In the early 90s the Bay Area hip-hop crew called Hieroglyphics–Del the Funky Homosapien, Souls of Mischief, and Casual–was a potent ingredient in the antidote to California gangsta rap. Along with LA groups like Freestyle Fellowship and the Pharcyde, they gravitated toward classic battle rhyming, riffing amusingly on everyday episodes over jazz-flavored samples and heavy, shuffling breaks. In the end, though, this couldn’t compete with comic-book violence and misogyny, and eventually all of the Hieroglyphics acts lost their major-label contracts. Last year, however, the collective regrouped and released the terrific 3rd Eye Vision on their own Hieroglyphics Imperium label, and now both Del and Casual are about to release new solo albums. On his recent single “Phoney Phranchise” Del is still schooling the wack MCs he tore into on his 1993 album No Need for Alarm (his last for Elektra) with lines like “Bench press rappers doing sets with my syntax,” but while he still delivers them with those limber proto-Kool Keith cadences, the tracks crafted by old Hiero producers Domino and Tajai are considerably darker than their previous work. The new 12-inch by Casual–always the most underrated Hiero–also uses harder, more ominous beats, and while he does some unfortunate materialistic boasting on “VIP,” on “I Gotta (Get Down)” it’s back to basics: “At any lecture that I speak at / I’m pitifully ridiculing weak cats / For being ridiculous with the shit you bust / I can tell you’re sniffing dust trying to rip with us.” The Long Beach trio Ugly Duckling, who open this show, haven’t been around as long as the Hieros, but they too are working the old-school vibe, sort of like a less stylish Jurassic 5. The liner notes to their recent debut, Fresh Mode (1500), claim they say “fresh” 35 times on the disc, and they go on and on till the break of dawn about their skills in playful rhymes like “Now some of these players play mister big salami / But truth be told, they fold like origami,” from the title track, or “I last for eons and light the night like neon / While you blow hot air like an AC with no Freon” from “Now Who’s Laughin’.” Slight as can be, but sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of hip-hop’s original allure. Turntablist Rob Swift, who missed his gig with Kool Keith last month thanks to one of those damn hurricanes, rounds out the bill. Friday, 11:30 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jacob Rosenberg.