In the year of the space odyssey, Vast Aire, along with fellow emcee Vordul (Of Cannibal Ox), teamed up as Cannibal Ox to release The Cold Vein . As the first full-length release on Def Jux, Vast and Vordul were blessed with wall-to-wall production from El-P, which easily made this one of the label’s most popular releases ever. While rumors have swirled about a post- Cold Vein break-up of Cannibal Ox, everyone close to the crew insists that Vast and Vordul are “pulling an Outkast” – meaning they aren’t broken up, they’re just doing solo projects before they reunite again. First out the gate is Vast Aire with Look Mom No Hands , courtesy of Chicago upstart label Chocolate Industries. But how does V.A. measure up as a solo artist?
Don’t let the title fool you, Vast still has “hands” helping him, just not the usual suspects. While he may not have El-P doing his beats or Vordul to trade mics with, he enlists a heavy guest list, one that helps him produce a decent, yet scatterbrained debut. While Vast’s style is an acquired taste, he definitely draws his strengths from his collaborators. When he is joined by Blueprint on “Zenith”, it feels like he never left The Cold Vein – which is a good thing – however while the same can be said for “Why’s Da Sky Blue?” (prod. Cryptic One), “Pegasus”, and “Candid Cam”, he fairs much better when taking turns on the mic with someone like Blueprint. Of course when teamed-up with other producers-on-the-mic, such as MF Doom (“Da Supafriendz”) and Camu Tao (“KRS-Lightly”), the results are equally as slammin’, and ditto for “Posse Slash” (on which Vast warns “this isnt a posse cut, it’s more of a slash”), as each Karniege, Breez Evahflowin, Aesop Rock, Poison Pen, and Vast run it down the line over a raw Beatminerz beat that bleeds New York City.
Plainly said, Vordul is missed, but with these other emcees filling in his shoes, it still works. While Vordul does join in with Vast and Breezly Brewin on the awesome Madlib produced “Life’s Ill Pt. II (The Empire Striketh)”, Vast seems to do fine on his own on the title track (“Look Mom.. No Hands”), as The Beat Conductor brings the old tiger our Vast, relentlessly rhyming as the beat blows the doors open. Vast also carries his own weight on “9 Lashes (When Michael Smacks Lucifer)”, which unnecessarily adds another chapter to the long-over Weathermen / Demigodz fued. While not the strongest dis cut from the series, RJD2′s moody pianos and ill drum programming make it worth checking for, however this beat would have been better off if saved for a song with a little more substance.
Without El-P’s production, or even the production of one producer spanning the entire album, Vast’s debut is a roller-coaster ride with its ups and its downs. While the production is mostly solid throughout, the enlistment of so many different producers almost makes it hard to latch onto as a complete and thorough project, ala The Cold Vein, at times sounding more like a compilation than a solo album. Meanwhile, each of Vast’s attempts at commercial play show disastrous results. Jake One’s breezy summer pianos on “Viewtiful Flow” don’t mesh with Vast’s brainy style at all, helping the bad lines jump out in full color (“Yeah I know jujitsu, I hit you with the divine secrets of… ya! ya!”). While syrupy R&B vocals also help spoil this track, the same can be said for the too-sexy-for-this-album “Elixir” (feat. Sadat X) and the scary commitment anthem “Could Be You?”, where a dirty Madlib jazz track is beaten down with unisex crooning.
But a few bad apples don’t necessarily spoil the bunch. So while Vast’s debut is all over the place, in terms of sounds and styles, individually it’s stronger moments hold it together. While Vast’s rhymes range from haphazard stream-of-consciousness freestyle (” Give me three strikes and I’m gone with the wind / I know piranha rap niggas that will eat you…. thin. “) to questionable non-rhymes (“These raps are flawless / when you don’t get knocked out, you hit the floor less “) to well thought-out, complex plays on words (“I start talking shit on Tuesday, but Wednesday, he’s Ash / Now you gotta put a “bad” in front of Thursday / and think of Good Friday as a thing of the past…. over / pass the mic to me nigga, it’s over.”), Look Mom No Hands suggests that Vast Aire may be better taken in smaller doses than large amounts. But with a collaborative album with GM Grimm in the works, as well as two new Cannibal Ox projects coming down the pipeline, he should have no problem slipping back into his element. While Vast’s LP does have it’s moments, truth of the matter is, Cannibal Ox is like Outkast, Nice & Smooth, Run DMC, and EPMD - better together than apart.
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