Please listen to the Roots’ Phrenology while seated. Do not leave anything easily broken in your immediate vicinity. Have a friend or loved one in the room to ensure that nothing bad happens. After taking these precautions, put the album on and allow yourself aural pleasure. Be sure to ask your mind what it feels like to be blown.

Paul Wong
Rating: Four stars.

The Roots’ latest effort is not like any album they have made before. It’s the sound hip-hop redefined. This marked departure from previous albums and traditional rap music demands that the Roots’ audience grow with them. Some listeners may need to throw or smash something to cope with the conflicting, visceral feelings that Phrenology can trigger. Initially, fans may feel disappointed and confounded that Phrenology sounds nothing like Organix. However, upon repeated listening, everyone should grow to appreciate the musical virtuosity and sonic ingenuity displayed by the world’s best group.

The litany of creative decisions manifested on Phrenology makes it difficult to find an appropriate beginning when attempting to catalogue the album’s unique and remarkable features. To start, the band’s live instrumentation enables it to blend many styles and the rock-influenced “Seed 2.0,” the jungle-beat-bearing “Something in the Way of Things” and the funk sounding “Sacrifice” all prove this. However, this record is not wholly eclectic nor a compilation of disjointed songs. Instead, the varying sounds are all presented within a hip-hop context that is given credibility and cohesiveness by emcee Black Thought’s tremendous rapping ability. In the aggregate, the songs provide an auspicious and exciting perception of hip-hop; who are we to tell the Roots that what they’ve made is anything else?

Also resonant on the record is the immense talent of the Roots’ instrumentalists. Kamal’s keys turn “Quills” into a fantastic track while Leonard Hubbard’s bass carries “Break You Off.” Yet, one of the most resonant facets of Phrenology is the brilliant creativity of Roots drummer Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson. A driving force behind the album’s production, ?uest not only asserts himself as a remarkable drummer, but also as one of hip-hop’s most innovative minds.

The repetitive nature of tracks “Pussy Galore” and “Rolling with Heat” (that’s two disappointing Talib-Thought collabos in one month!) are the only factors that diminish Phrenology’s quality. This album will go down as the year’s best and one of the most influential hip-hop efforts in recent years. Hopefully, its new sounds won’t render these distinction lost on the fans.

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