- Vast Aire
Since Cannibal Ox's 2001 debut epitomized the artfully tangled thickets of word and sound that put Def Jux at the forefront of indie hip-hop, it was always going to be difficult for Vast Aire to follow it up solo -- especially without the memorably abstract production of label chief El-P. On paper, the dream team (including RJD2 and Da Beatminerz) he assembled to back his tales of martial arts, mythology, and ghetto memories seems like a reasonable replacement, yet the patchwork of styles leaves Vast Aire's debut, Look Mom . . . No Hands, less than the sum of its hoarsely mumbled verses.
Rare-groove wunderkind Madlib inspires most of the best moments, including "Life's Ill, Pt. 2," a fractured jazz-funk collage that reunites Vast with Vordul, the other half of Cannibal Ox, and the surprising, soulful "Could You Be," where the star overcomes "the butterflies that was holdin' me back" to profess true love. Yet the lows -- like the disses of 7L and Esoteric on "9 Lashes," which take underground squabbles to a new level of pettiness -- make Hands a disappointingly unbalanced ride. Hopefully, now that he's Aire-d on the side of diversity, Vast will recognize that he functions best as a one-producer MC -- and will buttonhole Madlib for a full-length follow-up.