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Mighty Joseph - Empire State

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Artist: Mighty Joseph

Album: Empire State

Label: Urchin Studios

Review date: Feb. 22, 2008

Hip hop's annals are beleaguered with groups who thought it would be greener on the solo side, and the latest victims look to be Harlem battle cats Cannibal Ox. The duo of Vast Aire and Vordul Megilah dropped one of independent hip hop's magnum opuses The Cold Vein in 2001 - one being the problem. Since then, amidst lingering rumors of a second album, both released solo records that could not escape The Cold Vein's shadow. Vast followed his record with The Best Damn Rap Show, a collaborative effort with DJ Mighty Mi from The High & Mighty in 2005. On his latest venture (not counting mixtapes), he teams up with lunchroom vet Karniege (pronounced "carnage") as Mighty Joseph for Empire State.

From the first moments, Vast seems determined to convince benchwarmers they're breathing rare air, announcing on "The Uprising," "I don't care what you talk / I am the Supreme emcee New York" across a Karniege-programmed drum pattern and a piercing wheeze that resembles the whistle in NWA's "Express Yourself." It's not a good sign, though, when your song's outro turns out to be its highlight. The wrong kind of rare.

Karniege sounds most at home in the trenches. On "Kids (N.Y.C.)," he raps "No hot water running / boil it / Uncle George pissy drunk didn't make the toilet / In '88 new seed / new mouth to feed / by then crack and AIDS heavy in the street." The Melodious Monk production feels like a studio version of Express Rising (check the playground field recording) and has to be the only hip-hop hook that mentions cheese (government-issued) when not referring to "C.R.E.A.M." On the other side, Madlib's board work on "Legend" sounds like he's been watching La Plan├Ęte Sauvage - again - and wearing out his copy of Computer World. Vast chases a "you niggas can't share my air" sample with the cadence of an exercise instructor. The combination makes for the record's most offbeat moment.

But the second half has more filler than an uncut blunt, commencing with the aptly-titled "Blurr." Vast unveils a few deft metaphors ("Like acupuncture we get on nerves"), but there's even more of the daft variety, with references to Bob Eubanks, Lazer Tag, Happy Meals, Maverick & Goose and Steven Seagal (in a chorus no less). Vordul one-ups these ill-advised allusions on his guest spot, comparing the men in (white and) blue to the smurfs and shouting out Gargamel. Another sure-shot guest, Murs, graces "The Dark Ages," but appears to be saving his ammo for a major-label release out later this year.

Karniege is a competent tag-team emcee (hence his relationship with Vast on tours), but his solo work here ("Anything Can Happen?") proves he's not suited to carry an entire track. The same, surprisingly, can be said for Vast, who goes to the slow-pronunciation well a bit too often (OK, way too often). It's a guest, in fact, Bed-Stuy's Poison Pen, who drops the record's standout line on "Beast": "You got Metro-North tickets and you still won't reach Peekskill."

Coming off as more of a side project than an album that took three years to create, Empire State won't help fans move on from The Cold Vein. The cold hard fact is, Vast nor Vordul have done anything in the past six years to really get the blood flowing - other than hint at a CanOx reunion.

By Jake O'Connell

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