Big Meridox has always functioned as a larger-than-life presence of moral conscience, and a barometer of consciousness in Old Pueblo hip hop. His music and lyrics—though distinctive, original and fresh—are one stop on an unbroken line that began with the implicitly political black nationalism of Rakim through the quasi-spiritual manifestos of the Wu Tang Clan in the '90s. The songs of Big Ox are by turns poignant, rousing, funny, thoughtful and angry, always articulated clearly in his monolithic rap. He's never kept up with trends, in that way he's defined cool— his work feels timeless.
His latest, the EP-length 8ohOX, is a collab with 8oheight. The latter provides the hard, simple boom-bap-influenced beats (the kind common to Big Ox' recording oeuvre) and the unadorned majesty of the production clears space needed for Ox' dynamic and outsized persona.
Opener "A Good Look" begins with a gospel organ and disembodied vocal sample slightly reminiscent of Kanye West's early sampling breakthroughs. By the time Big Meridox' voice is heard, the production has established a plaintive cloud of static and hesitant beats, and the rapper's tone feels restrained, though his lyrics, taking stock of what's good in his immediate vicinity, are as focused as ever.
"Bruiser" rides out beeping synths and choppy percussion evocative of stylized '80s fluorescence but the real breakthrough is the newfound subtley and craft in the startlingly complex syncopation of Ox' rhymes and the vignetted, almost dreamlike storytelling of his words.
Stuttering, fractured reflections of quiet-storm soul make up the appropriately titled "Lavish," which reinforces an established theme here: This is a more emotionally self-controlled Big Meridox than we've seen before. There's still big confidence and righteous indignation, but the cold outrage is reigned in, which actually turns up the tension and anger at the heart of his music, like the force of a tightly wound coil, at ease for the current moment.
Big Meridox is unquestionably Tucson's greatest rapper. And he knows it. His releases have always been consistently fantastic and stirring, and while he veers toward traditionalism rather than outright experiments, he has a knack for working with producers, like 8oheight, who ground classic hip-hop forms in contemporary settings. Big Ox also always has at least one song on each release that serves as a comprehensive statement of intent. And the near-masterpiece "King of All Kings," with its patchwork bravado is centerpiece of OXoheight, just the latest in a long line of Big Meridox classics.