Hip-hop artists recording for independent labels or releasing their own stuff tend to stick to the basics: tough beats and strong lyrics. Skills pay their bills, not hollow gangsta braggadocio or crossover mush. New York rapper O.C. isn’t technically an underground artist–he’s worked with stars like MC Serch and Organized Konfusion, contributed to the sound track of Spike Lee’s Crooklyn, and presently records for the Polygram-distributed Payday label. But as heard on last year’s superb Jewelz, his first album since his out-of-print 1991 indie debut Word…Life, O.C., too, has the fundamentals down pat. Over the deft production of DJ Premier, Da Beatminerz, and Buckwild, O.C. zigzags between classic MC boasting, surprisingly uncorny declarations of love, and warnings against the excesses of stardom. It’s nothing you haven’t heard before, but rarely has it sounded this accomplished. O.C. coheadlines a bill called the Awakening, whose proceeds go in part to a Columbia College scholarship fund for Chicago public-school students. Lord Finesse and Big L, like O.C. part of New York’s Diggin’ in the Crates posse, also appear, along with Chicago artists All Natural, E.C Illa, Rubberoom, and several DJs. Friday, 7:30 PM, Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee; 312-663-1124, 312-409-7113, or 312-559-1212. Peter Margasak

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Danny Clinch.