- Audio CD (Dec 3 2002)
- Number of Discs: 1
- Label: Universal Music Canada
- ASIN: B00007B9DP
- In-Print Editions: Audio CD
- Average Customer Review: 177 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #29,992 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
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If you were wondering what the heck phrenology means, the Roots wouldn't have it any other way. Hip-hop's hardest-working live band continues where they left off with Things Fall Apart, forcing listeners to think outside of the Hot 97 FM box--or just plain think. On "Thought at Work," lead emcee Black Thought--the most criminally underrated wordsmith of his time--weaves captivating flows over a neck-snapping break beat, while on "Water" he boldly addresses the controversy surrounding his partner-in-rhyme Malik B's alleged substance abuse. While collaborations with Nelly Furtado ("Sacrifice") and Talib Kweli ("Rhymes and Ammo") read much better on paper than they sound, the catchy, up-tempo call-and-response routine utilized by the crew on the latter song will amp up Roots nonbelievers. As a bonus, Jill Scott's dreamy falsetto refrain hammers home some finer points about love on "Complexity." --Dalton Higgins
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The album's first song, "Rock You," is a heavy bass and percussion bash full of ego and, as the title promises, rock. The piece climaxes with "!!!!!!," a dash of punk sounding like an outtake from Minor Threat's "Anthology."
The Roots are the pepper and salt of hip hop; they can do so much and sound so good that it seems like this album is a compilation that definitely doesn't fit in the 2000s. It is a pure mixtape from 1970, taking sounds from every genre and reinventing hip hop. "Sacrifice" is a feel-good spiritual flowing like water from a faucet. With a light-techno bass and back-up singers straight from the Grand Theft Auto III soundtrack, this is one of the more immediately accessible songs on the album. So, probably not intentionally, is this song's follow-up, "Rolling With Heat." A simple low-brass riff and old-school drummin' on trash cans percussion provides a perfect backdrop for Talib Kweli and Black Thought's sharp lyrics.
While the radio-skit gig has been tired out in the music world by artists like Queens of the Stone Age ("Songs for the Deaf") and Redman ("Doc's Da Name"), the Roots do it with a flawless sense of class on "Rollcall" by name-dropping all their influences a little more subtly than Missy Elliott. This is followed by the explosive "Thought @ Work," a politically-minded word play backed by the Africaans-percussion section from Sugarhill Gang's "Apache" and jungle horns. Continuing the four-song stretch that highlights this album is "The Seed 2.0," the album's second single and biggest hit, sounding like college rock narrated by MC Oz from "Wizard of Oz" and sung by a suave Michael Stipe.
"Break You Off," the album's best piece, is a neo-soul masterpiece with a devastatingly playful organ accented by the perfectly-rhythmed spit dished by Black Thought, who throughout this album proves his worthiness as the best MC in the rap world. After this 7 and a half minute eclipse, "Water" opens with the funkiest bass line ever written by the Roots and eventually morphs into an audio tour of world evolution in the eyes of the Roots.
"Quills" is truly an adventurous experience. With a staccato piano line, it sounds like a getaway anthem for a hip-hop James Bond, with danger possibly lurking around every lyrical corner. The fear dies down, though, when the cool-voiced Tracey Moore steals the piano line and replaces it with a peaceful harp. "Pussy Galore" was the blueprint for Busta Rhyme's "I Know What You Want," and "Complexity" is a light acoustic soul piece just like the rest of Jill Scott's music, which is a great touch on this album.
"Phrenology" is a step forward; the Roots have stepped into the realm, now they're rollin' with heat through a second realm. This album has pop-hip-hop (Pussy Galore), ego (Rollin' With Heat), soul (Break you Off), funk (Water), rock (Rock You), progressive hip hop (Quills), old-school hip-hop (Thought @ Work), and even alternative rock (The Seed 2.0). Every "composition," as the Roots call them, is its own original thought, with lyrics and sounds to paint the mind of conscious Black American in society today. In the liner notes of "Break you Off," the Roots explain how a record exec felt that their artist needed the Roots less than the Roots needed him. Clearly, as this album shows, the world needs the Roots more than the Roots need the world.
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