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When he first emerged in 2001, Diverse was roundly acclaimed in his hometown of Chicago as the city's most talented MC since Common. Born Kenny Jenkins, he was the owner of a plus-size vocabulary and a complex but liquid-smooth flow, which placed him squarely in the intellectual hip-hop underground and often earned him comparisons to Talib Kweli. Jenkins was born in Chicago's Englewood area, and grew up in several parts of the city, eventually calling Rogers Park home. He was interested in hip-hop as a teenager, when he started writing his own lyrics, but was reluctant to perform in front of his friends. After graduating high school in 1993, he attended Northern Illinois University on a baseball scholarship, but tore his anterior cruciate ligament in a football game, ending his athletic prospects. He returned to Rogers Park and took a job as a mail carrier at the nearby branch of National-Louis University; in the meantime, he focused more on music than ever before, honing his rapping skills over the next several years. He began working with producer Matt Sibert (a childhood friend) and the experimental funk band Shag, and eventually met Chocolate Industries label head Seven, who signed him up. Diverse's first release was the 2001 EP Move, with contributions from a live backing band that included Isotope 217 bassist Matt Lux and jazz drummer/producer Ted Sirota. After Move was released, Diverse finally quit his day job to concentrate on music full-time. The EP helped convince Mos Def to collaborate with Diverse on "Wylin Out," a track for Chocolate Industries' 2002 compilation Urban Renewal Program; that, in turn, helped introduce Diverse to the New York underground scene, and built a substantial buzz for his debut album. The non-LP single "Build" appeared in late summer 2002, and in late 2003, the full-length One A.M. was finally released, to uniformly strong reviews. It featured production work by some of the underground's hottest beatmakers — RJD2, Madlib, Prefuse 73 — as well as guest spots from Lyrics Born, Jean Grae, and Cannibal Ox's Vast Aire.