With gangsta rap haven Death Row Records pretty much out of the picture, real LA hip-hop has finally emerged from the shadows. And I'm not just talking about the underground--which is crawling with whizzes like Jurassic 5, Rasco, Peanut Butter Wolf, the Beat Junkies, Aceyalone, and Dilated Peoples--but also some formidable mainstream talent. Some of the best of the latter hit town this week on a tour headlined by Phife from Tribe Called Quest. Two of them, Defari and Xzibit, are part of the Likwit Crew, a hip-hop posse built around Tha Alkoholiks (whose Tash will also appear). Defari Herut (nee Duane Johnson Jr.) owns the more interesting back story: he earned a bachelor's degree in sociology from Berkeley in 1992, and the following year he got his master's from Columbia University Teachers College. Until the release of his debut album, Focused Daily (Tommy Boy), he was teaching history at Inglewood High School, but he's been a B-boy since the early 80s, when he was a champion break-dancer. He's not shy about his smarts ("The only weapon I brandish is my vernacular," he raps on "Gems") or his way with a mike ("I'm fiber-optic, crystal clear with my projection / Wack MCs get clotheslined when they walk across my intersection," from "Bionic"). The album deals with the usual litany of mainstream topics--phony MCs, keeping it real, and so forth--but he also celebrates his hometown ("Lowlands Anthem, Pt. 1"), name checks Toussaint-Louverture ("These Dreams"), and pays tribute to DJ culture ("Juggle Me"). In fact, among the fine producers and DJs who worked on the album is the Beat Junkies' Deejay Babu. On last year's 40 Dayz & 40 Nightz (Loud), Xzibit too revealed a flair for internal rhymes and clever wordplay--"So now Xzibit got a little money, I think it's funny / How motherfuckers think I'm supposed to share like Sonny," from "Chamber Music"--but the casual misogyny of stuff like "Pu**y Pop" and his perpetual yammering about getting paid get woefully tired woefully fast. Still, it beats the hell out of played-out G-funk any day. Wednesday, 9 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-527-2583 or 312-923-2000. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Miller.