A couple years before OutKast's Dré and Big Boi diverged creatively while retaining their group identity, 4hero's Dego and Marc Mac took up a similar division of labor. The initial result, 2001's mostly brilliant Creating Patterns, was even more elaborately musical and past-indebted than 1998's Two Pages, despite continued protests from those who had come to demand nothing less than renegade innovations. The detractors will only continue to feel betrayed by Play with the Changes. Despite six years away and a long list of extracurricular projects, including DKD's Future Rage and the 4hero Life: Styles mix, the album is Creating Patterns' twin. You could even look at a thorough description of Creating Patterns, switch around some pronouns, and have a fairly accurate perception of the album's makeup. Marc Mac again helms classicist songs that take cues from the work of Charles Stepney and the Mizell Brothers, with sky-high production values and ample string arrangements. Dego tends to stick to the meeting point between broken beat, neo-soul, and contemporary R&B, and the lone instantly discernible difference with his work here is that a couple tracks feature prominent guitar from Dave Okumu, an acolyte of Ernie Isley and Prince. Key contributions from multi-instrumentalist Kaidi Tatham, Minnie Riperton disciple Carina Andersson, and hip-hop poet Ursula Rucker: check, check, check. A couple dream collaborations, this time with Larry Mizell and Jody Watley: check. A few appearances from up-and-comers, this time from Jack Davey and Darien Brockington: check. A cover of a '70s classic that's more like an impersonation than an interpretation (Stevie Wonder's "Superwoman"): check. The lack of progress can be especially frustrating when you consider that it took them a shorter amount of time to shift from "Combat Dancin'" to "Universal Love." Beyond that potentially deal-breaking issue, Play with the Changes is an undeniably well-made, tightly wrapped album that is almost as easy to enjoy as Creating Patterns.
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman
feat: Jack Davey
feat: Darien Brockington
feat: Ursula Rucker
feat: Jody Watley