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Volume 68, Issue 69, Wednesday, December 4, 2002

Arts & Entertainment

Rootsi ‘Phrenologyi drifts across genres

By Keenan Singleton
The Daily Cougar

Thereis the legendary Roots mini-series. Thereis also the legendary Roots (for all those Canadians out there) clothing company. There is even the legendarily annoying Nappy Roots. But, there is only one, just one, legendary Roots crew.

The crew, Black Thought (vocals), ?uestlove (drums), Hub (bass), Kamal (keyboards), Scratch (human beatbox) and Ben Kenney (guitar) comprise the worldis best and best-known rap band.

Most fans are still recovering from torrid three-year love affair with the groupis last album, the Grammy-award winning Things Fall Apart. With the release of Phrenology, the honeymoon with TFA is over. 

The Rootsi Questlove (left), Kamal, Black Thought, Ben Kenney, Scratch and Leonard "Hub" Hubbardis highly anticipated album, Phrenology, features appearances by Musiq, Jill Scott and Talib Kweli.
T. Hopkins/ MCA Records

The Roots have always been the gift that you let only the most enlightened of friends hear, the friends that donit debate whose the better rapper, Nelly or P. Diddy. There arenit enough references to "blinged-out ice," or "whips sitting on twenties" for the group to achieve mainstream success on radio and MTV (although they made an attempt as Jay-Zis band on his MTV Unplugged TV appearance and album). 

Phrenology shows Roots branching out, stumping listeners with their diverse influences.

With all that praise, sheer appreciation and benefit of the doubt, Phrenology is just a rebound album. Itill be remembered, but not revered. Itill be remembered as the album that the crew tripped and stumbled, but later regained the magic, kind of like the Beatlesi Magicial Mystery Tour.

The beat of "Break You Off" (featuring Musiq) speaks directly to the hips, while Black Thoughtis lyrics have a captive audience with the brain. Initially, "Rock You" is a strong track, but somewhere during Black Thoughtis second verse, it begins to drone on like the hum of a worker bee on its daily flight. Neither BT lyrics, the beat nor (lack of) melody stand out.

Thereis nothing better than a bridge section on a rap track and "Thought @ Work" effectively utilizes the effect. The song allows Black Thought to flex his considerable rhyme skills.

Talib Kweli, a name every rap fan should be intimate with, guests on " Rolling With Heat," a song that, like a car running low on antifreeze, stalls and cools considerably after being on too long.

Other guest contributions include Nelly Furtado on "Sacrifice," Cody Chestnutt on "The Seed" (2.0) and Jill Scott on "Complexity."

Maybe the expectations were too high for a group so grounded they dubbed themselves The Roots, but Phrenology strays too far away from seed. The group goes from rock to techno and everywhere in-between, not allowing listeners to find a comfort zone, which may have been their intent.

The Roots are meant to grow, so it may be unfair to expect a group as diverse and creative to be strictly a rap group. And while the newness of the honeymoon is over, the love affair isnit. The creativity is still there, just not on this album.

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