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The most frequent complaint I hear about contemporary hip-hop is that it sucks live, and since most rappers rely on the accompaniment of a DAT machine as they recite the lyrics from their latest work in some echo chamber like the Aragon Ballroom, it’s hard to argue otherwise. So I won’t offer any guarantees–but at the very least this show has the potential to be a real, honest-to-God performance. It’s headlined by Chicago’s own Common, whose third album, One Day It’ll All Make Sense (Relativity), last year established him as hip-hop’s most eloquent message artist. Plenty of his predecessors–from Q-Tip to Chuck D–have played up their morality, but Common’s one of the few to acknowledge that those theoretical boundaries can be hazy in real life. In “Retrospect for Life,” for example, he openly questions a commitment to parenthood, while “G.O.D. (Gaining One’s Definition)” is about developing a personal belief system. And all this hefty lyrical content is packed into killer rhymes that flow like butter. Common’s live band, A Black Girl Named Betty, will be making its Chicago debut. In the middle slot is Rahzel, “The Godfather of Noyze,” who’s usually the most popular feature of any performance by Philadelphia’s Roots. He’ll be going it alone for this gig, taking the human beatbox conceit to extremes: Rahzel can mimic not just a drum machine but an entire record as spun and scratched by a hot-handed DJ. (At a Roots show at U. of C. last year he even “remixed” Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun.”) It’ll be interesting to hear him next to some of the best real DJs around, New York’s X-ecutioners (formerly the X-Men). The foursome’s superb debut album, X-pressions (Asphodel), reasserts the role of the DJ as the true progenitor of sample-based music. Though on record they favor lean, modest grooves, Rob Swift, Mista Sinista, Total Eclipse, and Roc Raida can scratch like mad cats; rest assured you’ll witness some pyrotechnics on the Technics. Saturday, 10 PM, Cubby Bear, 1059 W. Addison; 773-327-1662. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos by Christian Lantry; Michael Levine; Martin Schoeller.