For better or worse the three headliners on this bill represent the cream of New York’s mainstream hip-hop crop. What Jay-Z, Big Punisher, and Noreaga have to offer doesn’t have much on gangsta rap–they, too, mostly boast about their street-tempered toughness–but at least the tired west-coast musical tropes have been replaced by lean, mean east-coast beats. The title track to Jay-Z’s new Vol. 2…Hard Knock Life (Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam) is an annoying “ghetto anthem” built on a sample of the tune from the musical Annie, and while hiring Timbaland to twirl the knobs on a few cuts adds a twist or two to the proceedings, the bumping “Can I Get A…,” produced by Irv Gotti and Lil’ Rob, is probably the best cut on an otherwise been-there-done-that album. “Punish Me,” from Big Pun’s Capital Punishment (Loud/RCA), finds the large Latino rapper chastising the mother of his son for spending his hard-earned money and making him look like a chump, while R & B diva Miss Jones simply coos back, “Come back to me / Punisher, punish me.” Elsewhere he asserts, “I ain’t a player, I just fuck a lot” and “Excuse me for being blunt / But I’ve been eating cunts.” Noreaga, who after being booed off a stage in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in August allegedly beat up a teenager in the parking lot, is no genius either; for confirmation, ponder the lyrics to “Hed,” from his recent N.O.R.E. (Penalty/Tommy Boy): “Yo, I love hos who long dick without asking.” But while the New Yorkers’ words aren’t worth much, the way they’re delivered–with killer flow–nearly excuses the content. Chicago’s Crucial Conflict, who open the show along with their neighbors Do or Die, continue to finesse their uniquely midwestern sound on their second album, Good Side Bad Side (Pallas/Universal), a strange mixture marked by rapid-fire cymbal patter and wheezy synth lines. Unfortunately the relentlessly hysterical, nasal speed-rapping turns the 75-minute CD into a suffocating sonic beatdown. Saturday, 9 PM, International Amphitheatre, 4220 S. Halsted; 312-559-1212. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Jay-Z uncredited photo; Noreaga phot by Danny Clinch.