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Part of Vast Aire’s emergence from the alleged hiatus of Cannibal Ox was a turn on Diverse’s 2003 debut, One A.M., that showed a newly extroverted MC: Among Aire’s abstract couplets on the track “Big Game” was the immortal—and surprisingly straightforward—“Light my spliff on a star/Before I flip on your squad.” This wasn’t the woozy oracle who drifted behind the psychedelic haze of Can Ox’s 2001 classic, The Cold Vein; it was the Harlem-based rapper in the process of finding clarity. The quest continues on solo debut Look Mom…No Hands, but Aire struggles to find lines that are so memorable. On “Poverty Lane 16128,” for example, Aire restates Vein’s rage-fueled paranoia with a powerful spareness: “They got us livin’ on our knees/And soon they’ll have computer chips the size of fleas/So while you eat rice and beans/They could do criminal checks or whatever they please.” Elsewhere, however, Aire’s TV consumption leads to flat wordplay, such as on the chorus of “Zenith”: “Sayin’ his rhymes ain’t fresh/Is like sayin’ Ted Koppel’s toupee is OK/Sayin’ his rhymes ain’t dope/Is like sayin’/You got incarcerated and loved droppin’ the soap.” Throughout, Aire makes every effort to portray himself as an heir to the East Coast tradition of well-read MCs who also instinctively know a good beat, yet none of the tracks on No Hands has the fearsomeness or tension that El-P’s distinctive sound-bombing brought to Vein. True, the not-too-shabby production list includes MF Doom, RJD2, and Da Beatminerz, but the occasionally funky results are consistently underwhelming—and feature far too many piano riffs. The disc’s most effective track, the thudding “Why’s Da Sky Blue?,” finds Aire digging into his past for a genuine nugget or two on artistic inspiration: “At the age of 10/I picked up the pen/Fire’s pretty and it burns/And I learned that then.” But then again, during “Da Supafriendz,” guest rhymer Doom puts it even better: “It’s like a grilled-cheese sammich/Gotta bring the butter else the bread’ll get damaged.” When all’s said and done, Look Mom…No Hands is a dry pan, indeed. —Joe Warminsky