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Verbal Kent

Save Yourself

Rating 2.0/5.0

Label: Rapmechanics

Chicago’s always been one of the hardest hip-hop scenes to really classify. You have the grim subject matter and rapid-fire delivery of Twista and Do or Die, the everyman laments of Rhymefest and Lupe Fiasco, the feminine turmoil of Da Brat and Infamous Syndicate member Shawnna and Kanye West, whose career has had moments of all of the above. There is also the city’s punchline-centric sarcastic tough guy contingent, represented most famously by Matlock and Verbal Kent. Most known for his 2004 college radio hit “The Remix” (“Sit back, relax, everybody peep this/ Never was a song, but this is “The Remix”), a B-side that caught fire, he’s been peddling his brand of Midwest cynicism for over a decade. It’s this penchant for mouthing off that saw him survive an attempt on his life back in 2006 when an acquaintance sliced his throat in a Rogers Park alley. In true Kent fashion, not only did this not shut him up, but he hasn’t missed a step and sounds exactly the same as he did when he debuted with The What Box over a half-decade ago. The is the greatest strength and biggest shortcoming of his new album Save Yourself.

Joining Kent this time is a pretty impressive guest list; for someone who’s been so distinctly of-his-region, these collaborations add something new to his soundscape. Producer IllMind’s “Examples,” despite an unnecessary melodious-hook, flushes out Kent’s punchlines to reveal more aspects of his personality and thought process. Likewise, Marco Polo’s production work on “My City” helps build a bridge between Kent’s Chicago bravado and Sadat-X’s Brooklyn assertiveness. Juice Crew alumni Masta Ace and Binary Star member One Be Lo also turn in worthwhile verses on “Last Laugh.” Still, this is Kent’s show, and while Save Yourself seems to just barely touch on many concepts, the chip on his shoulder is big enough to cover a city and make his struggles relatable.

Unlike most of his early-2000s setup-punchline contemporaries who’ve recently put out comeback material, Kent’s performance on Save Yourself doesn’t reek of trying too hard. While the subject matter is largely similar, how no other rappers rhyme like him (“The Same”) how he’s better than other rappers (“Take”) and how true he is to his fanbase and hometown (“Respect”), what’s endearing is that he genuinely sounds like he’s enjoying himself. It’s not defensive posturing or begging for relevancy, rather this is exactly what Kent wants to be rapping about. He’s following his heart and not embarrassing himself along the way. If you’re a fan of this style, this is the album for you. While the production is largely subpar, that’s never been Kent’s greatest draw. Its clever wordplay delivered joyfully bitter for reasons other than that he’s a rapper in 2011. Save Yourself is Kent staying in his lane, but he’s the most dependable car in the race.

by Chaz Kangas

Key Tracks: My City, Examples

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