularly different but they keep the odd lyrics to a minimum and make the most of the same-sounding production throughout this album.
“Blade of the Ronin” takes a much more traditional, dull route and underwhelms severely as a sophomore album, making Cannibal Ox seem like they lost the passion and fire that were present on “The Cold Vein” and replacing it with lazy lyricism on the part of Vast Aire and a monotone flow from Vordul Mega. The lack of interesting beat production as well as what is a lack of effort to experiment on the part of Cannibal Ox make this album a pretty big disappointment.
Rating: 1.5 stars