5.0 4
by The Roots

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You would think that after winning a Grammy, backing Jay-Z on his MTV Unplugged venture, and appearing in a Coca-Cola commercial, the Roots would be ready to floss and reap the benefits of mainstream acceptance. But after one listen to the sixth album from Philadelphia's pioneering, decade-old rap band, it's clear that the…  See more details below


You would think that after winning a Grammy, backing Jay-Z on his MTV Unplugged venture, and appearing in a Coca-Cola commercial, the Roots would be ready to floss and reap the benefits of mainstream acceptance. But after one listen to the sixth album from Philadelphia's pioneering, decade-old rap band, it's clear that the six-man collective has no intention of selling out. In fact, they've become even more experimental. Loaded with cameos from an eclectic mix of artists including Talib Kweli, Nelly Furtado, and poet Amiri Baraka, Phrenology is by far the Roots' most challenging album to date. With the addition of guitarist Ben Kenney, rapper Black Thought, drummer ?uestlove, the fellas prove, as do their colleagues Mos Def and Saul Williams, that live hip-hop can rock the house -- most notably on tracks such as the punk-flavored "!!!!!!!" and "The Seed (2.0)," featuring Terence Trent D'Arby–reminiscent newcomer Cody Chesnutt. The Roots once again get mellow on the neo-soul tip in the vein of their Grammy Award–winning song "You Got Me" with Erykah Badu; "Break You Off," features Philly neighbor Musiq; "Quills" samples Swing Out Sister with vocals from Tracey Moore of the Jazzyfatnastees; and the jazzy "Complexity," spotlights Jill Scott. The guys really get to flex their creativity, however, on the ten-minute "Water," where avant-garde guitar god James "Blood" Ulmer leads the Roots into the psychedelic underworld of free jazz. And it's that kind of progressive musical vision that keeps the Roots essential to today's hip-hop.

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Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Steve Huey
The easy-flowing Things Fall Apart made the Roots one of the most popular artists of alternative rap's second wave. Anticipated nearly as much as it was delayed, the proper studio follow-up, Phrenology, finally appeared in late 2002, after much perfectionist tinkering by the band -- so much that the liner notes include recording dates (covering a span of two years) and, sometimes, histories for the individual tracks. Coffeehouse music programmers beware: Phrenology is not Things Fall Apart redux; it's a challenging, hugely ambitious opus that's by turns brilliant and bewildering, as it strains to push the very sound of hip-hop into the future. Despite a few gentler tracks (like the Nelly Furtado and Jill Scott guest spots), Phrenology is the hardest-hitting Roots album to date, partly because it's their most successful attempt to re-create their concert punch in the studio. ?uestlove's drums positively boom out of the speakers on the Talib Kweli duet "Rolling With Heat"; the fantastic, lean guitar groover "The Seed (2.0)" (with neo-soul auteur Cody ChesnuTT); and the opening section of "Water." The ten-minute "Water" is the album's centerpiece, a powerful look at former Roots MC Malik B.'s drug problems that morphs into a downright avant-garde sound collage. Similarly, lead single "Break You Off," a neo-soul duet with Musiq, winds up in a melange of drum'n'bass programming and live strings. If moves like those, or the speed-blur Bad Brains punk of "!!!!!!!," or the drum'n'bass backdrop of poet Amiri Baraka's "Something in the Way of Things (In Town)" can seem self-consciously eclectic, it's also true that Phrenology is one of those albums where the indulgences and far-out experiments make it that much more fascinating, whether they work or not. Plus, slamming grooves like "Rock You," "Thought @ Work," and the aforementioned "The Seed (2.0)" keep things exciting and vital. If this really is the future of hip-hop, then the sky is the limit. [The two hidden bonus tracks are "Rhymes and Ammo," the Talib Kweli collaboration that appeared on Soundbombing, Vol. 3, and "Something to See," another techno-inflected jam.]
Rolling Stone - Pat Blashill
With their fifth studio record, Phrenology, they finally become what we've always hoped they would be: a hip-hop band that strikes a very funky balance between righteousness and humor, between headbanging grooves and truth-telling.
The Fader
Phrenology is a staggering step away from the Roots' previous work. It comes as a fast and furious musical juggernaut, with the unit as a cohesive whole, rocking harder than their earlier pioneering work that spawned a thousand neo-soul dreams.

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Album Credits

Performance Credits

Roots   Primary Artist
James Blood Ulmer   Guitar
Jef Lee Johnson   Guitar
James Poyser   Strings,Moog Synthesizer
Rahzel   Drums
Black Thought   Vocals
?uestlove   Drums
Talib Kweli   Vocals
Jill Scott   Vocals
Nelly Furtado   Background Vocals
Tracey Moore   Background Music
Kamiah "Little Klang" Gray   Keyboards,Klangspiel
Nuah   Cello
Omar Edwards   ARP
Sarah Chun   Cello
Michelle Golder   Cello
Hope Wilson   screams

Technical Credits

Ron L. Hubbard   Composer
Jeff Chestek   Engineer
Chris Gehringer   Mastering
Jon Smeltz   Engineer
Scott Spencer Storch   Producer
DJ Scratch   Producer
Richard Nichols   Executive Producer
Ursula Rucker   Contributor
A.P. Thompson   Composer
Tom Coyne   Mastering
Malik B.   Contributor
Karriem Riggins   Producer
?uestlove   Producer
Tariq Trotter   Composer
Mos Def   Contributor
Steve Mandel   Engineer
Jim Bottari   Engineer
Carlos "Storm" Martinez   Engineer
Musiq (Soulchild)   Composer
Alicia Keys   Contributor
Tahir   Producer
Cody ChesnuTT   Producer
Kamiah "Little Klang" Gray   Producer
Robert "LB" Dorsey   Engineer
Tom "Evil Prints" Huck   Illustrations
Kareem Da Bawl   Producer
Omar the Scholar   Producer
Kelo Saunders   Producer

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Phrenology 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The best Roots album by far. The closest sounding to their live shows. It is obvious they have become true masters of their sound. Black Thought's lyrics surpass the last album's; and very close to his work on Illadelph Halflife. However he is much more versatile than he has every been with his delivery. This is also the most explicit the Roots have ever been with much metaphorical sexual content; the most profanity the group has ever used, which is the album's only downside. This album is the best rap album in two years.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Phrenology is the latest in line of well-thought out albums by the Roots that continue to impress. Continually they are the perennial group to produce the hottest beats with the illest baselines. This in one more album that no one should hesitate to add to their collection.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The world deserves a cd like this every so often-one of those cd's that rattle your thoughts and stir up that flame of yours that you almost forgot about. The Roots have finally come into their own. Having undergone a journey that we have witnessed throughout, they have reached there destination, for now at least. "Phrenology" truly shows their musical genius, and it is a cd not to passed by.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Roots sound is amazing.They mix so many styles together and the end result is breathtaking. Their wild style and off the wall lyrics add kick to the album. ?uestlove and his drumming is original. If you want to listen to a new sound and want to take a chance, then my friend I suggest you buy this cd.