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Wednesday, March 5, 2003

HIGH NOTES

CONCERT PREVIEW

Definitive Jux


When Rawkus Records and Quannum Projects were sucked into Universal's corporate black hole last year, the breadth of so-called underground hip-hop shrank considerably. Whatever such a grab means for music in general, it inadvertently boosted the street cred of the scene's most aggressively indie label, Definitive Jux, formed a few years ago by El Producto, a founding member of one of Brooklyn's most innovative crews, Company Flow.

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Handpicked by ex-Rage Against the Machine vocalist Zach De La Rocha to produce his overdue solo album, El-P provides an antidote to corporate rap that's more sonic than verbal. Often described as "dirty" by music writers, his old-school mix of scratching and drum machines is muddied with new-school electronica; in particular, the "glitch" style that takes advantage of distortion and software malfunctions. El-P's dark soundscapes made Cannibal Ox's "The Cold Vein" one of the most talked-about albums of 2001, and the dense textures and fast-flowing beats of his 2002 solo effort, "Fantastic Damage," are now being studied by every basement DJ east of the Rockies.

On the upcoming Def Jux tour El-P will share MC duties with the label's premier rapper of the moment, Mr. Lif, whose companion LP-EP, "I Phantom" and "Emergency Rations," ended up on many critics' 10-best lists. Lif's blue-collar credibility doesn't advance the usual indie political agenda -- at least, not overtly -- it simply reinforces his sharply observed narratives about holding down a job and raising a family.

Joining El-P and Lif is RJD2, whose debut joint, "Deadringer," was the only album released last summer that distracted turntable freaks from the fact that DJ Shadow had just released his first set of original tracks in five years. Besides being Def Jux's first nonrapping star, RJ2D is also its first artist who's not from New York. Ohio isn't just underground, it's out-of-state.

Def Jux tour: March 20, Mother Hall, Osaka, (06) 4397-9061; March 21 at 10 p.m., Yellow, Tokyo, 3,000 yen in advance/3,500 yen at the door, (03) 3746-2368; March 22 at 9 p.m., 8 Hall, Kanazawa, 3,500 yen in advance/4,000 yen at the door, (076) 264-3586.


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