The Roots are one of those non-threatening hip hop acts that mainstream music critics just adore. Everyone seemed to leave some space on his or her best of 2002 list for Black Thought, Kamal and company. Ironically, most of these critics and columnists refuse to acknowledge rap as a musical genre, often taking shots, some deserved and many not, at the industry. As a result, they point to The Roots as everything that rap should be.
C’mon, people. Lyrically, front man Black Thought is much more blessed than many of the mush mouthed say-nothings who are pushing platinum albums (Cash Money comes to mind). However, The Roots are not nearly the cutting-edge future of hip hop that many make them out to be. That’s not to take anything away from them. Phrenology is a solid, if unspectacular, album that continues The Roots’ trademark eclectic and eccentric presentation.
The first single, Break You Off was an excellent decision for the honor as it’s obviously the best track here. It tells the tale of an unfaithful woman who must make a choice. The interesting thing about this cut is that it doesn’t use the viewpoint of either the woman or her man. Instead, we see it through the eyes of the man she’s cheating with.
The strength of this album is its lyrical foundation and more often than not, the beats fail to hold up their end. There are some notable exceptions including, Rock You and the sample-laden Thought @ Work. Extra points to the latter for its references to Aquaman and The Brown Hornet.
Fans of “music with a message” should be satisfied, too. Water is a well-crafted cautionary piece that warns against some of the evil temptations of the street while reminding us to be there for those in need. Pussy Galore addresses the abundance of sex in society and its role in marketing everything under the sun.
Despite the presence of such substance, in a lot of ways Phrenology is more similar to the generic humdrum rap albums that is tries so hard to differentiate itself from. In some tracks, such as Rolling With Heat and Quills the subject matter is nothing that hasn’t been said, and said better, a hundred times before.
In addition, as is the case with most CDs in the game today, there are guests aplenty and the results are mixed. Jill Scott sounds beautiful on Complexity while Talib Kweli and Nelly Furtado are pretty much forgettable in their cameos.