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But then, they wouldn't be the Hip.
-- Steven Almond

Dark Sun Riders, featuring Brother J
Seeds of Evolution
(Island)

Dark Sun Riders is a group of four fantastically conceived rap sorcerers led by Brother J the Zonewielder/Vibal Magus of Evolution and including Master China the Damu, Ultraman the Groove Tweaker, and D.J. M.A.T.E. the Do Dat Scientist. Part superheroes, part Jedi masters, part Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the Riders spin the kind of hokey occultism and quasi-religious doomsday rap woven by J's former outfit, X-Clan. But where that group turned lost-tribe theories into cultlike Afrocentrism, Dark Sun Riders applies the rhetoric of Afrocentrism to a world view that goes beyond black and white. The result is still plenty hokey, but Seeds of Evolution's welcome step into post-Afrocentric hip-hop is nevertheless a victory for those interested in addressing the common spirituality of all people.

With spoken interludes from J's "Magus journal" interspersed between nearly all songs, Seeds of Evolution is as much a testament to one man's delusions of grandeur as it is a collection of rap music. But once past his sins of self-righteousness, J delivers spare and sober hip-hop built around his deep, dry voice. Seeds isn't a party album by any stretch, but the best cuts here A "Dark Sun Riders," "Time to Build," "Soulful Ascension," "Rhythmous Flex" A groove on solid bass lines, mystical sounds, standard hip-hop beats, and J's rhythmic vocal flow. It could be the least fun you'll ever have enjoying a rap album.

-- Roni Sarig

Various Artists
Company: 1995 Broadway Cast
(Angel)

Beneath its glib surface, Stephen Sondheim's Company is a damn unsettling musical. Essentially plotless, it concerns one Robert, an attractive and single thirtysomething gentleman whose friends are all married couples. Complicated, parasitic relationships have been established in Robert's world, and having married friends protects him from reaching out for a close relationship of his own. Meanwhile, the husbands vicariously enjoy Robert's bachelorhood, and the wives pity him, but not without also exhibiting a measure of partly sublimated lust. No musical has been so ambiguous in its attitude toward relationships, simultaneously trashing them and cherishing them. At its close, Robert finally begins to come to terms with his isolation, and asks: "Somebody hold me too close/Somebody hurt me too deep/Somebody sit in my chair and ruin my sleep/And make me aware of being alive." The request, like Company itself, is both painful and mature.

It's been a quarter of a century since Company first hit Broadway like a ton of uncooked rice. "Being Alive," "Another Hundred People," "You Could Drive a Person Crazy," and the score's other songs have retained their lyrical and musical bite in this new production. The song "Marry Me a Little," cut from the original cast album, has been restored here, along with several smaller bits of music in the ensemble pieces. These new performances are light on star quality, but this is an ensemble show and it would be wrong for anyone to steal the spotlight from Sondheim himself, as Debra Monk's overwrought "The Ladies Who Lunch" shows.

Company is the intersection between bridal garter and garter snake. It's a must for anyone who's ever sniggered at a romance personal ad -- or answered one.

-- Raymond Tuttle

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