ETHX: First question, you got all the material done for the album considering it’s dropping real soon?
VAST: The album is done. It’s real good. It comes out April 20th on Chocolate Industries, it’s called “Look Mom, No Hands,” and it’s crazy, man.
ETHX: What is the reasoning for choosing “Look Mom, No Hands” as the title?
VAST: “Look Mom, No Hands” was a joke. I said it in a song I did with Aesop Rock called “Attention Span” on Aesop’s “Float” album. Ever since I did that it was a little joke of mine. Whenever you do something good, you’re like, “Look Ma, No Hands!” Or whenever you feel that you’re capable of holding your own, you’ll turn over to your guardian or, most likely, your mom and be like, “Look at me, I can do this.” It’s just a funny phrase that represents the solo album and that I can rep for my crew and just bang and do me.
ETHX: My guess had been that it had something to do with the fact that you were doing it solo, not as much a connection to everyone else on this one. “I can do it myself, too.”
VAST: Yeah. It was just a joke to my mom and anyone who’s a doubter.
ETHX: I’m sure she appreciates that.
VAST: I’m sure she does. (haha)
ETHX: On this album you got a huge line-up of guest producers and on The Cold Vein it was just El-P. Did you prefer having one producer or prefer having multiple producers? Was there a big difference between the two?
VAST: There’s definitely a difference, but there’s good things to both. There are great aspects to both sides. It’s sort of like cheeseburgers and pizza. (haha) You can’t really argue which one is better, they both play their part. With El, that’s the first album I did where all the beats were under one producer. So that was cool, but I wanted to go back to what I originally grew up on, which was running around getting up with a few different visions and putting it all together. Like Voltron in the end, it forms the biggest robot to just destroy!
ETHX: What is the line-up on the producers? I know Jake One got a track on there, so Seattle’s representing, we’re proud of that.
VAST: Yeah, peace to Jake One! Jake One is on there, Madlib, Cryptic One, RJD2, Ayatollah, Da Beatminerz, it’s crazy, man! The album is just nuts.
ETHX: Are the guest MCs of similar caliber coming through?
VAST: I got Sadat X, Breez Brewin’ from the Juggaknots, S.A. Smash, Vordul of Cann Ox, Blueprint, Aesop Rock, my man MFDoom.
ETHX: It’s like you guys are competing. Looking at Vordul’s line-up, he’s got that huge line-up, too. And you guys are both dropping in April, is that a coincidence or…did it just happen to turn out that way? (Editor’s note Vordul Young Havoc’s pushed to Summer)
VAST: Yeah, it pretty much just turned out that way. Peace to Vordul, “Young Havocs”, coming out! We planned to hit them hard and it just so happened…mine actually got pushed back, so it just happened by accident.
ETHX: Do you have any plans on promoting it through a tour…Is there any possibility of you both doing solo stuff on the same tour or anything of that nature?
VAST: Yeah, yeah. There are a lot of different tours in the works and we’re also in the lab working on two projects right now. It’s going be crazy.
ETHX: What can fans look forward to on yours that is going to be different from The Cold Vein? How’s it going to be…
VAST: A noticeable difference already is that you get more verses from me. To be honest, that’s the hugest difference. On top of that, the beats were not made only by one person, so the vibe is a little more open. The songs are just well-made. I had mad fun with everyone I got up with. It’s just a real thick, powerful album. The intensity is just the same, but it’s different. It’s just a new angle.
ETHX: Any particular reason you chose to go with Chocolate Industries and Vordul going with Nature Sounds instead of you both going with Def Jux, or did it just happen to turn out that way?
VAST: It just happens to turn out that way. We currently work with multiple labels right now. We’re not exclusive to Def Jux. It just ended up turning out that way. I work with Chocolate Industries, Eastern Conference, Centrifugal Phorce which is the Atoms Fam label, which was my first label that put any of my music out before Def Jux. There are a lot of labels (involved).
ETHX: A lot of Atoms Fam folks are going to be touring on that Def Jux (Presents III) tour in April, right?
VAST: Yeah, Hangar 18′s going to be on that, getting busy, getting down. I’m going to be on tour in April, running around. Lots of things going on. Peace to Beatminerz, Ayatollah, Sadat X. A lot of craziness is going on right now. Everyone’s just buckling down in the labs. Everyone that I know is just in the lab working on the hottest album for ya’ll. 2004 is going to be grimy; it’s the year of Vast Aire.
ETHX: You can hush all the haters who’re always saying, “Hip-hop’s dead!” Nah, hip-hop’s not dead, it’s just in the lab.
VAST: Man, hip-hop is never dead. I’m dead on saying hip-hop is dead. Hip-hop just evolves, that’s what people don’t understand. It matures and grows, it’s never dead.
ETHX: I want to bring it back to your roots for a bit: how did you first get involved with hip-hop and was there a moment where you felt like you had made it or you had gotten that big break that determined the rest of your future?
VAST: Bascially, I’m 26 and I’ve been rhyming since I was ten. I started hustling in the New York underground when I was around 15 and 16. I just put in a lot of work - did a lot of talent shows, did a lot of battles. I also did a lot of recording. People don’t know that that’s important. You can win 20 battles, but you ain’t never did a song. ETHX: You have to have material. Yeah, man. You have to loads of it, because all you do is learn from other songs. Me and my crew, Weathermen and Atoms Fam, all of us have put in a lot of years in this, as far as putting out independent records and good music and setting standards. It all starts from just that love when you’re a child. I grew up in New York. I always wanted to do it. It was always around me. From doing it enough, I started bumping into the right people. The next thing you know, the truth of the matter is you need a hot project to get proper distribution and then it’s over. Once you get a project that gets proper distribution and it can reach more people, your career starts to sky-rocket. I’ve put music out and it’s made noise, done it’s little ten thousand units or eight thousand units, but once you got distribution, now you can 60 or 80 thousand units. So that’s where it’s at and I’m happy that the response has been good and that everyone approaches me at shows and they’re like “yo, the music…” and it’s all love to know that when we put music down there are people listening and waiting, because we’re doing our thing.
ETHX: So it’s always been hip-hop for you? There have never been other aspirations to do other careers. You just decided this is what you were going to do and did it?
VAST: Well, I’ve had a lot of aspirations. I have a football background and an art background - my mom wanted me to be an architect, like, “Use your careers for a safe career.” I wanted to use my skills for comic books and stuff. I’ve had a few different turns, but I’ve always done hip-hop through all of them. Playing football and rhyming, drawing and rhyming, and in the end I figured I have to do this. It feels right. I had already been doing it for a minute when Cold Vein came out, so I put everything into that. Like, “If this don’t do it…” There was no telling if I would still be… But fortunately it did do well. But it did real well. I’ve been able to hook up with a lot of musicians that I love and cherish and respect, and I’ve worked with a lot of good musicians and I just feel comfortable doing music.
ETHX: Speaking of inspiration and whatnot, I’m curious as to what your musical inspirations are because when you dropped Cold Vein, I didn’t think it sounded like anything out there. Who do you see as your influences, be they MCs in hip-hop or even others outside of hip-hop?
VAST: I get influenced…I’ve learned the secret of being a good artist. You must be able to draw inspiration from anything, not just what’s related to what you’re doing. I draw inspiration from other musicians definitely, and definitely others that aren’t hip-hop like Jimi Hendrix or Radiohead, and then I get encouraged by a Jay-Z or Pharaohe Monch. It’s not just hip-hop. I like to just listen to good music. I’m really into OutKast. I’m just into different types of things and different ideas. I’m into grunge Â– bring me back to some Pearl Jam. I use all types. It could be a Beethoven song that made me make “Look Mom…,” as long as it’s good. As long as it’s good it’s going to inspire me to be good. It could be a Prince record and that’s the reason I made “Why’sDaSkyBlue?” Because I’m able to just feed off Prince or feed off of Bruce Lee. Bruce Lee can say something about some concept in martial arts and that’ll inspire me to write a verse.
ETHX: Another influence that I could think of: being from New York. Did that play a significant influence on your music?
VAST: It does. I feel like I have New York blood in me. I’ve traveled the world and seen a lot of things, but at the end of the day I always have to come back to New York. It’s just a part of me. If this was jazz, New York is New Orleans. You have to respect that. And it doesn’t make me better; I still had to work hard. You can’t just be born in Shaolin and you know how to fight. You have to practice. The fact that I’m born in New York is fun and it definitely inspires me because of the folklore.
ETHX: I was thinking of one of the great MCs out of the New York area and on one of your tracks on The Cold Vein you shouted out Big L. Did you have a relationship with him because he’s from around the block?
VAST: No, I didn’t, but he actually lived up the block from Shamar (Vordul Megallah from Cann Ox). Sometimes I would be going to Vordul’s house and Big L would be on the block, that’s word up. The most was a “hello”, but we did not know each other.
ETHX: He just happened to be an inspiration because he was extremely talented?
VAST: He was extremely talented and he was from my man’s neighborhood. He was from D.I.T.C. and he was doing his thing. He was just signing to Roc-a-fella. He was doing big things and he had an inspirational flow. It’s sad when anything that negative happens in life. That’s Iron Galaxy, that’s why I bigged him up on the end of that song. Because it was a real touchy time when that happened; Harlem was real edgy at the time.
ETHX: Are there any producers or MCs of his caliber or any other caliber that you haven’t had a chance to work with yet that you hope to work with down the road?
VAST: A few collabos…I definitely want to work with Wu. ETHX: Anyone in particular? It doesn’t matter really. I just like them, they’re really crazy. I would like to reach and get the rest of the Brand Nubian members because I’ve already worked with Sadat X. There’s a few more than I can’t figure out right now off the top of the head. Right now I’m just concerned with getting up with my crew and handling all this music. We have a lot of music coming out in the next two years so it’s going to be crazy.
ETHX: I had an individual lyric that happened to stick out to me today. You referenced Atlas Shrugged on “Look Ma…No Hands.” Did you read that? Because that’s a hella long book.
VAST: Well, I actually did not, but I knew a group that named themselves after it. I knew a group that was actually a metal group, a thrasher group (haha), and there name was Atlas Shrugged.
ETHX: I guess that has a lot to say about your influences — you bringing references to thrasher groups into your lyrics. (haha)
VAST: Their drummer made beats on my album. From working with him, the name was constantly on my mind. So when I made the lyrics, I just penned that lyric on some…if Atlas shrugged, who would take care of the earth? So it was just a nice little joke. But, no, I did not read that book and that’s the third time someone asked me that. (haha)
ETHX: I read that book in high school and it was inspirational for me, so I was like, “Hmm, I wonder if he actually read that, because it’s over a thousand pages long.”
VAST: Man, I did not read that, I can’t even front. (haha)
ETHX: You should. That’d be some inspiration right there. (Vast cracks up laughing) When I was doing research for this project, I was browsing the online board seeing what folks wanted to know…and a lot of folks wanted to know when you would next work with El-P because they noticed there are no El beats on your solo album or Vordul’s.
VAST: Well, we’ll see. We’ll see what the future brings. There are a lot of things going on. I’m producing, working on the MPC. My man Camu’s (from SA Smash) been doing a lot of stuff for me. Heads are just doing music. If I get up with El, that could be next week or that could be next year. Heads just get in the lab and create. There’s definitely a lot of music coming out.
ETHX: I guess that goes to show how saturated New York is with hip-hop, because you have so many options there that you can stumble onto at any moment.
VAST: What people don’t understand is that El is his own entity. He’s got things that he’s trying to do. I’ve got things I’m trying to do. So when it comes down to doing Ox stuff, Cold Vein was an idea, for him to do all the beats. It wasn’t set in stone. So when you get Ox, you’re not always going to get El-P. It’s love that people are hungry and they want to hear more of us collaborating, but the future is very bright. All I have to say is that when it hits, it’s going to hit hard.
ETHX: You have your album hitting, and you guest a couple tracks on Vordul’s, are there any other collaborations that you’re doing, like your works with Jean Grae on Bootleg of the Bootleg?
VAST: I collaborated with a group called Prizm. They’re out in Jersey. And I’m on the Mr. Complex album. Peace to Complex. I’m on the High & Mighty album. That’s it for right now.
ETHX: But you got a lot coming out in the next two years.
VAST: Yeah, I have another solo album coming out. There are two Cann Ox albums coming out
ETHX: That was one question I wasn’t going to ask. I was going to let you drop it yourself and you just said it.
VAST: Yeah, man, there are two projects in the works. And there’s also an Atoms Family album being made. So it’s crazy right now. It’s definitely busy running around getting it done.
ETHX: That’s it! Any shout outs?
VAST: Yo, man, pick up “Look Mom…No Hands” April 20th. Crazy. I got Madlib, I got Cryptic, I got RJD2, I got Aesop Rock, MFDoom, it’s crazy, Breez Brewin’, Vordul, it’s just a wild album. I had a lot of fun. There’s a lot of music about to come out. Heads is about to come out with some powerful albums and we have to brace the public. Peace to Weathermen, Yak Ballz, Cage, Breezly Brewin, El-P, Tame One, Jakki da Mota Mouth, Camu Tao! Peace to all Atoms Fam, Def Jux, Chocolate Industries, Cetrifigul Phorce Records, Matic Records, anyone just doing it and putting it down.
ETHX: Big ups to hip-hop in general.
VAST: Big ups to hip-hop and anyone that’s doing it. Peace to the Roots, I just had a real good tour with them. Peace to OkayPlayer. Little Brother.
ETHX: You need to do something with 9th Wonder.
VAST: I’m sure we’ll do something in the future because I’m trying to do something with Little Brother. Peace to them, real talented brothers, and anyone putting it down. Keep your ears to the streets because it’s real and lots of projects are coming out. Keep focused! Peace!
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