Japan has taken more than three decades to develop decent rock bands (and that's assuming you agree that the Boredoms rock), but hip-hop has taken root much quicker, and while no Japanese artist has scored big here, a few have earned some props, most notably DJ Krush and DJ Honda. The key to Honda's success is his adherence to the basics--lean grooves and tough beats--and on his second U.S. album, HII (Relativity), he once again lays down tracks for a variety of American rappers, both veterans (De La Soul, KRS-One, Keith Murray) and newer artists (Mos Def and Chicagoans No I.D. and the Syndicate). He's a master at customizing a track to suit a rapper's style: the sharp funk on "Every Now & Then" matches the Syndicate's terse but sassy rhyming, while the stuttering beats on "Go Crazy" compliment S-On's gruff delivery. (For this gig Honda will be joined by album guests Problemz, Black Attack, and former Beatnut Al' Tariq.) If Japan is a fledgling source of hip-hop, then the Bay Area is the mother lode, and few artists have been at it as long as the Hieroglyphics crew. In the early 90s, Casual, Souls of Mischief, and Del the Funky Homosapien were releasing stylistically audacious but essentially classicist hip-hop on major labels, but at the same time gangsta rap was monopolizing the charts, and before long all three groups were dropped. With the new 3rd Eye Vision (Hieroglyphics Imperium) they've banded together as a performing unit, releasing the album themselves. The Hieros stick with classic battle rhyming, boasting about their rap skills instead of their rap sheets--because as Del asserts in "At the Helm," "Rap ain't about bustin' caps and fuckin' bitches / It's about fluency with rhyming ingenuity." Wednesday, 6:30 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): DJ Honda photo by Hideo Oida/ Hieroglyphics photo by Jacob Rosenberg.