Look Mom...No Hands
Hell, I expected to be disappointed, too. How can you not be when, up till now, the one thing Vast Aire has done to make his name is Cannibal Ox's The Cold Vein, an album that, for Philip K. Dick-riding space-rap fiends, is all but impossible to follow up? But let's put aside his dud-ass Dirty Magazine mix tape and the Cannibal Ox breakup rumors and their aborted '03 tour to consider this: Vast Aire is always hit-and-miss--only the ratio changes. It's fitting that his solo debut is called Look Mom...No Hands. If his style is comparable to anything, it's a kid riding a bike with his arms in the air, wobbling and teetering and doomed to disaster at the first pothole--but ever nonchalant and cocky.
Vast's randomly double-tracked, carefully enunciated, Hooked on Phonics style isn't always conducive to head nods, even when it's paired with beats by the likes of Madlib and Blueprint. And unlike the something-to-prove fire of his lyrics on The Cold Vein, Vast Aire here is sometimes content to rhyme like he's just filling space. The door-banging RJD2 beat of "9 Lashes" can't make up for Vast's tendency to put the distracted in dis track. His tossed-off attacks on indie-thug B-teamers 7L and Esoteric are overwhelmed by his tendency to repeat the chorus so often that the track sounds like a phony leaked MP3. He also has a tin ear for hooks--there's a reason Vordul handled most of the choruses on The Cold Vein, and that reason is lines like "Sayin' his rhymes ain't fresh/is like sayin' Ted Koppel's toupee is okay" (from Look Mom...'s "Zenith").
But looking for flash in Vast is beside the point. His flow is somewhat ponderous, technically crude and riddled with awkward pauses, but those traits prove deadly when he's focused. On the Saturday morning cartoon sendup "Da Supafriendz," he matches wits with MF Doom without getting shown up, while the hip-hop coming-of-age rhyme "Why's Da Sky Blue?" boasts some of Vast's most evocative lyrics to date ("and if you hear a gunshot, you're gonna hear a widow, cryin'/five seconds apart like thunder and lightnin'"). The record is unfocused--too much production schizophrenia, too many mediocre guest MCs, too many signs that he's saving his peak shit for the proper Can Ox sophomore record. But as disappointments go, it's cause for optimism.