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El-P set for Def Jux tour at State Theatre

Hip-hop heads know the Def Jux tour coming to the State Theatre this weekend features some of the underground's most exciting acts.

El-P, that red-head rapper from Manhattan, is the founder of the Def Jux label, home to all the acts on the bill. El-P, 27, burst on the scene in 1997 with the trio Company Flow (also starring Bigg Jus and Mr. Len.), pricking up the ears of hip-hop lovers, haters and imitators alike with tricky lyrics and an anti-industry stance. Soon after, El-P produced a critically-acclaimed disc from then unknowns Cannibal Ox, cementing his rep as a visionary, or at least, someone to watch.

Keep watching, because now solo, El-P just released the awesome Fantastic Damage, a whirlwind of a disc that finds him as confrontational as ever. As an MC, El-P's approach has nothing to do with typical rap braggadocio; he doesn't try to prove "gangstability" for bankability. Rather, El-P tackles tough personal demons, keeping it real by rhyming brilliantly about growing up with an abusive stepfather and a sister who was raped.

Also on the bill: fellow New Yorker Aesop Rock, whose moniker hints at his penchant for dropping historical anecdotes into his rhymes; Boston's political Mr. Lif; RJD2; and the Tampa Bay area's own Red Tide, who does the Southeast scene proud with hip-hop that's intelligent and steeped in polysyllabic panache.

The Def Jux Tour featuring El-P, Aesop Rock, Mr. Lif, RJD2 and Red Tide kicks off at 8 p.m. Sunday at the State Theatre, 687 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. $15 advance, $17 day of show. (727) 895-3045.

_ GINA VIVINETTO, Times pop music critic