It’s an expression I’ve come to fall back on over and over again – “Scream Phoenix.”
It’s rooted in Cannibal Ox’s album The Cold Vein. The meaning is obvious, rising from the ashes requires a declaration. But the magic is in the contrasting statement – “I’m just a pigeon.”
Pigeons hole up in cities. They hideout in the structures of others, existing as scavengers, dependent on the system for survival. They technically can migrate, but – pigeons can’t be cold for too long. So they usually stay put. Better to not risk it.
There’s a pigeon mentality. There’s a pigeon reality. The prisons we put ourselves in, and the prisons we exist in.*
The whole album is a musical and lyrical struggle with how to break out. Without getting too cold, without dying. Just… how to live, on your terms, without feeling trapped or dependent.
The pigeon on a cold city skyscraper ledge is a world apart from the phoenix, screaming as it rises from the flames. Trapped as pigeons, trapped in the cold vein of a metallic existence – trapped in contrast.
It’s why the expression has stuck with me so long, I’m sure of it.
The album sounds like early 2000s underground hip-hop. I don’t know how well it holds up or appeals to anyone who wasn’t there. But the mentality and the call to break out, from within, Can Ox tapped into something eternal.
I’ll keep saying it. Don’t be a pigeon. And if you are, if you find yourself traped in your mind or holed up by others, there’s only one thing to do: scream phoenix.
Ps. If you’re interested, two lyrical snippets and the four key songs on the subject are below:
Taking chances in life trying to get by
And stop all the time gettin’ high
Gotta clear mind and stay focused, avoid serpents
And worship life
We like merchants
Street peasants with these lessons
Live, build, and pass away, and keep stressin’
Thinking how we gonna master days
With passion, that’s why we rap this way
From Manhattan 115 to 1-3-5
We pigeons became phoenix with open minds
Flying against the wind
But now my shell is weightless and fireproof
But the truth is I’m proof of living fire
I’m not made of organics, not even wires
Just felt my body light up and heard the choir
See to the common fowl the phoenix is sire
Most high of all things to ever have wings
Existence is struggle, resistance is futile
Meanwhile we now possess the power of ten suns
To transcend and elevate into one
Famine, the disease and senseless dying is done
Pigeon bird got a breath left
A quick walk through the links. These are the first two songs on the album, then the last two. The whole record is such a sonic vibe, this is just a taste. I still remember the night it “clicked” for me too. I was walking home in a heavy fog, way late with nobody else around. The concrete and brick of the campus I was on was only lit by pre-LED streetlights. The cold cloudiness and dull ache of the natureless environment – Cannibal Ox and El-P in my headphones, it just nailed the visual and the visceral vibes. The Cold Vein is still a favorite albums to throw on anytime I’m driving out of NYC in the dark too. Plus, that Jaco sample in “Pigeon” – I mean, COME ON.