Verbal Kent has spent the last decade quietly releasing hardcore Hip Hop albums that call back to ’90s lyricism, with sounds as chilly as his Chicago winds. Raising the stakes on his latest album, Save Yourself, Kent links with east coast legends behind the boards and on the mic. Despite some popular friends, it’s still Verbal Kent’s presence that makes this album memorable.

The album’s first track, “Same” captures exactly what Verbal Kent is about. When he spits “This isn’t the same song / Spit to the same beat / But it’s same theme / Somebody save me,” it’s a hell of an introduction to what Kent does on the microphone. The hunger from the get-go is evident and despite the album’s shortcomings, he goes for broke with each bar, and even when he falls short, he lands in territory that average emcees would love to see.

One of Save Yourself‘s shining moments is “Cry,” produced by Apollo Brown. Equipped with soulful yet haunting vocal sample, Verbal gives the listener three minutes of quotables. The song’s punchlines and metaphors are praise worthy, but the manner in which Verbal uses alliteration leaves the listener awe-struck. Meanwhile on “My City” Verbal gets assistance from Sadat X and Edo G. Marco Polo goes to work on the tables in DJ Premier-esqe way. While Sadat X and Edo G don’t do much to add to the project’s value, they don’t anything to hurt it either. Edo even leaves the listener with a dope one-liner that could only come from a Boston emcee, “Never associate me with the fucking Tea Party.” “Last Laugh” features two more emcee masters, Masta Ace and One.Be.Lo. All three artists give a clinic on rapping and Verbal stands can say that he not only stood amongst Ace and Lo but may have even bested them lyrically.

The downfall of Save Yourself is that with the exception of a few tracks, the production is disappointingly average. Three Kelakovski-produced tracks drag the project down, while Wizard disappoints more than he does impress. While the Pete Rock-produced “Take” hits hard and Verbal Kent matches the intensity, it doesn’t stand in the same league as the second Pete Rock produced track, “Respect.” It is as soulful as it is complex and Verbal makes the most out of a once and lifetime opportunity. Lyrics like “Your Hip Hop fix, is no fiction / That’s why you nod your head listening / Parts of your body start twitching” are a simple illustration of what good Rap does to the devoted fan. It’s part of what makes Verbal Kent lyrical effort on the album so impressive. While there are plenty of complex multi-syllable examples of dope lyricism, Verbal can also strip it down and still be effective. With all that said, the listener is left with the question, what would this album be like with top-notch production from top to bottom? It’s a fair question that ultimately will never be answered. 

Despite an impressive lineup of producers, the albums production value falls short. While the aforementioned Pete Rock and !llmind drop some impressive board work, more than half of the projects sound comes across behind the times. Verbal, however, refuses to ever stay at par with the production and delivers 45 minutes of pure lyricism. His ability to spit over anything in fact saves the album. Save Yourself may not make any producers cringe in fear, but emcees and microphones should be alarmed, and take the necessary steps to conceal their identity.