Like William Shatner on Star Trek, gargantuan Cannibal Ox frontman Vast Aire specializes in consistently conveying a pronounced sense of wonder. But where Shatner always had brave new worlds to amaze him, Aire's fascination tends to revolve around the unpredictable stream of words, images, and ideas emanating from his own mouth. One of rap's wiggiest wordsmiths, Aire ratchets hip-hop's obsession with aggression and authenticity up to surreal levels of Grand Guignol, boasting at one point that he's "Realer than a redneck on a polar bear." What does that mean? Who the hell knows? What's important is that like nearly everything Aire spits, it sounds incredibly cool, especially when filtered through Aire's excitable cartoon rasp. Everyday MCs might spit endless rounds of gun-talk, but Aire is quick to remind them "it takes more than bullets to stop a zombie."

Pop-culture references represent another standard hip-hop practice Vast Aire elevates to the level of pop art. On The Best Damn Rap Show, his album-length collaboration with High And Mighty producer Mighty Mi, he finds clever and imaginative contexts for references to Rocky, Bo Jackson's hip, Pilates, Killer Klowns From Outer Space, Jedi, The Highlander, the alien costume from Spider-Man, gamma rays, Bruce Banner, Zeus, Juice, House Of Flying Daggers, Superdad, Burger King's Reagan-era "Herb" ad campaign, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. And that's just on the second track alone. Aire boasts a seemingly limitless supply of warped, morbidly funny battle-raps, but he's much shakier when it comes to strong song concepts, cohesion, and structure. Mighty Mi's production isn't anywhere near as distinctive or memorable as Aire's wordplay, but it doesn't really have to be. All Mi really has to do is establish an appropriately scuzzy context for Aire to strut his stuff. Mi is the sonic auteur behind Rap Show's grimy B-movie atmospherics, but Aire brings the verbal pyrotechnics. In this low-fi cinemascape, Aire's malevolent wit qualifies as an unbeatable special effect.

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