Thur March 25

Berbati's Pan

10 SW 3rd

Chicago's Diverse (Kenny Jenkins) is one of those earnest, true-school MCs who treat hiphop as a religion, one in which flaunting verbal skills and uplifting the community outweigh bling and Benzos. But don't think this ghetto philosopher's a sour-faced killjoy lecturing the great unwashed about how dope shit was back in the day. He wouldn't be working with such innovative crate-diggers as Madlib, RJD2, and Prefuse 73 if he were.

In that sense, Diverse cruises the same black boho streets as fellow Windy City denizen Common. Unlike Common, though, Diverse taps Chicago's fertile jazz and post-rock scenes for musicians to lace his tracks, as well as the aforementioned golden triumvirate of underground producers--and an excellent unknown cat named K. Kruz.

Diverse's 2003 debut album, One A.M. (Chocolate Industries), garnered raves from knowledgeable heads worldwide and deserved every glowing word of praise. Chicago itself weighs heavily on Diverse's lyrical worldview. "Everything I write is influenced by my surroundings," he says. I think there is an abundance of quality artists in Chicago; unfortunately, the scene is very divided, and probably would benefit from a more collective movement.

Chicago gets dissected at the start of "Under the Hammer," as random citizens comment on the city's worst aspects. Inspired by Gil Scott-Heron's observations about "the pressures of an imbalanced society," the RJD2-produced track features a looped Zeppelin-esque guitar riff, lending the track an apt gloom; Diverse, and guest rapper Jean Grae, paint a hopeless portrait of urban blight.

By contrast, One A.M.'s closer, "In Accordance" written by Tortoise's Jeff Parker, jazz drummer Ted Sirota, and DJ Lok, with cornet player Rob Mazurek helping out--conjures a sultry, optimistic bliss, sounding like a powerfully spiritual paean to a woman or God. "As an MC," Diverse says, "I think the most important thing to do is expose yourself, the truth, to the people you are attempting to connect with. Thus, if they begin to support your work, they are truly supporting you." Supporting Diverse is like investing in hiphop's future. The dividends will be substantial.