On his solo album, Can Ox emcee is still razor sharp
Vast Aire : Interview Part One
[Part 1 of 2]
You will never confuse Vast Aire with any other emcee in hip-hop -- he doesn't look or sound like any other. In 2001, under the tutelage of Definitive Jux's proprietor and experimental hip-hop guru El-P, Vast Aire Kramer and his Harlem cohort Vordul Megilah dropped The Cold Vein, their now-legendary debut as Cannibal Ox. The album confronted late-'90s commercialized rap, valuing craft over bling, and gave underground hip-hop a new voice. And he keeps surprising fans of hip-hop, whether it's rhyming over commercial beats on the Dirty Magazine mixtape or putting out an album on a label other than Def Jux. Said album, Look Mom ... No Hands -- Vast's debut solo album, put out by Chocolate Industries -- came amidst rumors that Can Ox had called it quits and features Madlib, MF Doom, Blueprint, Juggaknots, S.A. Smash and Sadat X, among others. Prefix sat down with the Mount Vernon native, who cleared the air on Cannibal Ox and talked about the importance of word play and his dislike of big words, his new blue Nikes, and living with El-P.
Prefix Magazine: I tried to get information about your background, but didn't find too much. So let's start from the beginning. Where were you born?
Vast Aire : I was born in Mount Vernon, which is in Westchester, New York, which is considered to be uptown.
PM: Heavy D was from there, right?
Vast Aire : Yes, money-earning Mount Vernon. I was up there for a while and then just naturally migrated to the Bronx, and from the Bronx I went to Queens. That's where I started rhyming. PM: In Queens?
Vast Aire : In Queens in 1988. I was in Jamaica, Queens. That's the year I started picking up the pen. Then from Queens we went back to Harlem. That's where I ended up hooking up with Vordul and going to high school. My first high school was Jamaica High. I went to Jamaica High for my first year, and then I transferred to Washington Irving High School, which is in Manhattan. I met a bunch of knuckleheads who loved doing what they do. I loved it too, and it just became a long process of perfecting what we do, which is make music. PM: What's your fondest memory growing up?
Vast Aire : I have a few. We used to hop on to the back of the bus and hold on to the little window. Everyone thought we were crazy for doing that, but it was something we did. We'd try to ride for as many blocks as possible. There'd be cars behind you that were afraid to hit you. We used to do that a lot. You know, graffiti and just growing up. If you want to know about memories, check "Why's da Sky Blue?," which is on the album. That's pretty much my memory-lane gift to my fans. PM: What did you aspire to be as a kid growing up?
Vast Aire : Man, I was supposed to be a football player. I was supposed to be an architect. I ended up falling in love with making music, and it shunned everything else out. I'm a decent artist. That was my first love. I evolved from drawing, and I still draw every now and then. But I'm just caught up in rapping. I'm just caught up in shooting the shit on the mike. I love creating songs, so it just took over my life. Right now, I'm 26 and it's 2004, and I love life. I love growth. I love learning and growth, and that's the area I'm in right now. The album reflects that. PM: I'm 26 too, and I see people like you and I think that's the way to live.
Vast Aire : It's the only way to live. I don't want to come home cranky. If you do come home cranky, that's just life, but at least come home cranky from something you love. At least. PM: The release of Look Mom got pushed up and back and all over. Was that because it leaked on the Internet?
Vast Aire : Actually, we wanted the album to come out in April, and possibility was the April 27. But we thought the album would be better for the April 20, because it's coming from a group of people who thought the album was gonna be out in February. PM: A lot of people are wondering why the album came out on Chocolate and not Def Jux. What was the reason you went with Chocolate?
Vast Aire : It was a bidding war. I was in a bidding war. A couple of labels knew I was working on the album and they wanted to get their hands on it, and Chocolate ended up winning. It's nothing too deep. PM: What's with Vordul? I just saw him about five minutes ago. What's up with Cannibal Ox?
Vast Aire : Yeah man. Cannibal Ox is still in effect. We have an EP coming out called "Cypher Unknown." Vordul's doing a solo album right now. People misunderstood us. We're just musicians who make music. People expect us to make everything together all the time. We're just honest and raw. If I drop a solo or he drops a solo and we come back together, it's just good music. Expect to just see a lot of good music. But Cannibal Ox has not broken up. There is no breaking up of Can Ox. We've known each other for twelve years. Our relationship is fine. And you just saw him. PM: You definitely can't believe everything you read.
Vast Aire : And it's iller for you, 'cause you could be like, "Vordul was right there." PM: Yeah. I saw y'all talking and you guys were cool. You and Jean Grae were on the tour that was cancelled. Fans were obviously upset. Did you speak with Jean about that?
Vast Aire : Yes I did. Jean and I are good. We just did SXSW. We're mad cool. There was a management disagreement, and that got turned into all types of other things. Cannibal Ox is still together, we do not have beef with Jean Grae. People have to remember there are communities. There are artists, and there are people who work for the artists. And people who work for you can fuck up. That's basically what happened in that situation, and it's behind us. Everything is cool man. PM: You work with a ton of producers on your solo album. How'd you link up with Madlib?
Vast Aire : We hooked up a few years ago at UCLA. I was doing shows and he was doing shows. Basically he was like, "I like your shit," and I was like, "I like your shit." It just worked from there. I basically said, "Yo, I'm gonna contact you when I get serious about finishing up a project." PM: What about the Atoms Family? Does that project still exist?
Vast Aire : We're working on a full-length album right now. Hangar 18 is dropped an album on Def Jux. Cryptic is dropping an album soon. Jestone is too. So we're all coming. PM: What about the Weathermen?
Vast Aire : Yes. We all have crazy schedules and careers, but that is real and in effect. PM: You did a mixtape for Dirty Magazine, where you're rhyming over more commercial beats and bigger songs that were out on the radio. You received a mix reaction. Why do you think that is?
Vast Aire : Because they don't like the beats. It's not my fault that you don't like a beat that you think is commercial. That's not my fault. PM: Breez Evahflowin: The blue and whites are killer. [Commenting on Vast's new Nikes]
Vast Aire : The canvy canvy. I'm gonna be blingin' on stage tonight. Anyway, it's not my fault that you don't like a beat in particular -- you being the audience or the fans. I just create, I just vent off. I got up with a bunch of friends, I was six-fuckin'-teen again in a basement making an album. But it's not a real album, it was just having fun. We're all drunk, just bullshitting. Doing that project I felt 15 again. That's how you did an album when you didn't have a producer. You went to the ninety-nine-cent bin and grabbed mad instrumentals and you rocked. So that's what I did. I care less about a couple of kids who are like, "Oh, he's on a Neptunes beat." I like the Neptunes.