What to say, what to say? Verbal Kent’s appropriately-titled “What Box,” though an extraordinary example of what the Chicago underground continues to offer, is nothing more than a head-scratcher – an album that relies too heavily around just rapping without offering listeners much substance to sink their teeth into.
Hailing from Chi-Town, which has also spurred recent releases from the mainstream likes of Kanye West and Twista, as well as underground offerings from the Molemen, Qwel, Robust, and a slew of others, Verbal Kent struggles to ever really find a distinct sound on “What Box,” which may be an indication of his town more than himself. While most hip-hop fans can identify a New York song from a West Coast sound, Chicago, likes its hometown Cubs, just cannot seem to find its own distinct Midwest swagger (even Kanye’s sped-up samples have disappeared into the New York oblivion by now).
Nonetheless, Verbal Kent can rock a mic and provides the credentials to prove that claim – the three “Spit to Hill” tracks, “The Zone,” and the Dre-sounding “The Remix,” all feature energized and anxious performances from the nasally Kent, who cuts through the beats and maneuvers his way towards some of the toughest battle raps this side of Wrigley Field. Still, his flow remains rather unappealing and uninventive, as much of what he provides has been done before, and in most cases, done better by worthy underground opponents.
“Alley Rap,” the dark, piano-tweaked offering from Kaz 1, features the always-correct Wordsworth, who, unfortunately for Kent, runs away easily with the best verse of “What Box.” “Watching me put a song together is like witnessing God coming up with the plans that’s conception,” Words brags in a curious song that gains steam but seems to be missing a charismatic Verbal Kent to wrap up the final verse and make it a clear-cut favorite.
The two Chicago anthems, “The Peoples’ Rapper” and “The City” (featuring Willis Drummond II) come with well-placed samples, with the latter track playing out as a vivid description of what Chicago is all about and what the city entails. Think Cam’ron’s “Welcome to New York City” under the pretense of the underground, as “The City” showcases Kent with one of his best attempts at conceptually storytelling his way through a track.
The interrogative “Power” lends the influence of another New York rapper Jadakiss, as Verbal asks the question, “What if…?” (instead of “Why?”) to a whole batch of interesting scenarios that follows the recent trend of attaching hip-hop and the political spectrum.
Still, such efforts are not enough to override the skippable “Combat” or the guest-filled “Get A Job,” both of which see Verbal Kent ripping through tracks. But who is really that interested to listen after hearing this all several times before? Even The Opus-production of the multi-tiered “Alien Rock,” where Kent spits, “I’m the illest white boy since Lou Ferrigno,” his voice gets trapped amongst a quality production effort and again overlooked.
So, what is there to say? “What Box” perfectly encapsulates an up-and-down effort from Verbal Kent, who gives listeners little more than a few substance-filled tracks surrounded by a plethora of battle raps that give no indication to what Verbal Kent is all about. If he’s not careful, the “What Box” may transform into the “Who Box,” with Verbal Kent himself shying away and landing back in Chi-Town obscurity.