Verbal Kent is a Hip-Hop veteran. Since the late 90s Kent has released music as a solo artist and with various groups. With nearly twenty years in the game Kent has spent half of his life in Hip-Hop. The Chicago emcees latest release makes note of his career in Hip-Hop with an album titled “Half My Life.”
Half My Life is released courtesy of Below System Records and is produced entirely by German producer by way of Spain, Superior. The 11-track album features appearances by Vic Spencer, Sonnyjim, Lance Ambu, and Recognize Ali.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Verbal Kent about collaborating with Superior, his fondest memory in his rap career, and his new album, Half My Life.
TRHH: Why did you call the new album ‘Half My Life’?
Verbal Kent: I’ve been writing raps and involved in rap for about half my life now. A lot of the songs on this album come from a place of reflection and looking back, and then looking forward to where I am now.
TRHH: Do you ever look back over your career at fond moments and think, ‘Damn, I never thought I’d be here’?
Verbal Kent: Yeah, definitely. Some of the moments of being in Europe touring with Ugly Heroes were surreal for me. I never had massive expectations of what would come from this. I did this as a more of a therapeutic way of dealing with life. I love doing it for my own reasons. In Europe where we did Hip Hop Kemp and big festivals in Prague and Germany – some of those shows were surreal for me like, “I put all this work in for myself because I love doing it and I’m here right now.” I started making music for pretty pure reasons. I love doing it, I love the craft, and I’m a big fan of it.
TRHH: A lot of guys that I talk to say that the Hip-Hop fans in Europe are more accepting. Would you say that’s accurate?
Verbal Kent: I think so. I think “accepting” is a pretty general word. I think what happens in Europe is a lot of the countries, the cities, and the fan bases are un-impacted by societal expectations of what music is so they find music on their own terms. If they find an artist they hear and they love, they love that artist. They don’t care who anybody is telling anybody to like. Sure they’re up on trends and they’re up on what’s good and what the latest is, but if they find a rapper or a group that they like they’re gonna like it. You have an easier chance of being found or appreciated in Europe because of that reason.
TRHH: Speaking of Europe, how did you link up with Superior?
Verbal Kent: He hit me up maybe a year and a half or two years ago about being featured on his album, The Journey. I did two tracks with him and we just kind of hit it off. His rhythms, tempos, and choices of beats just meshed well right away when he heard what I had done. The first track I did with him was called “Mastermind” and when he heard it he said, “This is how I want people to sound and come at my beats.” I liked his stuff, too and he asked me to do another one and I was like, “Sure, man.” I kept building with him. I’m always looking for people to collaborate with that are like-minded, our interests are aligned, and we do this for the same kind of reasons. I just started chatting with him, he brought up the idea and I was down for it.
TRHH: What inspired the song ‘The Little Things’?
Verbal Kent: The Little Things is just kind of my silly take on a love song. I hear a lot of love songs where they’re kind of fake versions of love songs. What I mean is they’re love songs that they think people will wanna hear or they’re about superficial parts of love in a relationship. The Little Things is like my Seinfeld-ish take on a love song. It’s about the intricacies and the tiny things about your partner, how you fulfill each other, and how these little details add up to a bigger picture in a relationship.
TRHH: The song ‘Meet Your Idols’ is really creative. How did you come up with the concept for that song?
Verbal Kent: [Laughs] Thanks, man. I know some people might think I went a little too far. I hope I didn’t offend anybody. I kind of thought about how I’m a lyricist and a quote unquote “battle rapper” in the late 90s and early 2000s sense of that phrase. I don’t do the pre-written battle stuff, but when I was coming up it was freestyling and cyphers and that kind of thing. It kind of drew me into the culture. With Meet Your Idols I always found it hilarious that when you’re a quote unquote battle rapper you always have this imaginary opponent that you’re always going at. You’re threatening someone that doesn’t exist in your raps when you’re shit talking.
With Meet Your Idols I thought I’d be pretty direct and since all these raps are basically punishable by death when you’re threatening to kill these rappers and slay these rappers I thought what if I would use actual dead rappers as a point of reference for all these fake threats. It’s also kind of a tribute at the same time. I can play on words, I can play on all these legends that are resting in peace, and it’s something that anybody would get that listens to rap. They would get all the references. When you’re picking references as a rapper you wonder what demographic is going to understand what you talk about. In this case everybody that listens to rap is going to know most of the people I name drop. I kind of just had fun with it and hopefully it wasn’t too offensive to anybody – it might be, we’ll see.
TRHH: When you write how often is what the audience might or might not like in your mind?
Verbal Kent: Pretty rarely to be honest. It’s something I’m aware of and obviously I think about it. When I write I think of what someone like Royce da 5’9” or Redman or Eminem would think when they heard my raps. It’s not about the fans. That’s how I push myself. I want to impress the people that impress me, and that’s what drives me to get mathematically better at rap versus what a lot of people would do on the entertainment side of it, which is what a 13-year old girl would want to need them to talk about. I’m about the craft in that sense. Whatever happens as result is whatever happens regardless of that.
TRHH: Do you write to the beat or whenever rhymes come to you?
Verbal Kent: I definitely write to the beat. If I don’t have the beat on me, let’s say Superior sent me the track for Meet Your Idols, I would have that beat in my mind and jot down notes throughout the day if I wasn’t near my device and then I’d go back to it. To be honest I write a lot in the car when I’m driving around. That’s when ideas seem to flow to me. I used to write in the home office sitting or in a café. Now when I’m in the car driving around the city ideas flow. So if I don’t have the music out I’ll kind of write ideas to the song with the beat in my mind, otherwise I’ll definitely write to the music directly.
TRHH: Do you still live in Chicago?
Verbal Kent: I do. Born and raised.
TRHH: What’s kept you here? So many of our Hip-Hop artists leave for whatever reason.
Verbal Kent: If you’re comparing me to Common or Kanye, they have career reasons to leave. I think if I were specifically pursuing music as a money making device then I would probably have to leave too. For me that wasn’t my choice so I can live anywhere I want and record anywhere I want and be a studio artist who puts out albums once a year or two years and then do tours when he needs to do tours and live anywhere in the world. I think what’s kept me here is business and family for the most part. Now I have kids, so school and stuff. I don’t imagine I’ll live in Chicago forever, but for now I’m engrossed in it. I can’t leave. I’m stuck!
TRHH: How has the Chicago Hip-Hop scene changed since you first started?
Verbal Kent: Again, I don’t even consider myself a part of the Chicago Hip-Hop scene anymore. When I was doing my thing I was certainly a part of it and a contributor in many ways in terms of a performer, I’d book concerts, and had different dynamics with all of the people that were coming up. That was like the late 90s, early 2000s, ending closer to 2007-or-8 for me. After that life for me happened in different ways and I chose to branch out, tour Europe and get out of the city. I didn’t look at Chicago as a resource for music anymore for me.
I basically lost touch with anybody who was making music in Chicago aside from a select few of people I came up with and people that were good folks that I kept in contact with. Different scenes started and it’s probably two or three different scenes since I stopped about ten years ago here since I stopped being part of it in terms of performing, gigging, and networking and all that stuff. I don’t think I’m an authority on Chicago Hip-Hop scene at all. I think some of what’s coming out is very impressive and a lot of it is for young people and I can’t relate to it.
TRHH: You have another fellow Chicagoan on the album, Vic Spencer. How did you link up with Vic for ‘Go Get the Dank’?
Verbal Kent: We never met in person until this year. I heard about him and he heard about me. He reached out to me about a year ago to be on one of his projects. I was like, “Oh cool, I like this dude.” I like his energy on the mic and all that stuff. I did a song for him on one of his albums and I thought of him to be featured on this project too. Because he’s working on a project with this guy Sonnyjim out of the UK. I did another track with Vic and Sonny for their project and thought it might be cool to feature both of them on mine too. It came about pretty naturally. I’m happy I linked up with that dude, I like him. I only met him once in person but we communicate online and just kind of shoot the shit sometimes. He’s a real good dude, I like him.
TRHH: Who is ‘Half My Life’ made for?
Verbal Kent: That’s a good question. I think it’s quote unquote “grown man rap” for sure. I think you have to have life experience as an adult in the world to some degree. I think some of the cleverness and intricacies of the songwriting and ideas are pretty accessible to anybody. Some of Superior’s production also transcends and anybody would dig it. Also I think it’s for more of a mature crowd of rap fans, it’s for the golden era fans, it’s for people who are fans of lyrics and mild storytelling elements of Hip-Hop. Not the silly storytelling stuff, but people who want to dive in and have an emotional reaction to music. It can be relatable.
Purchase: Verbal Kent & Superior – Half My Life