Some say we're too serious and conscious/

Some say we're all battle raps and ganja/

I say in your bad dreams we're monsters...

West Coast underground kings Dilated Peoples are back up in your deck with their fourth album on Capitol Records, 20/20. Stalwart underdogs, Dilated have presented an increasingly darker outlook with each LP. This album's clenched-teeth lyricism and menacing boom bap (featuring some great board work from Alchemist) represent not only their unwavering b-boy stance, but also their 20/20 view of the brave new world we inhabit. Picture vintage Mobb Deep, minus the cracks and gats, reimagined as Los Angeleno soldiers of culture. Evidence has really honed his minimal rhyme style on slow creepers like the Defari-featured "Olde English," and Rakaa's sage savagery is in plain view on the swole-up "Rapid Transit"(gotta love those L.A.-centric song titles). And just when you thought they weren't gonna let the incredible DJ Babu do his thing, the Beat Junkie goes for delf on "The One and Only." 20/20 is a leaner, meaner collection of songs than their last joint, 2004's Neighborhood Watch; as such, you'll be hard-pressed to find any fast-forwardable material, all the way up to the closing track, the banoodles "20/20," where Rakaa name-checks old-school L.A. hotspot Radiotron and Ev shits on DP detractors with style.

Across the map in North Carolina, the trio of Phonte, rapper Big Pooh, and 9th Wonder take inspiration, not from Petey Pablo, but Pete Rock, retreading '90s NYC sonics to great effect and critical acclaim. Little Brother's 2003 debut, The Listening, was a masterful, much-needed splash of water in rap's haggard, hung-over mug. Last year's major-label follow-up, The Minstrel Show, had some great moments, and was among the best rap platters of the year, but was nonetheless a touch dull at times. It's perfectly earnest VH1 Soul, anti-bling rap, but not always the most heart-pounding music. But listen carefully—do not miss these guys when they come through town, as they absolutely put on one of the most energetic, remember-when-this-shit-was-fun stage shows around.

I say all that to say this: Dilated Peoples and Little Brother will be rocking the Showbox on Tuesday, February 28. Do yourself a favor and don't miss out on a show dope enough to have those SPD German sheps howling.

There's a benefit show for the Industrial Workers of the World (www.iww.org) at the Vera Project Saturday, February 25, featuring Macklemore, Cancer Rising, dRED-i, Gabriel Teodros, and CRTV DSTRCTN... even if you're a union-busting fat cat, you can't really hate on an all-ages lineup like that. See you up there.

Lastly... It couldn't possibly sadden me more to report that the man thought by many (including this writer) to be hiphop's greatest producer—J Dilla (AKA Jay Dee)—has passed due to complications from lupus. The hugely influential Detroit producer—responsible for tracks for Slum Village, D'Angelo, Common, De La Soul, Busta Rhymes, and the Pharcyde, among many others—will be sorely missed. Peace to his friends and family. RIP.

hiphop@thestranger.com