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Cannibal Ox's Vast Aire shares Gotham tales 

"That's how our section of the lunchroom was: We were able to smack some kids up and have rap battles."

Zoning out: Cannibal Ox

Photo courtesy of Greg Maher

Zoning out: Cannibal Ox

With 2001's The Cold Vein, released on Definitive Jux with production from El-P, Brooklyn rap duo Cannibal Ox inspired a generation of lyrical underground hip-hop acts. While members Vast Aire and Vordul Mega each followed up with solo releases, the duo's highly anticipated sophomore collaboration never came to fruition.

In 2012, Vast and Vordul announced a reunion show in Brooklyn and a West Coast tour. This summer, they're embarking on an East Coast and Southern tour that lands them in Pittsburgh, performing together here for the first time in more than a decade. We spoke to Vast Aire by phone.

What kind of response did the West Coast tour receive?

The reception was definitely just overwhelming at certain points. It reinforced that this is something that's wanted and they love the music that we do. It's just overwhelming to have people yelling, cutting you off — you gotta let the crowd yell, they have so much energy.

What have the studio sessions been like for the upcoming sophomore Cannibal Ox album?

It's pretty much our average session. We watch movies, order food, and discuss what was going on that week.

Any particular movies that have been of influence?

I mean, I'd be lying if I didn't say Batman. The whole Gotham Knight theme is very important to us, 'cause we always looked at Gotham as New York City. And, you know, the classics: Godfather, Star Wars, Indiana Jones. We put epics on and just zone out. It could be anything that inspires us; it could be The Muppets Take Manhattan.

You have a history with the Sunday night End Of the Weak (EODub) event in the Lower East Side.

It's a great open mic, and it's a great venue for up-and-coming musicians to establish themselves and give themselves some type of footing in the performing market. When I did my album Look Ma, No Hands, I was using the EODub studio. They represent the culture and they represent the energy of "We're not gonna wait for somebody to bring you talent; we're gonna bring talent to you." I have a lot of memories hanging out there with Karnage and the crew, my man Kenyatta Black.

And Kenyatta's coming to Pittsburgh with you, right?

Yes. Yeah, he was rhyming with me at the lunch table.


Is that a metaphor, or were you guys really in school together banging on the lunch tables?

The lunch table was literal. Kenyatta went to school with me; he was one of those MCs that Cannibal Ox hung out with at the lunch table. Everybody that goes to public schools in the city knows that you have giant fold-up tables, and our whole crew took up two of those tables. And not anybody could just walk over to those tables — you would get beat up, you would get robbed. [Laughs.]

We crack about it all the time 'cause it was literally like jail. It was almost like this is the section of the jail where the guards let you get away with a little bit of dirt. And that's how our section of the lunchroom was: We were able to smack some kids up and have rap battles. They would let us fight and squash the fight on our own. It was a real interesting era of New York City schools.

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