Life’s what you make of it. Just look at the debut solo LP of Verbz. The Croydon rapper has weathered his fair share of troubles but, with Pathways, those hard-learned lessons are paying off. 

The album marks an evolution for Verbz, but his knack for crafting bars of wisdom was apparent as early as 2017’s Lessons of Adolescence. Pathways sees him pontificate on the struggles of overcoming adversity, breaking the poverty cycle and growing into your own image. On ‘Cards Dealt’, he explores the challenges of growing with limited opportunities and the power of turning lessons into opportunities. 

It’s not all dark, brooding backpack bars though. ‘Run Run’ proves Verbz can cajole his underground sound in more commercially-oriented tunes. R&B singer BaggE’s soulful vocals offer a sharp contrast to his whipsmart bars, but you get the feeling Verbz could spit over bhangra and make it work. Case in point: ‘Still Here’, in which he flips from Coops-style languid drawl to Lewis Parker-like rapid-fire like switching on a light.

But his soft-spoken delivery masks a man still wrestling with demons. Bars like “I’ve been digging myself a hole / that I ain’t close to climbing out / Anytime soon / So I guess I’m lying” show a man already wearied by his own limitations.

The instrumentals tend to take a backseat to Verbztranquil flow, but that’s not to say they’re disposable. In fact, the beats provide the perfect canvas; adding a warm, sepia-tinged vibe to Pathways. With multiple beatmakers – including Morriarchi, Purple Cloud and 2Late – Pathways swings between genre branches without ever falling flat. Hazy jazz melodies sit by side with wavy ‘80s synth soundscapes and sweet soul samples.

Despite the references to poverty, aimless youth and bleak futures, Pathways isn’t some political screed. It’s the observations of a man who’s been there, done that and grown out of the T-shirt. Even at its darkest, Pathways shows every experience is an opportunity to grow. And that’s a good thing, no matter how you look at it.

Pathways drops November 8th on Group Bracil.