Gangsta rap has ruled the Los Angeles hip-hop landscape for most of the fading decade, but while everyone from Ice Cube to MC Eiht was boasting about his pathologies, acts like the Pharcyde and the Freestyle Fellowship were struggling to retain the inventive wordplay at hip-hop’s heart. Judging by the talent in the LA underground these days, their hard work seems to have paid off. Jurassic 5, who headline this scene sampler, have been around for more than five years, but only released their debut EP–the instant classic Jurassic 5–in 1997. (It’s recently been reissued by Interscope.) The 5 are actually six: two DJs and four MCs, and while most of their tracks feature the usual bragging about their skills on the mike, the rappers’ dizzying verbal grace transcends content. Chali 2na, Zaakir, Marc 7even, and Akil bolster already tough lines like “We be causin’ ramifications / Physicians sendin’ brothers on grammar vacations” with group harmonies and call-and-response patterns. The DJs, Nu-Mark and Cut Chemist, are wonders to behold as well, in particular the latter: on last year’s Live at the Futureprimitive Soundsession Cut Chemist proved he could go head-to-head with Shortkut of the formidable Invisibl Skratch Piklz, and “Lesson 6: The Lecture,” from the J5 EP, is a dazzling narrative turntable routine in the tradition of “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel”–a classic I saw him meticulously re-create at the Elbo Room a few years ago. Until recently he and Chali 2na were also members of the terrific polystylistic group Ozomatli, but now that Jurassic 5 have a major-label contract, they’re sticking with their roots. The middle act on this bill, Dilated Peoples–the duo of Rakaa and Evidence–stick closer to the lean, dark sound of the contemporary underground, and although they’ve only released three singles so far, that’s sure to change: lately Evidence has turned up in the production credits for killer records by Defari, Swollen Members, and Aceyalone of Freestyle Fellowship. Openers the World Famous Beat Junkies are a ubiquitous DJ crew who can perform crazy scratch tricks as easily as they can craft inventive tracks; they’ll be represented by their three most prominent members, Babu, Rhettmatic, and J-Rocc. 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/Veronica De La Cruz.