Whether you adore Kanye West or want to scalp him with a rusty spoon, there's no denying that, for those of us out on the coasts, he overshadows the rest of Chi-Town's rap scene. It's unfortunate, really, since the reclined hip-pop likes of Kanye, Common, and Lupe Fiasco represent only one side of the Midwestern coin. On the other, gaggles of radical backpacker battlers rattle the establishment - be that the government or the record industry - and they do it over jams Janet couldn't dance to.
Enter Verbal Kent, a mic-tough whiteboy armed with big rhymes and pipes equipped to pump heat. Sounding something like a pre-MTV Shady mixed with Jakki da Motormouth and Classified, the Chicago rapper's sixth solo disc is by far his finest, and not just because of assists from Masta Ace and a bevy of the best and brightest. Over adventurous yet traditional explosives from young guns and war heroes, Kent slaloms through sample gantlets, pillaging the whole way. Two choppy tracks from Illmind seem out of place amid the hardcore melodies; still, the few distractions can't subtract from the crack of Kent's production reel. "Take" and "Respect" are two of Pete Rock's hardest beats in years, and the Chocolate Boy Wonder must agree, since he spit a rare verse on the latter.
Otherwise, UK beatmakers Kelakovski and Wizard blast the bluest flames, which include the nod-riffic "Help" and the progressive manifesto "Justice Code" with Rusty Chains and Alltruisms. Overall, Kent proves that he deserves to share the booth with esteemed veterans - a stripe he especially earns on the Marco Polo-spun "My City" with Sadat X and Edo G. Just when you thought Chicago hip-hop was about flashing lights and slow jams.