Chicago-based MC Verbal Kent isn’t exactly a hip-hop household name, and maybe this is partially his own fault – in his press release, he claims to have never “shopped” one of his independently released records. But money, fame, and popularity don’t seem to matter to the rapper. Instead, he focuses on using his sinister sounding voice to spit thought-provoking lyrics while working with producers and other MCs of the highest caliber, known and unknown. In other words, as his new album, Save Yourself, attests to, it’s the craft of hip-hop that concerns him, not the flash.
Save Yourself opens with the ominously intoned “Same,” a track which finds Kent explaining that, “This isn’t the same song spit to the same beat.” Indeed. Of course, neither is “Take,” a bouncing number whose charm can be credited to the legendary Pete Rock’s bombastic old-school beat production. “Give me that, give me back real hip-hop. Give me that, take that real hip-hop” goes the chorus. One can only imagine that Kent was just as excited to work with Sadat X and Edo G on “My City,” a song on which each defends and extols his city (Chicago, NYC, and Boston accordingly). Granted, Sadat can make almost any track sound nice, but Marco Polo’s textured, luxurious beat offers a lot of mileage here.
Of course, everything in between is pretty solid as well – and don’t ignore “Last Laugh” near the end of the album, featuring Masta Ace and a Madlib on mushrooms beat by Varan. Verbal Kent remains a champion of the underground, and he’s probably not going to crack the top 40 anytime soon. As long as he keeps making solid albums like this, he’ll get what he deserves and craves, in his own words, “to be part of hip-hop history.”