Interview: Cannibal Ox talk ‘Blade of the Ronin’, Eastern philosophy and more!
Who are Cannibal Ox? To a generation of bearded, backpacked heads they were the truth in spoken form. Two Harlem, New York rappers who sounded nothing like each other or anyone else; their 2001 masterpiece The Cold Vein was a foul-mouthed, sharp-in-every-sense, portrait of a rotting big apple, which also happened to contain one of the most poignant love songs ever in hip-hop.
Since then, despite numerous appearances on each other’s projects, Vast Aire and Vordul Mega never rejoined like Voltron to form the Ox, until 2015’s Blade of the Ronin, spiritual successor to The Cold Vein, and for many fans and reviewers, a return to form for the unmistakable, outspoken duo.
Andreas Stylianou spoke to Vordul Mega and Vast Aire, who make up the cult New York duo in this exclusive interview where they discussed ‘the Ox language’, their favourite duos in hip hop and more!
1. What was the the track you most enjoyed writing and recording for for this record?
Vordul Mega: I loved writing it all. I don’t think about my music in that way.
Vast Aire: I agree, we just create what we love. We move on vibes and expression, and every song is just as important if we selected it to be apart of our record.
2. You know fans are going to want to hear the classic stuff from Cold Vein, especially at these European festivals, are you looking forward to performing those songs together again, or are you just excited to bring us the new shit?
Vordul Mega: Yes indeed, we love our music and are more than happy to perform our classics as well our new classic “Blade of the Ronin.”
3. I was surprised to hear a Chinx (R.I.P.) sample on your album, is that Bill Cosmiq’s influence?
Vast Aire: Chinx Drugs was a dope artist and it’s sad he is not here with us anymore. R.I.P. to him! I’m a huge fan of Coke Boys and I’m also featured on French Montana’s “New York Minute” remix with Jadakiss, NORE and Double A.B. – the track is produced by my homie Harry Fraud who introduced me to French. We are real hip-hop heads, period. The influence is ours; we, including Bill Cosmiq, like a wide range of music not only what you “think” we like. Chinx will live forever on my record #BladeOfTheRonin and I have another song with him! Hold tight!
4. How easy was it for you to link up with Bill? What was it about his production that made you think “this is a guy we can create a whole solid record with?”
Vordul Mega: Bill Cosmiq is our brother so it’s very easy to vibe with him. We think similar and love making music.
Vast Aire: Bill Cosmiq or as we call him, “Sir William Cosmos,” is an amazing producer and song writer. Being close friends makes our music unique, it’s like we know what we are thinking before we say it. He is not some dude who gave us beats. He is family. He is Crimson Godz / IGC.
5. do you stilll have the same competitiveness when you get in the studio these days, or is it more like you know how nice the other can be and you’re focussed on bringing that out?
Vast Aire: We always work hard to produce great music, it’s in our nature. Anything else would be uncivilized!
6. you’ve always worked together a lot, and it never really felt like you lost the connection that made the cold vein so important to so many, why wait so long to release an official follow up?
Vordul Mega: Timing Is everything, and it’s time for Blade of the Ronin. There are many reasons we can’t just pick one. We also have always been just as much soloists in our own right as we are partners.
Vast Aire: I Agree we always have been us, in a group or during solo ideas and side projects. We grew up together, you can’t fake that that’s why we always win! We have mad good music out and we helped reshape HIP HOP! Blade of The Ronin should never be taken lightly…it’s like a vintage wine, the time was right so now it’s here. Enjoy!
7. With all the different and disparate influences in your songs, does it ever worry you that you’re being too obtuse for the fan base, like not everyone will understand the combination of science and NGE terminology, as well as Japanese Feudalism, that there’s someone taking all of that and creating something monstrous out of it ideologically, something which you don’t agree with or endorse?
Vordul Mega: We have a Ox language, You either get it or you don’t. We are no different from other great artist who have found their “way” to express a track.
Vast Aire: No, because all I’m doing Is sharing and expressing myself. I don’t tap dance to amuse others. I agree wit Mega. We have a language and it’s best influence is based in deep rooted spiritual concepts. We study a unique form of Islam that has helped keep us strong and has given us a map in this world. Eastern philosophical concepts have always been the base of our music… that is if you were listening.
8 Just like cold vein, there’re some excellent guest features. i imagine a lot of rappers would have been interested in being on this project. Did they all make it, or is there some heat that got left on the cutting room floor?
Vast Aire: We Have a lot of music, Lmao. Don’t worry about such things!
9 Apart from the ox, who do you think are some of the top duos in rap, especially right now?
Vordul Mega: Underachievers are dope.
Vast Aire: I like Rae Sremmurd they have a great dynamic together.
10 Some people have made their own conclusions around the album title, what does it mean to can ox?
Vast Aire: Mega came up with this title and I agreed! The tongue is a mighty sword, it’s connected to our Ox metaphor. Big L taught us the slang term for a blade was an Ox! From the older “Box Cutter” blades. I study various forms of Japanese Budo including Aikido an art deeply rooted in Samurai Culture. A Ronin is a Masterless Samurai who has lost his allegiance to his Governing Lord. He is free to do as he pleases… His code of Bushido is conflicted with his every day life just like us two. Cannibal Ox are a representation of this ideal within a hip-hop context. It’s funny, I’m the one who studies Jujutsu but Mega came up with the title!
Vordul Mega: Because I’m the Ninja and Vast is the Ronin! And we both are free to swing our blades!
Cannibal Ox’s new album is out now via ihiphop and can be streamed below. They are set to play at Oslo, in London on July 15 – check out information on their current European tour here.