Crushing poverty, civil unrest, and random gunfire were--and still are--the norm in the Kingston ghettos where dancehall star Bounty Killer grew up. He was singing in front of crowds before he was ten, standing out in the street in front of a booming reggae sound system; his early rhymes became local hits without ever being recorded. Earning his name ("Bounty Hunter" at first) in a never-ending series of MC battles, he gradually adopted his current populist-gangster persona, boasting of his hyperviolent exploits while denouncing the corruption he sees as responsible for the plight of the Jamaican people. His breakout dancehall single, 1992's "Coppershot," tells his real-life story of catching a stray bullet in a street fight. He's gone on to release a dozen raw, harsh albums, with frequent crossovers into hip-hop; he collaborated with Busta Rhymes, Fugees, Wu-Tang Clan, and others on 1996's My Xperience (VP). Like hip-hop, dancehall is more about passion for the beat than the beat itself; it's OK if the same rattling thump is bitten over and over again as long as there's a gripping voice to go with it. That's why Bounty's lasted as long as he has; even a dancehall neophyte can hear his fervor, authenticity, and ambition. While he's been on the hip-hop radar forever, it wasn't until his guest appearance on No Doubt's "Hey Baby" early last year that he got any mainstream attention in the States. Months later he released his sprawling Ghetto Dictionary as two separate volumes: on The Mystery, Bounty Killer assumes the role of "the Poor People's Governor," railing against Jamaican politicians and demanding justice for the downtrodden; on The Art of War he's "the Warlord," exacting bloody revenge on his countless enemies. Throughout, it's obvious he's performing within an inch of straining himself, taking deep breaths between his long, fluid soliloquies--it's this intensity and determination that validate his desperate message. With Vybez Kartel. Sunday, November 2, 9 PM, Cubby Bear, 1059 W. Addison; 773-327-1662.