Chicago emcee Verbal Kent has been on his grind for about ten years. He’s never really bothered with pushing himself on a national level, preferring instead to carve out a small niche. On his sixth solo album, he’s enlisted Pete Rock, Masta Ace, Sadat X, One Be Lo, and Apollo Brown, among others.

From the beginning of the album, I thought I’d be conflicted about this album. The opening track, “Same,” produced by Kelakovski, never comes together. The beat is unremarkable and doesn’t find a groove. It also features weak lyrics by Kent about rappers always saying the same old thing. He doesn’t really provide any insight, and there aren’t any clever lines or metaphors. I could sum up my feelings about the songs by saying “Don’t tell me, show me.” However, Kent follows that song up with “Ahead of it’s Time,” produced by M-Phazes, which takes a Motown-sounding sample (I can’t place it) and finds good chemistry between producer and emcee. There’s a nice mid-tempo groove and Kent falls into a flow that sounds very natural. He is able to rhyme about hip hop and society at large without sounding preachy or forcing phrases or trying to be funny. He just lets it happen, and it makes me wish the whole album was like that.

Unfortunately, Save Yourself is constantly bouncing back and forth between these two sides of Kent. At one moment it’s great, and I’m wondering why so many people have slept on this smart, emotional emcee with a great feel for the beat and a strong delivery. Then the next track will come on and the beat will be mediocre and the rhymes and metaphors will all sound forced, and I’m left disappointed.

I don’t want to write off Kent, because when he’s on he’s quite good and I can get behind him. But when he’s off, I want to look away and pretend I don’t know him. Hopefully he can do a better job in the future, because right now I keep finding myself bobbing my head for a moment, only to stop and press the skip button.