Sat May 1
1332 W Burnside
You've got gravity shoes. Vast Aire's got a cloud suit.
These are words from Look Mom... No Hands (Chocolate Industries), the first solo album by Cannibal Ox's Vast Aire, and this is the sort of battle he wages. Neither minced nor tethered to humanoid cut-downs and earthly brags, the NY emcee uses mutant magic to sling a dis. Suckas don't want to step in his warpath.
Vast first gained iconic status in underground hiphop with the landmark Can Ox release The Cold Vein (Def Jux); with his fellow MC/longtime friend Vordul and producer El-P, that album had the distant feel of shouts from a space megaphone. On TCV's best track, "Pigeon," Vast rapped brilliantly about plight and poverty. Now, after Cannibal Ox's temporary hiatus (Vast stresses they have not broken up; their next record is titled Cypher Unknown) and Def Jux's ascension as America's keystone label for underground hiphop, Vast is cutting down sharp.
Obviously, the dis isn't his only talent, but lately, it's what hits the hardest. He spit one of the best lines on Jean Grae's The Bootleg of the Bootleg EP: "I got a rap that's as fat as my waistband/you got a rap that belongs in the waste can." For a man who loves video games, sci-fi, and The Matrix (and references it at least three times on Look Mom), it's not surprising that his battles are so jagged-edge; in comics, it's the friction between good and evil that's most important to the plot. Vast Aire's drama comes straight from whoever he's dissing--generally "you." When he raps that you've got "gravity shoes," but he's got "a cloud suit," he beams out from his "Fortress of Solitude" (a realm of both Superman and Jonathan Lethem), transformed, a hero begat by Brooklyn and Harlem, by "Poverty Lane." Vast acts as a superconductor between cultural forces, contracting and connecting the tendrils of hiphop and outer space, his language a house of mirrors with meanings yet unidentified. The beats, at their best ("whysdaskyblue," "My First Sony [Pegasus Mix]"), bump and arc, thick with electricity, spacey riddims, interpretive dancehall buzzing like neon tubes. He "flies like Woodstock/you crawl like Snoopy." Damn. But Vast isn't fucking with superheroes--he's more on some sage wisdom, Obi-Wan wizardry shit. When I tell him I thought the third Matrix film was so bad, I blanked out even seeing it, he offers to write an alternate ending--supplanting Neo and creating his own parallel universe, as so many mono-mythical figures have done before. "Everything's connected," he says. "There's a moon and there's a sun; everything's relative. And when you learn how to connect everything, I guess you get Vast Aire." Guide us into the light, o wise phoenix. And don't slay us once we get there.