Vast Aire of Cannibal Ox on Art, Samurai and Classic Hip-Hop

A ronin, which means wave man, was a samurai that had no master, either due to the fall of his master or through the act of privilege during the feudal period in Japan. For Vast Aire of Cannibal Ox, the ronin represents his characteristics and those of his bandmate, Vordul Mega. “Outcasts, the skilled mercenaries for hire — this how we feel,” says Vast.

For Cannibal Ox, whose latest album is called Blade of Ronin, lyricism is an art form, one that requires skill, practice, patience and love.

Cannibal Ox came out with its classic album The Cold Vein fourteen years ago. At the time, nothing of this nature had surfaced into the hip-hop world. El-P of Run the Jewels, Definitive Jux and Company Flow produced the entire album, and Vast, Vordul and El together created a masterpiece, giving a vision of a gritty, electro New York through beautifully written stories and poems.

Blade of the Ronin carries on that tradition. Cannibal Ox may no longer have El-P, but Vast and Vordul still hold their mental dexterity and put forth the effort to create a cohesive, beautifully constructed piece of work. The album's production was mostly overseen by producer Bill Cosimq, with the exception of a production credit by Black Milk on "Gotham City." It has a similar feel to The Cold Vein in that it’s gritty, futuristic and honest.

Vast Aire and Vordul Mega are two artists who represent what hip-hop is: They study their craft, live their words and speak truth. They work at bettering themselves through the use of their art and strive to make long-lasting music. “It’s a very passionate, spiritual and honest album,” says Vast. “Genuine music lasts; Blade of the Ronin is going to do that.”  

Cannibal Ox played the Other Side at Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom earlier this week, and I had the opportunity to sit down with Vast Aire and speak on some serious and not-so-serious topics.

Alex Warzel: It’s been fourteen years since The Cold Vein. What have you two been up to?

Vast Aire:
We’ve been doing what we always do: We’ve been creating. I’ve had six solo albums, Vordul put out one solo album and a mixtape. We’ve been being creative like we always have. We took out time to make this project special. Cannibal Ox was something that took off, it’s something we did, but we’ve always had our own roles and creative ventures as separate artists. Being that we come from the same family, me and him together is no different then Raekwon and Ghost.

How did you and Vordul meet?

We went to the same high school — Washington Irving in downtown Manhattan. It’s a specialized school that caters to math, science and the arts.

What was your major?

2-D art.

Do you still draw?

I dabble; I’m more of a musician now and a philosopher.

Having patience for two art forms is a difficult feat.

Yeah, I think all of my energy goes into music now. Martial arts and philosophy — not as much in 2-D art as when I was a kid.

Who are your main influences?

All of the classics: Nas, Jay Z, Wu-Tang, Brand Nubian, Nice N Smooth.... You know we love Biggie, we love Pac, we love Mobb Deep, we love all of the classics.

What are your top five albums?

It’s hard to call, but off the head, I’d say The Main Source's Breaking Atoms, A Tribe Called Quest's The Low End Theory, OC’s Word Life, Mobb Deep's The Infamous and The Group's Home Livin’ Proof.

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Alex Warzel