Roughly 16 years ago, Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects was released in theatres to high praise from critics and relatively low turnouts from moviegoers. Kevin Spacey, playing a character by the name of Verbal Kent, used his ability of observation, wit, and intelligence to create a narrative that would simultaneously keep the detectives interested and pull the wool right over their eyes. Five years after the release of this film, an MC from the Windy City decided that he would use the Verbal Kent moniker. Since 2003, Verbal Kent has been one of the hardest working MCs dropping a total of six albums. With all of the hard work and noteworthy collaborations he has had over his career, sometimes, just like in the Bryan Singer film, It is necessary to take a step back in order to fully understand the big picture.
For Verbal, the first step he takes back, is the inspiration for his name and the symbolism inherent in it: ” That character is a great metaphor and the perfect MC name. During the interrogation, Spacey’s character wanted the officer to run one way with the story, but when the interrogation is over, the officer is there thinking, just like a good hip-hop fan would, all of the sudden a line pops in your head, and you think ‘damn, I did not see it that way.’ You go back and listen to the song, and it’s a whole different song. As a fan of rap, my favorite part of lyricism is having something redefined within a song and how that changes everything. ” For both the Kevin Spacey character and the Chi town MC the inspiration for their narratives comes from the environment that they reside in: ” His character is basically free styling as he goes along. He is just having a session. As it goes, he creates a story based on his environment. There is also the other part of him where he is not the suspecting type. Like you wouldn’t hit me up on the street and say there is Verbal Kent. Although I don’t limp anymore. I broke my foot last year and that was the big joke.”Remaining unsuspected seems to be incredibly alluring to Kent. It allows him to observe without being observed, which means that when he does make his presence felt, it sort of sneaks up on you, catches you by surprise, and forces you to reexamine what just happened. Much like in the movie, Kent’s environment influences his art. The video \”Take\”” from his most recent album Save Yourself is a throwback to the earliest hip-hop videos where the camera would follow the artist throughout the city as the artist would rhyme, but Kent takes it one step further. In this video, he is essentially acting as a tour guide as well: ” Everything in every single location is where I grew up. I want you to take you to my childhood crib where I grew up, I want to take you to the park where I first played basketball, the alley I used to walk when I would go to school, so it is all of our territory of where I grew up. It is truly a performance piece. It has to be real in order for people to connect with it. “
As much as this video is a way to show off his city, Kent understands the importance of providing balance in his work. This is why his rhymes on “My City” never misrepresent Chicago by simply focusing on the positives: ”When I got the track from Marco Polo, I felt very urban, very much like a warrior, triumphant warrior beat. Since my first tour was opening for Ed OG (Boston) and Sadat X (New York), I wanted them to not to a traditional my city is the best city. I wanted them to really talk about their city, the ups and downs of the city, talk about some of the things are incredible and some of the things are messed up. That is a video that we have actually talked about doing. We could do a triple shot screen to show each of the cities. ” In addition to doing a video for this track, there is a possibility of a West Coast edition of “My City” in the future.
Despite having worked with such hip-hop royalty as Pete Rock, Masta Ace, Sadat X and Ed OG, he never allows himself to be fully lost in the disbelief of these collaborations: ” The first tour that I did was I opened with Sadat X and Ed OG. It was a crazy time. The Pete Rock thing is really strange. These were literally musicians that I grew up and listened to as a child, but more importantly I think that I am making music that represents them. It’s not like I am choosing Pete Rock tracks to try and change the game. I specifically choose Pete Rock tracks to represent Pete Rock too. It’s a pleasure to work with these guys being a true rap fan, but also I want to represent like they did when I was a kid.” Despite all of the division in hip-hop, the one characteristic that binds all of the artists together that Kent grew up admiring was their insatiable hunger for their craft. When an artist is modeling himself after these legends and isn’t being given the chance he feels he deserves, he could easily develop an attitude that is easily heard in every bar that he rhymes: “The battle tone comes from having to prove myself as an MC. As I grow, that will be one of the last things to go. When I put out my first album, I had a group, and we put out a live hip-hop album, we were called OMU, and we would travel to record stores to try and sell the record to people in ’98. Sure there were white people making hip-hop, but it wasn’t as common. I would go into stores on the south side of Chicago and I would get looked at all. I didn’t fit in, so I did battle a lot. I had to battle at parties and get in people’s faces to prove myself. The attitude problems are a product of my environment. “