In 2001, The Cold Vein was law. The methodical soundtrack. Vast Aire and Vordul Mega’s maniacal lyricism. Fawning acclaim from some of the industry’s toughest music critics. On the surface, Cannibal Ox seemed destined for iconic heights with backpackers and shiny suits alike, as their dark, gritty appeal resonated with fans still basking in the glow of Wu-Tang allure, even if the clan’s popularity had diminished. Ten years later, and the Definitive Jux label through which The Cold Vein was distributed is in shambles. Cannibal Ox has disbanded and Vast Aire has forged a modest solo career in a cluttered landscape of indie artists. Maybe that’s why OX 2010: A Street Odyssey feels like an aggressive and somewhat desperate attempt to recapture the glory days, where words mattered and street records had a place on the radio. But while the album’s nostalgic title references Vast’s golden project, the material serves as a frustrating reminder that the game has changed, and evolution is necessary.
Above all, OX 2010 lacks a clear vision and focus. Is it a spacey nod to The Cold Vein‘s cosmic grooves? A boom bap return to sullen New York City hip-hop? It may be both of those things. But while the title suggests “concept record” and a flashback to better times, the album plays like a mere collection of songs without a theme or direction. And while Vast shows flashes of lyrical prowess, the project is hampered by an uneven soundtrack that fails to amplify the high points. “Horoscope,” with its subtle bass line and tapping drums, has potential as a laid-back love song, but clashes with Vast’s aggressive baritone and broken sentence structure. The same goes for the baffling “Phenom.” Here, Vast raps: “I could show you how that white lady flies on a broom/Wit a pimple on her nose, she’ll be exposed, cause she’s like Pinocchio wit panty hose.” Okay.
But it’s not all bad. On “The Verdict,” Vast and Random Axe member Guilty Simpson trade bars over a triumphant horn loop and sporadic guitar chords. Vast’s clear delivery saves the soulful “I Don’t Care” from certain demise, given Cappadonna’s underwhelming verse. At certain points during the project, the Harlem MC also seems dismayed by the current hip-hop landscape. And who could blame him. “Fake emo thugs … with pink t-shirts on,” Vast growls on “Battle of the Planets.” On the aforementioned “Horoscope,” he seems exasperated: “Everybody with a asshole thinks they can rap now.” While those statements are true, OX 2010 falls victim to the same shortcomings it wants to dispel. MCs have seen mixed results when retreating to the Holy Grail. Raekwon dropped Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II as a follow-up to his classic “purple tape.” Nas dropped Stillmatic to help listeners forget about Nastradamus. Unfortunately for Vast Aire, people will forget about OX 2010: A Street Odyssey. Then they’ll dust off The Cold Vein and give it a spin.