Thurs April 29, Neumo's, 8 pm, $13 adv.
"You've got gravity shoes/Vast Aire's got a cloud suit."
These are a couple lines from Look Mom... No Hands (Chocolate Industries), the first solo album from Cannibal Ox emcee Vast Aire, and this is the sort of battle he wages. Never tethered to earthly brags, the N.Y. emcee uses mutant magic to sling a dis. His weapon is brevity; his lyrics have multiple facets. 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 emcee/longtime friend Vordul and producer El-P, that album has the distant feel of shouts from a space megaphone, a druggy, floating-iceberg disbelief/alternate reality. 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 the one that hits the hardest. 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-edged; in comics, it's the friction between good and evil that's most important to the plot. Vast Aire's drama comes straight from whomever he's dissing--generally "you." When he raps that he's got "a cloud suit," he beams out of his "Fortress of Solitude" (a realm of both Superman and Jonathan Lethem), transformed, a hero born of Brooklyn and Harlem, of "Poverty Lane." The beats, at their best, bump and arc, thick with electricity, spacey riddims, interpretive dancehall buzzing like neon tubes.
But Vast isn't fucking with superheroes--he's more on some sage wisdom, Obi-Wan wizardry shit. When I tell him I blanked out even seeing the third Matrix film, he offers to write an alternate ending--creating his parallel universe as so many monomythical figures have done before. "Everything's connected," he says. "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.