Album: Vast Aire

Look Mom...No Hands, Chocolate Industries

As half of the New York rhymers Cannibal Ox, Vast Aire was largely responsible for one of the landmark hip-hop albums of recent years, 2001's The Cold Vein. This solo debut isn't quite as startling, partly because the Ox's brilliant producer El-P has been replaced by a selection of breakbeat technicians such as RJD2, Madlib and Beatminerz, who, though competent, lack El-P's gift for cutting-edge urban soundscapes. Some of Aire's raps here seem flatter and less animated, though he's rarely caught short of an original lyrical slant, even on routine bragging-battle put-downs like "KRS-Lightly" and "9 Lashes" (I'm gonna knock you down a level/ Sorta like when Michael cast down the devil/ Sorta like when the earth gets reduced to a pebble"). His best work here has a singular apprehension of social detail - as when he notes "If you hear gun shots you're gonna hear a widow crying/ Five seconds apart/ Like thunder and lightning" - and a distinctive line in post-colonial resentment, most vividly expressed in "Poverty Lane 16128", linking crusades at home and abroad and treating both with suspicion. Musically, the best track is Ayatollah's funk groove to "Elixir". "It's sorta eclectic," Aire says. "It ain't Mozart's work, but ya gotta respect it."

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