4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 10 December 2002
Philadephia's revival as a city at the forefront of music can be directly attributed to The Roots. An abundance of DJs, musicians and poets who now hold fort in the city and across the world, have either been inspired by or collaborated with the band since their inception more than ten years ago. The City of Steel can now hold its own with the musical oasis of London and New York, and a serving testament to its wide musical array and beauty can be found on "Phrenology".
Guest vocalist Amira Bakara offers spoken word on the warm, light breeze of "Something in the Way of Things", as soft jazz-funk melts into 'toasted'vocals. As the music gathers speed, the poetry intensifies, like a gruffer version of jazz vocalist Mark Murphy. Drummer ?uestlove, earmarks the track with live drum n' bass rhythms, a similar trick he carries out on the single "Break You Off", turning the sweet harmonies and choice vocals inside out with his sonic percussion. "Break You Off" is preceded by "The Seed". "The Seed" is dirty, spaced out, funk; LA fly guy Cody Chestnut delivers sweet soul over a rocky rhythm judging by this cut Sly Stone is very much alive. The track is simply incredible...........and then you realise that this album is made by a Hip Hop band. Hip Hop is covered on the album with "Rock You" which eschews the traditional big build up of previous Roots opening tracks and flips you one hundred and eighty degrees into organic Hip Hop; a supreme mix of out there rap, nasty bass, heavy drums and the most 'hypnotic'of riffs. "Sacrifice" opens with an aquatic turn of sound leading to Malik B's commanding rap, backed up by vocals by Nelly Furtdao. "Rolling with the Heat" is the standout Hip Hop track. Raw 'funky drummer' beats sit happily with an old school feel, and Talib Kweli's contributing vocals are something else.
The Roots have been at the forefront of innovative music for the last ten years. "Phrenology" is a record of a band at the height of its powers.....a musical explosion of sweet soul, touching jazz, funky rock and lots of serious Hip Hop.........from Philly with love.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 6 May 2003
One of the most moving and albums i've heard in a long time that has a perfect blend of hip hop, rap and truly soulful tunes that really make you want shake that booty. My favourite track has to be the seed which i've played over and over again and just can't get enough of. To all you hip hop, body shaking lovers out there, this album is a must! xx
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 14 December 2002
Every Roots album that I here I can tell a definite progression with Phrenology being no exception. A real variety of hip hop tunes with a couple of tracks being slightly of a more commercial R&B ilk and others containing more of a rock influence. Appearances by Jill Scott and Musiq give the album extra depth and will hopefully help widen the Roots' audience.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 6 May 2003
The legendary hip-hip collective return with a cacophony of sounds and guest appearances in this, their most ambitious album to date. On first play the familiar moments of South Philly smoothness are there but sometimes there does seem to be a little too much noise going on, getting a little too busy; such are the high standards we’ve come to expect. That said, these guys are such supreme musicians gelling together, that the combination is often irresistible. The Seed (2.0) for example is a country guitar riff stomper with NKOTB Cody ChestnuTT guesting and coming over all Terence Trent D’Arby like! Elsewhere the bouncy bass of “Water” immediately connects. “Sacrifice” with guest harmonies from Nelly Furtardo, is smooth but no patch on their dreamy live rendition heard on Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide show. (Check it out!) Black Thought is at his most spittingly masterful on the “Apache” break sampling “Thought @ work”, an instant head nodder that goes on and on. They even take a trip down the memory lane of UK 80's pop using an interpolation of Swing out Sister (Breakout) on "Quills". All in all the Roots ALWAYS deliver. They push the boundaries and represent true musicianship combined with social consciousness. Hip-hop for the masses that know. Feel it.
26 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on 26 December 2002
For years one of the Roots' most appealing aspects, aside from the downplaying of samples in favor of actual instrumentation, has been the complimentary rapping styles of front men Black Thought, whose top-drawer freestyling was a group hallmark, and Malik B, equally skilled at well-built, flavorful rhymes. So the departure of Malik B before the completion of the Philadelphia-based group's latest release, Phrenology, leaves the Roots without a key weapon in their arsenal -- and at a critical juncture, given the undeniable pressure to follow-up 1999's multi-platinum breakthrough Things Fall Apart.
Phrenology -- which takes its title from a 19th-century scientific movement (long-since debunked) that believed the shape and protuberances of one's skull were corollary to determining one's character and mental acuities -- is far and away the Roots' hardest-edged release to date. Clearly reflective of the turbulence within the band over the past three years, the album lacks the easy flow found on such superior Things Fall Apart tracks as "100% Dundee" and "Dynamite!" What it does possess, however, is dissonance. While it may not be dissonance of the '40s-style Birdland Be-bop variety, the noise assaults found on Phrenology still manage to accomplish the same ends as that radical shift in jazz did some sixty years ago: arrest the senses, force the listener to take notice and pay attention, rather than get lost in an overly consonant harmonic wash.
To that end, "Rock You" explodes with an insistently repetitive beat and Black Thought's equally redundant title chant. "!!!!!!!" is a terse, full-on punk screech no doubt influenced by the presence of new member and rock guitarist Ben Kenney. And the most volatile track, ten-minute, three movement "Water," finds Black Thought addressing the fallout with Malik B to the accompaniment of a cacophonous hailstorm of squawks, bleats, clanging percussion and angry rants. It's a cathartic watershed moment for the Roots, a purging of all the ill feelings that came with making the record and, despite the jarringly violent timbre, carries with it a sense of satisfied release. The Roots have never been so emotionally naked on record before -- and it's clear the rift with Malik hit the band hard -- making for an incredibly stirring moment.
"Water" proves such a defining artistic and personal statement that it threatens to overwhelm and diminish the tracks that precede and follow. Fortunately, it's bracketed by several stellar efforts: "Thought @ Work" superbly showcases Black Thought's near otherworldly flow against a cracking drum break; "The Seed (2.0)," featuring Cody Chestnutt, is an engaging pop-rap hybrid, easily the album's catchiest cut; "Break You Off," with a guest turn from Musiq, sports solid drum and bass interplay; and "Complexity" nicely utilizes Jill Scott's comforting vocals to offset the hyper-aggressive tempo of prior tunes. Special mention goes to two imminently worthwhile bonus cuts: "Rhymes and Ammo," boasting an excellent call and response rap between Black Thought and guest MC Talib Kweli; and "Thirsty!," which serves up a blazing hot electronica beat that fairly demands dance floor play.
Of course, not everything works. "Sacrifice," featuring Nelly Furtado, is soulful but bland in comparison to the more muscular tracks surrounding it, while "Something In The Way Of Things (In Town)" suffers from poet Amiri Baraka's exceedingly long seven minute ramble about nothing in particular, though the casual backing beat proves intriguing.
Despite those minor missteps, Phrenology manages to just clear the high bar set by Things Fall Apart. Though the loss of Malik B affected the group deeply, the fact that the Roots were able to channel the pain and loss into something artistically worthy speaks volumes about the band's collective state of mind and strength of character, a prime example of what far too many people fail to do in the face of adversity: turn a negative into a positive.
2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 20 December 2002
I was looking foward to this new Roots album with great anticipation, and even though I heard several of the tracks on the internet, I was still pleasently surprised. The Roots have definately progressed from the early days of 'Organix' and 'Things Fall apart' and with a welcomed and different style of production and lyricism this album is an instant classic. Although, those true to The Roots might not like the lack of 'organic hiphop' (beatboxing and live instruments), it is definately a must buy for tru headz, but in my opinion its not as good as 'Things fall apart' which is still my faviourate Roots album. It is however a definate joint second.