At the end of The Usual Suspects
, Verbal Kent (Kevin Spacey), is able to escape police interrogation and soon disappears into the streets, presumably never to resurface. He does it all, as Dan Weiss says, by being the "unsuspected bad good guy." Weiss should know; he admits that he stole the character's name to use as his stage persona when he began rapping in 1999. "I just thought it was cool that people would think of that guy when hearing the name," he says.
Ironically, the MC is not much like the tight-lipped, calm criminal. After a few minutes of interrogation from the fuzz, he'd be done for; the real life Verbal Kent just doesn't like to stay quiet and calm. "It's hard for me to ignore things," says Kent, noting that this overabundance of energy has gotten him into several difficult situations over the past couple of years: getting carjacked, fighting three guys (and losing) and getting his throat slashed in a Rogers Park alley by an acquaintance hell-bent on ending his life. "If I kept my mouth shut and just walked straight, I'd be pretty boring, but I'd definitely be a lot safer."
He also wouldn't be himself. Going back to his days with the live hip-hop band Organic Mind Unit, Kent has made a name for himself in the city's hip-hop scene by being outspoken and confrontational. These are traits that could apply to all the artists on Gravel Records, which released Kent's debut album, What Box, in 2004.
"It's kind of just grimier music," he says of the label in comparison to others in Chicago. "It's more realistic; it's street, but not thug. It's kinda just cats living in the city, living their lives, and not necessarily enjoying every minute of it."
There's definitely an attitude to Kent's songs that reflects the gritty urban experience, particularly on his sophomore release, Move With the Walls. The title refers to the ways a person can respond when life's pressures are building up, when it feels as though the walls are closing in. "Sometimes it can feel like everything's hitting you at once," says the East Rogers Park native. "I learned that the best way to deal with that is to separate everything. Don't pile things up, but take them one at a time."
The album is full of introspection and reflection, but Kent also offers plenty of fierce pride. On "Remain Hungry," for example, he rhymes, "I'm so hungry, you can see my ribs through my coat/and y'all can feel it in the shit that I wrote/that I'ma spit if I'm broke/I'ma spit my lungs outta my throat/I'ma spit my throat outta my neck/spit my neck outta my chest, so my head and stomach connect".
Though Move With the Walls was not directly inspired by Kent's recent history of violence ("It's not like I got my throat slashed then wrote a song," he says), his music is certainly immediate and visceral, the kind of hip-hop that traffics in action as much as ideas. You get the sense that he's not a guy you should mess with. Maybe he does have a little Keyser Soze in him, after all.
In the beginning: I remember when I was with OMU, I had to do a show with just me and the band, and that was definitely the show where I realized that I had to really contain the energy, like I had to distribute it and really control the space on the stage. I could tell that I would get really good at it, just because I liked the feeling of it. When I went into it I was a little overwhelmed, but after it I was like that's really interesting...I have no excuses.
What's cool in my neck of the woods: There's a coffee shop right by where I live called Dollop, and it's a spot that I like to write in and hang out at. I also go to the Hopleaf to drink like an idiot.
I get live at: My favorite place to see a show no matter what is The Metro. And it's not even because it's that great, I just love the vibe and I love being there for some reason, it's always an exciting place. It's not too big, but it's not small. There's still a feeling of intimacy, but also it can get crazy.
Fresh from the woodshop: Move With the Walls will be released Oct. 17 by Gravel Records.
Coming to a stage near you: The release party for Move With the Walls will be on October 14 at the Abbey Pub. Special guests include One Be Lo, Wordsworth and Earatik Statik. 8 p.m., 18+, $12.