On their 1994 debut, 6 Feet Deep (Gee Street), Gravediggaz constructed such a garish, almost cartoonish vision of inner-city violence that they unwittingly invented a new (albeit short-lived) hip-hop subgenre: horrorcore. The production of former De La Soul associate Prince Paul (known as Dr. Strange here) was typically lean, with crafty samples, tough beats, and killer bass lines, but the raps of Frukwan (aka the Gatekeeper), Poetic (Grym Reaper), and RZA (the Rzarector) were hysterical rants, amplifying familiar ghetto tales with slasher-film hyperbole. Song titles like “2 Cups of Blood” and “Diary of a Madman” left little to the imagination. But things changed dramatically with last year’s follow-up, The Pick, the Sickle and the Shovel. It was made at the same time and in the same studio as the second album from the Wu-Tang Clan, with whom RZA has emerged as one of hip-hop’s hottest architects, and though Prince Paul is billed in the packaging as an equal member, he produced only the inconsequential “Outro.” The rest of the tracks feature the wizardry of either RZA or his proteges Truemaster, Fourth Disciple, Darkim, and Goldfinghaz, and his trademark eerie strings, dark, sluggish beats, and smothering density dominate the sound. With a few exceptions the excessive lyrics are gone too. “Never Gonna Come Back” and “Elimination Process” are sober indictments of black-on-black violence, while “Twelve Jewelz” advocates self-education over rash reaction. There are still a few comic-book fantasies and some edgy battle rhymes, but this is a very different group than the one that made 6 Feet Deep. Sunz of Man member Killah Priest, who opens this show, is one of several guest rappers on The Pick, and his Wu-Tang connections are all over his own album, Heavy Mental (Geffen). He’s a disciple of the Wu’s Genius, Wu members Ol’ Dirty Bastard (er, make that Big Baby Jesus) and Inspectah Deck make cameos, and the production is handled by several of the same people who worked on The Pick. Still, so far he lacks the panache of his mentors, delivering the same old screeds about phony MCs and keeping it real; he’s got his moments, but the album’s got too many minutes. Rakim headlines; a portion of the proceeds goes to the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority. Friday, 7 PM, Aragon Ballroom, 1106 W. Lawrence; 800-582-4618 or 312-559-1212. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Gravediggaz photo by Christian Lantry; Killah Priest photo by Mark Humphries.