Emerging last year as a guest rapper on Nas’s “Life’s a Bitch,” AZ has quickly scorched the R & B charts with his debut single, “Sugar Hill,” a vivid and desperate plea to escape Brooklyn’s ghetto. The tune’s blunt delivery plays off a thick, almost sultry groove and a swirl of laid-back female vocals without falling into west-coast gangsta traps. The remainder of his debut album, Doe or Die (EMI), produced by Pete Rock and L.E.S. among others, relates an array of similarly harsh tales of survival without glorifying violence. The forthcoming debut album from Gang Starr proteges Group Home, Livin’ Proof (Payday/ffrr), delivers on the raw promise of their “Supa Star” single, offering the same sort of no-holds-barred survivalism as AZ without fantasizing about greener pastures. The hope seeping from the raps of Lil Dap and Melachi the Nutcracker is measured, yearning only to eliminate the everyday obstacles of a poverty-stricken existence. Produced by DJ Premier, the album masterfully plays spare beats and eerie soundscapes against Group Home’s terse rapping. As a member of the Oakland-based Hieroglyphics collective, Souls of Mischief has stressed musical invention over brutal portrayals of daily life. While its excellent debut ’93 Til Infinity paired sublime freestyling skills and dizzying off-the-beat rapping over inventive jazzy samples, its follow-up, No Man’s Land (both albums are on Jive), sounds tired. The album’s first single, “Rock It Like That,” suggests that Souls of Mischief has successfully stripped down its attack to an almost impossible tightness, but, as the rest of the record proves, the song is an anomaly. No Man’s Land isn’t bad, but it fails to match the excitement generated by the group’s debut. This terrific hip-hop bill also features Nas and Common Sense. Saturday, 9 PM, Alumni Hall, DePaul University, 1011 W. Belden; 509-6482.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Daniel Hastings.