Despite the allegations of some subterranean rap ex-pats, Vast Aire hasn't weakened since his days of rearranging hip-hop with Cannibal Ox. In fact he's been sharpening his knives on several projects over the past decade, from his tragically slept-on Def Jux solo outing to his downright ignored Mighty Joseph gem alongside Karniege. Although it's an imperfect effort in some regards, the somewhat conceptual OX 2010: A Street Odyssey
testifies to Vast's highly developed steez, and does so with complements from MCs who effortlessly jibe with his arcane rhyme selections. The King Kong of oddball references — from Puff the Magic Dragon to Josh Baskin and Tim Burton — Vast glides in unison with the likes of Raekwon ("Thor's Hammer"), Guilty Simpson ("The Verdict"), and Cappadonna. On "I Don't Care," the backdrop is superbly tailored to Cap and Vast's comparable off-kilter banter. Virginia beatmaker Kount Fif is the production hero here, coming through with delicious drum-and-horn hits on "Man of Steel," and a nod-riffic crack-rock-of-the-year contender in "Almighty Jose." Which serves the point: so-called underground hip-hop isn't dead. It's just that the genre no longer enjoys the company of poseurs who dug the scene more than the music. In this particular case, they sleep at their own peril.