The Bay Area collective Hieroglyphics–Del tha Funkee Homosapien, Casual, Pep Love, Domino, and the four members of Souls of Mischief–is as resilient a crew as ever to have been battered by the commercial and aesthetic vagaries of hip-hop in the 90s. Del, Casual, and Souls of Mischief broke into the majors the early part of the decade with separate deals, but as Dre’s Chronic clouded up the air, mainstream hip-hop became less welcoming to oddballs, and the artists soon parted ways with their labels. (The Souls’ ’93 til Infinity and Del’s I Wish My Brother George Was Here survive as strong examples of the directions west-coast hip-hop largely left unexplored.) In 1997 the members of the collective formed their own label, Hiero Imperium, just as a new, more bohemian hip-hop underground was taking shape, and with the release of the 1998 disc Third Eye Vision they began to establish a national network of fans connected by word of mouth and the Internet. On the group’s new Full Circle, production duties are split among A-plus and Opio from the Souls and Hieroglyphics manager Domino, but the mood–low-key, a little melancholy–is consistent. The tracks are fairly spare, even dubby (guess they need space for all those voices to fit in): on the first single, “Powers That Be,” Domino loops a three-chord guitar scratch and an occasional organ swoosh as the MCs take turns on the mike. While Del’s forceful enunciation and vivid sci-fi imagery make him the group’s most prominent MC, Hieroglyphics work best as a team–on tracks like “Maggie May,” a tribute to a friend whose life took a wrong turn (“That was my homegirl / When I was a starving artist she paid the phone bill”), they combine their skills to tell a single coherent story. Saturday, October 18, 9 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203.

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