Fri Sept 28 at the Paradox, $15; Sat Sept 29 at I-Spy, $12; See Calendar for complete lineup.
Rap is full of different forms of arrogance--from rapping through gold teeth about big cars and clothes with fancy labels, to rapping with righteous "one love" attitudes in label-less clothing. When Company Flow put out Funcrusher Plus in '97, its specific kind of arrogance divided a lot of rap fans. Many thought it was great progress: El-P, Bigg Jus, and Mr. Len were developing a style that landed somewhere between slam poetry and the jagged, cerebral pastiche raps that seem to dominate today's underground sound.
Others, however, thought that Company Flow's unemotional tone missed the point of what rap had done for self-expression--whether talking about murder or parties, rap is always a potent emotional stew--and many rap fans held the perception that the kids in Company Flow were "sounding smart" but not saying shit.
Company Flow is still active, but the members are on to other projects. Most significantly, El-P created the Def Jux label and signed (among others) Cannibal Ox and Aesop Rock, two rappers who share El-P's vision of delivering a form of rap that is like beautiful, cold, black marble. Aesop Rock's Labor Days is marvelous: The production is inventive, and the raps are clear and meaningful.
As for Cannibal Ox's The Cold Vein, the album title says it all: Life (veins) has gone cold. Though I admire the ambition of its vision, I still haven't found a way to enjoy listening to this album. Much of this feeling has to do with El-P's production. In other genres of rap, I love technology for its ability to loop fantastic-sounding breaks. In the songs El-P produces, I am offended by the cold shoulder of technology. At moments I even fear it.
The arrogance that El-P arrives at in his production is the arrogance of technology. Technology can make you feel warm and welcome, but in this comfort you are fooled; technology doesn't have feelings toward you.