This world is full of strife and misunderstanding/But try to understand why I do just what I do," pleads raspy-voiced Basehead main man Michael Ivey on "2000 BC" (short for "2000 brain cells ago"), the lead single from Play With Toys, the group's major-label debut. The scratchy, bass-driven groove is a rejoinder to all those hip-hoppers who claim to have a handle on postintegration America. Not necessarily, say Ivey and company. Basehead's mission is to rid itself of angst and create an identity in an overly complex world.
To label Play With Toys only a rap album would be myopic; using live drums, acoustic guitar, bass and DJ (the group samples sparingly), Play With Toys is a concept album that ties rock, funk, blues and honky-tonk to rap, presenting a cut-and-paste style that should make many citizens of the now formula-oriented hip-hop nation blush. Drawing on contemporary experiences, Ivey's fluid rap-sing lyrics at once despairing and deadly funny brood over everything from soured relationships and political frustrations to the meaning of life. "Brand New Day" and "Not Over You" are not-so-typical love songs. "Brand New Day" recounts a breakup conversation and samples the girlfriend's blowoff ("I hope we can still be friends"). Unabashedly honest, Ivey laments that he's been "thrown back into the game/Of buying drinks getting names/Silly dates and silly dames." On "Not Over You," a low-key DJ scratch punctuates a stark piano, as Ivey grieves over his new-found loneliness; a friend tries to console him before a trip down the radio dial with stops at tracks like Bill Withers's heartbreak classic "Ain't No Sunshine" further inflames the situation. Songs like the jazzy, sensual "Hair" tackle fidelity, while "Evening News" acknowledges life's numerous atrocities by way of the TV tube.
With its homemade feel (the album was recorded in a low-budget studio), Play With Toys ups the hip-hop/pop ante a notch. Like Public Enemy, Basehead recognizes its blackness but wonders if that's enough; and while De la Soul presents a pseudo-intellectual approach to hip-hop, Basehead begs that we don't slip into solipsism. Without being preachy, Basehead's unconventional style challenges listeners to get beyond their basic instincts and open their minds, search their souls. (RS 634/635)
(Posted: Jul 9, 1992)