erasing clouds

Vast Aire, Look Mom...No Hands

reviewed by dave heaton

The Cold Vein, the 2001 debut album by Cannibal Ox (the duo of Vordul and Vast Aire), was pretty much an instant classic, and it deserved to be one. A surreal apocalyptic vision, the album was complicated, dense, and unforgettable. But if you didn't know it already, Vast Aire's solo debut Look Mom...No Hands will be your proof that The Cold Vein's atmosphere was defined so solidly by El-P's production that the MCs weren't given enough room to define themselves in a multi-dimensional way. I'm not criticizing that album, but it's clear from Vast Aire's various guest appearances and solo tracks since then, and even more so from his new album, that he's not just the paranoid poet of The Cold Vein, that there's much more to him than what that album showcased.

So here in 2004 is Look Mom...No Hands: the title is a statement of independence; there's a track where Vast Aire calmly states, "This album is a reflection of everything I've grown to be"; and it's on a label other than Definitive Jux. It'd be a mistake to overstress that last point, as DefJux artists and friends appear throughout Look Mom..., but it's obvious that Vast is trying to define himself for listeners here. He spends the first few tracks rhyming for rhyming's sake to demonstrate his skills, and then as the album progresses he reveals more about his life, getting into his childhood ("I'm just a kid from Poverty Lane..."), his outrage about Bush's war on Iraq, his anger at "bitchlike" MCs (on the caustic diss track "9 Lashes"), and expressing love ("Could You Be?").

Vast Aire has a distinct personality as an MC, alternately relying on humor, nostalgia, and wit, not to mention a knack for thinking up interesting-sounding line and repeating them as hooks until they sound even more interesting. His outlook here is friendlier and more light-hearted than on The Cold Vein, but he'll still rip somebody down or express a "why am I here?" philosophical inquiry with tangible bitterness. The musical palette of Look Mom... is miles lighter than what's associated with Cannibal Ox, though a few tracks (especially those produced by Nasa, Jestoneart, and Cryptic One) have a dark, sci-fi vibe. But there's also plenty of tracks influenced by classic soul and cool jazz - the album uses the sounds of urban America to echo Vast's tales of growing up in the city. The most melodic and diverse tracks production-wise, the ones that take Vast to places furthest from The Cold Vein, come from producers that are already known as innovators - Madlib, RJD2, and MF Doom - but there's also smart tracks by Jake One and T-One, plus a couple that aren't quite as ear-catching but still aren't terrible, by Blueprint, Da Beatminerz, and others.

Look Mom...No Hands works because it's a step away from The Cold Vein. It shows Vast Aire to be a solid MC on his own, with a way around words and something to say. But its faults lie in the same area, as it has no overarching vision to hold everything together, leaving an album that sometimes feels a bit scattered. On the whole, though, Vast Aire has used his first album to build a foundation from which he can reach. At its best, Look Mom... gives a convincing case for Vast Aire as an MC to keep an eye on. Even at its worst it's still entertaining and competent, if not as overpowering as what Vast achieved on Cannibal Ox's debut.

Chocolate Industries:
Vast Aire:
Cannibal Ox:

Issue 22, April 2004

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