Phrenology (album)

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Studio album by The Roots
Released November 26, 2002
Recorded June 2000–September 2002
Genre Hip hop, neo soul
Length 60:47
Label MCA, Geffen
Producer DJ Scratch, The Grand Wizzards, Kamal Gray, Tahir Jamal, Omar the Scholar, Questlove, Karreem Riggins, Scott Storch, Zoukhan Bey
The Roots chronology
Things Fall Apart
The Tipping Point
Singles from Phrenology
  1. "Break You Off"
    Released: 2002
  2. "The Seed (2.0)"
    Released: March 31, 2003

Phrenology is the fifth studio album by American hip hop band The Roots, released November 26, 2002, on Geffen Records and MCA Records. Recording sessions for the album took place during June 2000 to September 2002.[1] It was primarily produced by members of the band and features contributions from hip hop and neo soul artists such as Cody ChesnuTT, Musiq Soulchild, Talib Kweli, and Jill Scott.

Although it did not parallel the commercial success of the band's previous album, Things Fall Apart, the album reached number 28 on the US Billboard 200 chart and sold steadily, remaining on the chart for 38 weeks.[2] On June 3, 2003, it was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America, for shipments of 500,000 copies in the United States.[3] Upon its release, Phrenology received universal acclaim from music critics, who praised its musical direction and lyrical themes, and it was included in numerous publications' year-end lists of the year's best albums.[4]


Following the breakthrough success of Things Fall Apart (1999), its release was highly anticipated and delayed, as recording took two years.[1][5] The album is named after the discredited pseudoscience of phrenology, the study of head shapes to determine intelligence and character, which was used to rationalize racism during the 19th century in the United States.[6] Its cover art was created by artist/printmaker Tom Huck.[7]

Music and lyrics[edit]

Primarily a hip hop album, Phrenology features themes of hip hop culture and its commodification, with musical elements of rock, jazz, and soul music.[5][8][9][10][11] According to music critic Greg Kot, the Roots forge a connection between hip hop and neo soul on the album.[12] A production of the Soulquarians collective,[13] the album features contributions by Cody ChesnuTT, Musiq Soulchild, Talib Kweli, and Jill Scott.[1]

On "Something in the Way of Things (In Town)", Amiri Baraka performs a poem about how the spirit of death and decay permeates African-American urban experiences. Set to a fusion of several African-American music influences, his poem observes "something in the way of our selves" and uses unusual imagery such as death "riding on top of the car peering through the windshield" and a "Negro squinting at us through the cage" with a smile "that ain't a smile but teeth flying against our necks".[14]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4.5/5 stars[1]
Blender 5/5 stars[15]
Robert Christgau A−[16]
The Guardian 4/5 stars[8]
Mojo 5/5 stars[17]
Pitchfork Media 8.1/10[9]
Q 4/5 stars[18]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[19]
Slant Magazine 4/5 stars[10]
Spin 8/10[20]

Phrenology received universal acclaim from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 87, based on 23 reviews.[21] Mojo hailed it as a "masterpiece",[17] and Dave Heaton of PopMatters called it "an impressive, ambitious work". Heaton commended the Roots for "filling their sound out and pushing it in a variety of directions", with a form of "tight soul/funk" that "sounds even more exact, funkier and edgier" than on Things Fall Apart.[22] Chicago Sun-Times writer Jim DeRogatis gave it four out of four stars and called it "a near-classic right out of the gate, an urgent, raucous and thought-provoking 70 minutes that mine the musical territory between hard hip-hop and smoother Philly soul".[23] Blender‍ '​s RJ Smith called it "a celebration of self-determination, a nonstop joyride through some very complicated brains".[15] Alexis Petridis, writing in The Guardian, found the Roots "exclusively capable of absorbing other genres", while the "more straightforward hip-hop" is "idiosyncratic and hugely enjoyable".[8] Slant Magazine's Sal Cinquemani called the album "subtly progressive" and said that the lyrics "challenge the commodification and subsequent destruction of hip-hop culture".[10] Rolling Stone writer Pat Blashill observed "a startling array of hip-hop reinventions".[19]

Allmusic editor Steve Huey said that the album is "a challenging, hugely ambitious opus that's by turns brilliant and bewildering, as it strains to push the very sound of hip-hop into the future." He also called it the band's "hardest-hitting" album because they successfully "re-create their concert punch in the studio."[1] Robert Christgau of The Village Voice gave Phrenology an "A-",[16] indicating "the kind of garden-variety good record that is the great luxury of musical micromarketing and overproduction".[24] Christgau complimented Kamal Gray's "keyb hooks" and stated "[B]elieve that after years of racial mythology, they've found it in their talent to put black music's long tradition of tune and structure into practice".[16] The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004) gave it four-and-a-half stars and cited "Water" as a highlight, "that begins with the age-old Bo Diddley beat and ends as an extended musique concrète-style instrumental fantasia".[5]

Track listing[edit]

  • Information is adapted from the album's liner notes.[7]
No. Title Writer(s) Producer(s) Length
1. "Phrentrow" (featuring Ursula Rucker) Ahmir Thompson, Ursula Rucker, Omar Edwards Questlove, Omar the Scholar 0:18
2. "Rock You"   Tariq Trotter, George Spivey DJ Scratch, The Grand Wizzards (co.) 3:12
3. "!!!!!!!"   Thompson, Benjamin Kenney, Leonard Hubbard The Grand Wizzards 0:24
4. "Sacrifice" (featuring Nelly Furtado) Trotter, Thompson, James Gray, Hubbard Kamiah Gray, Kamal Gray (co.) 4:44
5. "Rolling with Heat" (featuring Talib Kweli) Trotter, Thompson, Gray, Kyle Jones, Talib Greene, Karl Jenkins The Grand Wizzards 3:42
6. "WAOK (Ay) Rollcall" (featuring Ursula Rucker) Thompson, Gray, Hubbard The Grand Wizzards 1:00
7. "Thought @ Work"   Trotter, Thompson, Hubbard, Gray, Kenney Questlove 4:58
8. "The Seed (2.0)" (featuring Cody ChesnuTT) Trotter, Antonious Bernard Thomas Questlove, Cody ChesnuTT (co.) 4:27
9. "Break You Off" (featuring Musiq) Trotter, Thompson, Hubbard, Gray, Jones, Kenney, Jenkins, Taalib Johnson, Jill Scott Kamal Gray 7:27
10. "Water"   Trotter, Thompson, Hubbard, Gray, Kenney, Tahir Williams Tahir Jamal, Kelo Saunders (co.), The Grand Wizzards (co.) 10:24
11. "Quills"   Trotter, Karriem Riggins Karreem Riggins, The Grand Wizzards (co.) 4:22
12. "Pussy Galore"   Trotter, Scott Storch Scott Storch, Zoukhan Bey 4:29
13. "Complexity" (featuring Jill Scott) Trotter, Thompson, Hubbard, Gray, Scott, Edwards The Grand Wizzards, Questlove (co.), Omar the Scholar (co.) 4:47
14. "Something in the Way of Things (In Town)" (featuring Amiri Baraka) Thompson, Kenney, Amiri Baraka The Grand Wizzards 7:16
Unlisted tracks
No. Title Writer(s) Producer(s) Length
15. Untitled       0:20
16. Untitled       0:20
17. "Rhymes and Ammo / Thirsty!" (featuring Talib Kweli) Trotter, Thompson, Greene The Grand Wizzards 8:00
18. Untitled       0:07

 • (co) Co-producer

Sample credits/notes
  • "Thought @ Work" contains elements from the composition "Apache" by The Sugarhill Gang, "Jam on the Groove" by Ralph McDonald, and "Human Beat Box" by The Fat Boys. According to Questlove, recording artist Alicia Keys "drop[s] in" on the track.[7]
  • "Water" comprises three parts, noted in Questlove's liner notes as "a. the first movement / b. the abyss / c. the drowning", and contains elements of "Her Story" by The Flying Lizards.[7]
  • "Quills" contains elements of "Breakout" by Swing Out Sister and features guest vocals from Tracey Moore of the Jazzyfatnastees.[7]
  • "Pussy Galore" contains elements of "Because I Got It Like That" by the Jungle Brothers.[7]
  • Tracks 15, 16 and 18 are silent blank tracks.[1] Track 17 is divided into two untitled songs, identified as "Rhymes and Ammo", originally from Soundbombing III (2002),[25] and "Thirsty!".[26]


Credits for Phrenology adapted from Allmusic.[27]




See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Huey, Steve. Review: Phrenology. Allmusic. Retrieved on 2009-08-11.
  2. ^ a b The Roots Album & Song Chart History – Billboard 200. Billboard. Retrieved on 2011-02-23.
  3. ^ "Gold & Platinum: The Roots". RIAA. Retrieved June 16, 2010. 
  4. ^ Acclaimed Music - Phrenology. AcclaimedMusic. Retrieved on 2011-02-23.
  5. ^ a b c Hoard, Christian. "Review: Phrenology". Rolling Stone: 702–703. November 2, 2004.
  6. ^ Venable, Malcolm (October 2002). "Mo' Money, Mo' Problems". Vibe: 124–128.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Phrenology (Media notes). The Roots. MCA Records. 2002. 
  8. ^ a b c Petridis, Alexis. Review: Phrenology. The Guardian. Retrieved on 2009-07-09.
  9. ^ a b Chennault, Sam. Review: Phrenology. Pitchfork Media. Retrieved on 2009-07-09.
  10. ^ a b c Cinquemani, Sal (November 26, 2002). Review: Phrenology. Slant Magazine. Retrieved on 2011-02-23.
  11. ^ Sterling, Scott T. Review: Phrenology. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on 2009-08-11.
  12. ^ Kot, Greg (November 24, 2002). "The Roots Phrenology (MCA)". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved May 2, 2013. 
  13. ^ Kot, Greg. "A Fresh Collective Soul?". Chicago Tribune: 1. March 19, 2000.
  14. ^ Muyumba, Walton M. (2009). The Shadow and the Act:Black Intellectual Practice, Jazz Improvisation, and Philosophical Pragmatism. University of Chicago Press. p. 158. ISBN 0226554252. 
  15. ^ a b Smith, RJ (November 26, 2002). "Review: Phrenology". Blender (12): 149. 
  16. ^ a b c Christgau, Robert (January 14, 2003). "Escape Claus". The Village Voice (New York). Retrieved May 2, 2013. 
  17. ^ a b "Review: Phrenology". Mojo (London): 100. January 2003. 
  18. ^ "Review: Phrenology". Q (London): 97. February 2003. 
  19. ^ a b Blashill, Pat (December 12, 2002). Review: Phrenology at the Wayback Machine (archived January 30, 2008). Rolling Stone. Retrieved on 2011-02-22.
  20. ^ Pappademas, Alex. "Review: Phrenology". Spin: 95. January 2003.
  21. ^ Phrenology (2002): Reviews. Metacritic. Retrieved on 2009-06-11.
  22. ^ Heaton, Dave. Review: Phrenology. PopMatters. Retrieved on 2009-12-05.
  23. ^ DeRogatis, Jim. "Review: Phrenology". Chicago Sun-Times: 4. December 1, 2002.
  24. ^ Christgau, Robert (2000-10-15). "CG 90s: Key to Icons". Robert Christgau. Retrieved 2011-02-23. 
  25. ^ Juon, Steve (February 23, 2011). Feature for December 3, 2002 - The Roots' "Phrenology". RapReviews. Retrieved on 2011-02-23.
  26. ^ Phrenology (Explicit) by The Roots. Yahoo! Music. Retrieved on 2011-02-23.
  27. ^ Credits: Phrenology. Allmusic. Retrieved on 2011-02-23.
  28. ^ a b "Discography The Roots". (in Danish). Retrieved June 16, 2010. 
  29. ^ a b "Discografie The Roots". (in Dutch). Retrieved June 16, 2010. 
  30. ^ a b "Discography The Roots". (in Finnish). Retrieved June 16, 2010. 
  31. ^ "Discographie The Roots". (in French). Retrieved June 16, 2010. 
  32. ^ a b "Discographie The Roots". (in German). Retrieved June 16, 2010. 
  33. ^ a b c "The Roots". Chart Stats. Retrieved June 16, 2010. 
  34. ^ The Roots Album & Song Chart History – R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. Billboard. Retrieved on 2011-02-23.
  35. ^ The Roots Album & Song Chart History – Hot 100. Billboard. Retrieved on 2011-02-23.
  36. ^ The Roots Album & Song Chart History – R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. Billboard. Retrieved on 2011-02-23.
  37. ^ "Chartverfolgung/Roots,The/Single". (in German). Retrieved June 16, 2010. 


  • Nathan Brackett, Christian Hoard (eds.) (2004). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide: Completely Revised and Updated 4th Edition. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8. 

External links[edit]