Break-ups are a lot more common than reunions in hip-hop. So when word leaked that Cannibal Ox was getting back together, the prospect of a new album from the New York duo ignited hip-hop circles. Back in the early days of El-P’s independent label Definitive Jux, Can O released their debut, The Cold Vein, in 2001. MCs Vast Aire and Vordul Mega were praised for their abstract poetic raps detailing the harsh realities of New York, coupled with some of El-P’s best, hardest production yet. Now, 11 years later, the pair is working on their sophomore album, slated for 2013. The LP, coupled with an upcoming nationwide tour that kicks off this Sunday (December 9) at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, makes it clear: Can Ox has one more story to tell.
“It was just time,” Vast says. “We haven’t been on the road together. Vordul is an interesting dude. He’s not the most sociable dude. But when he gets in that mood, we just run with it. He did a couple of personal travels across the country. [He] saw family. I think that did a lot for him. It opened up a path for us to tour.”
Vordul, who wasn’t available for comment, and Vast returning to the studio again brings back memories of their formative years, when the duo established themselves as the voice of conscious rap with street credibility with The Cold Vein. But the aftermath of the critically acclaimed album’s release was almost bittersweet, as rumors ran rampant that Can Ox disbanded in 2003. The reasons, however, were never clear. Many believed it was the group’s complicated relationship with El-P and Def Jux at the time, while others cited Mega’s rumored personal struggles with depression, bi-polar disorder and drugs. (Some bloggers have even claimed to have seen Vordul panhandling on 125th Street in Harlem.) But Vast says the pair never broke up—it was just a much-needed break from the pressures of the music industry.
“The rumors are going to be rumors,” he says. “People are going to speculate. We never broke up. There was nothing to break up between us. We’ve been friends for almost 20 years. So there was nothing. We in the hood. You could see us on the block. Meanwhile, you probably begging us to do an album. You know what I mean? It’s a great album to us. We love it. But we have a lot of other projects that we love and respect.”
Cannibal Ox’s long history that dates back to 1998, when they came together as part of Atom’s Family, a large hip-hop collective based in New York. It wasn’t only because of their mutual respect for each other’s rhymes—it was their personalities. Even as the over 30 members of Atom’s began branching off and doing their own projects, Can O kept a lasting friendship throughout the years.
“We were the friends. We were the ones that went to every movie and called each other [to talk about] what they did with the girl on the date and all of that,” Vast says, laughing. “We grew up. We literally became men together. That’s what makes our vibe musically.”
Now that Cannibal Ox is returning to the rising New York rap scene, it’s time to get to business. Their sophomore album will be released through Iron Galaxy Records, an upstart label helmed by Vast. He has already reached out to a fresh crop of producers—Ayatollah, Bill Cosmiq, Harry Fraud—who will bring a contemporary sound to the group’s proper 2013 project. But before the wheels set into motion, Vast sat down with XXL to paint a picture of his relationship with Mega and what we can expect from their long-awaited comeback. —Eric Diep (@E_Diep)
READ ON TO LEARN ABOUT VAST AIRE AND VORDUL MEGA’S CREATIVE PROCESS AND WHAT TO EXPECT ON THEIR SOPHOMORE ALBUM