It’s taken years for heads outside of the Midwest to catch wind of everything Chicago’s vast underground has to offer. Thanks to artists touring more extensively, getting greater distribution (and thanks to the Internet of course), things have finally changed in 2004. Enter Verbal Kent of Organic Mind Unit, one of Chicago’s many subterraneous hip-hoppers ready to make noise on a greater scale. After catching a moderate buzz on college radio with songs like “The Remix”, Verbal Kent is battling his way onto the scene with his surprisingly impressive full-length debut, What Box.
The hip-hop market has never been so over-saturated, but even so, above-average releases such as this are definitely worthwhile if you enjoy well-balanced lyricism and some good old boom-bap. Some may say that Verbal Kent’s voice is reminiscent of Eyedea. While there is a slight resemblance, Verbal’s isn’t quite as distinctive. Nonetheless he delivers a nice balance of battle-raps and meditative numbers with a poised flow. And Chicago’s best-kept secret behind the boards, Kaz 1, lays down some of his tightest, head-nod inducing beats thus far for this album that should make the Molemen proud. Kaz, who produces 90-percent of What Box, hooks Verbal Kent up lovely, creating both bouncy backdrops (“Tomatoes & Glocks”) and refined ones (“Power”) for Verbal Kent’s varied approaches.
While this album may be as much Kaz 1′s show as it is Verbal Kent’s, the MC has a lot to say–and not just over Kaz 1′s beats. In fact, another Chicagoan, Overflo, produces one of the albums’ strongest cuts, “The Peoples Rapper”. Here Verbal Kent describes how despite haters’ attempts to knock him down before this album got off the ground, he remained persistent to rep Chi and himself to the fullest. And it paid off. Whether he’s talking about Chi on the “The City” or the state of mankind on “Power”, or even swatting away wack MCs on “Tomatoes & Glocks”, Verbal Kent has plenty of subject matter to go around.
With only a small number of guest appearances, Chicago MCs (Rusty Chains, Qwazaar of Typical Cats, etc.) and others (Wordsworth and One Man Army) drop in for some quality posse cuts without stealing the show. If there’s one drawback to What Box, it’s Verbal Kent’s voice, which isn’t bad by any means, but not too distinguishable either. Guru wasn’t lying when he said that it’s mostly the voice of an MC that gets you up. Thankfully Verbal Kent has the subject matter, poised flow and lyrics to keep him a step above most of the rest. And Kaz 1′s beats don’t hurt either. Chicago may now have too many albums coming out to keep with, but this is not one to let pass you by.
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