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Vast Aire - Look Mom...No Hands

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Artist: Vast Aire

Album: Look Mom...No Hands

Label: Chocolate Industries

Review date: Jun. 10, 2004

Expectation has overshadowed many a sophomore effort, talent notwithstanding. So just to get this out of the way: Look Mom...No Hands, the new solo record from Cannibal Ox MC Vast Aire Kramer, is definitely not the second Can Ox record.

Unquestionably, Look Mom...No Hands lacks the cohesion that characterized The Cold Vein, Cannibal Ox's brilliant (and only) full-length. Where The Cold Vein was a singular statement, from cover art (a drawing by Tyson Jones of two Tron-looking dudes and a snorting ox in the background) to El-P's masterful beats (his finest work to date), Look Mom... is merely a collection of songs from various producers with a not-so-badass picture of Vast on the cover. Where The Cold Vein was revered for its "underground" or "anti-commercial" sound, Look Mom... sounds closer to the mainstream. And on the Ox record, Vast and partner Vordul Megilah worked off one another, sharing the spotlight, whereas Look Mom... leaves Vast a bit out of place as the only feature MC.

But expectation and comparison aside, with Look Mom...No Hands, Vast Aire proves that he is still a compelling entertainer. It would be easy to dismiss the new record were it not for the renewed lyrical style that made the critics hot back in 2001. Cannibal Ox was a moniker meant to boast that Vast Aire and Vordul Megilah devoured their own kind (MCs) with lyrics sharp as a knife (‘Ox’ is slang for blade), and the metaphor still seems apt. Vast Aire doesn't so much rap his vocals as brandish them, and with an aggression that says he just doesn't care what the critics think. On the album's opening salvo, he acknowledges his rapid rise to visibility: "opportunity was like, ‘fuck knocking, I'll pick the lock’," he declares. Vast goes on to show that he still has the ability to paint a picture of an apocalyptic and crazed cyberland while also spewing convincingly about the core of evil that hides in present day New York (apparently in the future, Harlem is still fucked up). "I got the style that amazes / too many phrases / you think I'm weeded up? / I'm on lasers," he reassures on the title track.

Which isn't to say that he's the identical MC he was three years ago. Vast's voice has a softer edge to his invectives and rails, a patience that can only come from success. He still has the street aggression of Nas, but on Look Mom... he mixes this with the industry-seasoned self-consciousness of Jay-Z. And he's funnier now. "I used to dream about this era. / Where's my flying car at? / PS2 is cool, but I want my flying car" he laughs on “Outro: 12 Noon.” Tracks like "Da Superfriendz," his collaboration with MF Doom, would have no place on The Cold Vein, but that's the point. Doom's presence here is significant, in that he of all MCs understands underground staying power, and he, like Vast, is also taking his "underground sound" closer to the mainstream.

With Can Ox on some sort of extended hiatus, Vast Aire has concentrated on what is immediately possible, and there's just too much force in his voice on Look Mom…No Hands to write him off just yet. He's filled his solo record with enough brilliance to induce not just nostalgia, but optimism. Hopefully we won't have to wait another three years for the next chapter in the Vast Aire universe, and hopefully, that chapter will include Vordul Megilah.

By Matthew Bernstein

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