“OX 2010: A Street Odyssey”
(Man Bites Dog / Fat Beats)
Cult status can be a strange burden to bear. Just ask NYC’s Vast Aire who, after gaining critical acclaim as one half of Def Jux duo Cannibal Ox at the turn of the millennium, has spent the last decade juggling fan expectations with a desire to explore his own creative path.
Returning with his third solo album, the Jamaica, Queens lyricist delivers another collection of unpredictable beats and rhymes that are simultaneously rooted in underground boom-bap and golden-age mic skills whilst still managing to break away from the norm.
Taking inspiration from Stanley Kubrick’s similarly titled epic 1968 sci-fi movie, “OX 2010: A Space Odysssey” is a concept album of sorts with the intergalactic theme appearing to be more of a metaphor for the individual creative space Aire occupies in the Hip-Hop universe rather than an excuse to rely on gimmicks such as laser sound effects and rhymes about little green men.
The album starts in high-gear, with producer Kount Fif supplying Vast with a selection of back-to-back bangers. The previously-released single “Nomad” is a dense barrage of harsh cuts, chopped orchestration and hard drums that celebrates the NYC resident’s desire to “rhyme outside the mould” as wack emcees get “squashed like a garlic clove”. The rolling pianos of “Almighty Jose” find Vast being joined by longtime ally Karniege to “get a little retarted like midgets with cerebral palsy”, whilst “The Man Of Steel” is a gleeful example of Aire’s typically random worldplay, as he draws on everything from blaxploitation flicks to computer game consoles in his efforts to defeat his verbal competition.
Producer Fif really outdoes himself on the brilliant “I Don’t Care” which features Wu-Tang affiliate Cappadonna. Over blaring horns and rumbling bass the pair revel in their shared old-school Rotten Apple rap attitude, with Cap proving how formidable his Shaolin sword can still be when matched with the right production.
Speaking of which, Vast Aire unfortunately falls into his own sonic black hole on a couple of cuts, with the space-age bounce of “2090” and the cluttered “Merry Go Round” not standing up well against the remainder of the album.
The Thanos-produced “Horoscope” matches 80s-style synths with leftfield love raps (“Isn’t life great? She fell for me after hearing my mixtape”) whilst “Thor’s Hammer” is an all-out lyrical invasion with Raekwon and Vast’s former rhyming partner Vordul Mega delivering cryptic lines over an effectively stark musical backdrop.
The unlikely combination of Detroit’s straight-talking Guilty Simpson and Vast Aire’s spontaneous flow actually results in one of the album’s best cuts in the form of the Ayatollah-produced “The Verdict”. I for one would definitely not be mad if the pair decided to join forces for an album or EP.
Closing the album out is the previously heard “Battle Of The Planets” which finds Vast aiming his proton rhymes at “emo thugs with pink t-shirts on” along with his former label Def Jux and fellow NY rapper Cage – a strange way to end the project considering this track was all over the internet in 2009.
Vast Aire has always been an emcee who has divided listeners – you either like him or you don’t. Personally, I’ve always enjoyed his often strange yet always entertaining verbal displays, and whilst “OX 2010” isn’t likely to change the opinion of any of his critics, at this point in his career Aire is probably past caring.
“A Space Odyssey” may not represent everyone’s ideal of the future of the funk, but it is the sound of an accomplished artist confidently blowing a few craters of his own into the surface of Planet Rock.