Phrenology (album)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Studio album by
ReleasedNovember 26, 2002
RecordedJune 2000 – September 2002
StudioElectric Lady (New York)
ProducerDJ 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 on November 26, 2002, by MCA Records. Recording sessions for the album took place during June 2000 to September 2002[1] at Electric Lady Studios in New York.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5]


Following the breakthrough success of Things Fall Apart (1999), its release was highly anticipated and delayed, as recording took two years.[1][6] 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.[7] Its cover art was created by artist/printmaker Tom Huck.[8]

Music and lyrics[edit]

Primarily a hip hop album, Phrenology features lyrical themes of hip hop culture and its commodification, with musical elements of rock, jazz, techno, hardcore punk, and soul music.[6][9][10][11][12] According to music critic Greg Kot, the Roots forge a connection between hip hop and neo soul on the album,[13] while Treble writer says it can "best be described" as progressive rap,[14] and Entertainment Weekly's Raymond Fiore calls it the band's "left-field rock-rap opus".[15] A production of the Soulquarians collective,[16] 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".[17]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Review scores
Entertainment WeeklyB+[20]
The Guardian[9]
Los Angeles Times[12]
Rolling Stone[22]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[23]
The Village VoiceA−[25]

Phrenology received widespread acclaim from critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream publications, the album received an average score of 87, based on 23 reviews.[18] Mojo magazine hailed it as a "masterpiece",[26] while Rolling Stone writer Pat Blashill said it has "a startling array of hip-hop reinventions".[22] Dave Heaton from PopMatters called Phrenology "an impressive, ambitious work" that shows the Roots "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.[27] In the Chicago Sun-Times, critic Jim DeRogatis gave the record 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".[28] Blender's RJ Smith called it "a celebration of self-determination, a nonstop joyride through some very complicated brains".[19] Jeremy Gladstone from Kludge felt the Roots had combined "complicated beats" with "complex lyrics" to produce a "shockingly honest sound".[29] In The Guardian, Alexis Petridis found the group "exclusively capable of absorbing other genres", while the "more straightforward hip-hop" is "idiosyncratic and hugely enjoyable".[9] Slant Magazine's Sal Cinquemani called the album "subtly progressive" and felt the lyrics "challenge the commodification and subsequent destruction of hip-hop culture".[11]

In a less enthusiastic review, Uncut magazine said Phrenology shows the Roots' "willingness to push the envelope of their organic jazz-rap" that is unparalleled but sometimes musically pretentious or indulgent, particularly on "Something in the Way of Things" and the coda to "Water".[30] AllMusic editor Steve Huey felt it 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] In his column for The Village Voice, Robert Christgau believed the Roots have finally discovered how to write tuneful and structured music on Phrenology,[25] as they "humanize their formal commitment with injections of singing and guitar".[31]

At the end of 2002, Phrenology was named one of the year's best albums.[32] It was voted the seventh best album of 2002 in The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop, an annual poll of American critics.[33] The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004) later 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".[6] Phrenology was included in the 2010 reference book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die[34] and in Tom Moon's 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die (2008). Slant Magazine listed the album at number 231 on its "Top 250 Albums of the 2000s" (2010). Based on such listings, Acclaimed Music ranks Phrenology as the 19th most acclaimed album of 2002 and the 177th most acclaimed album of the 2000s.[32]

Track listing[edit]

Information is adapted from the album's liner notes.[8] "(co.)" denotes Co-producer. Track numbers continued from Things Fall Apart.

87."Phrentrow" (featuring Ursula Rucker)Ahmir Thompson, Ursula Rucker, Omar EdwardsQuestlove, Omar the Scholar0:18
88."Rock You"Tariq Trotter, George SpiveyDJ Scratch, The Grand Wizzards (co.)3:12
89."!!!!!!!"Thompson, Benjamin Kenney, Leonard HubbardThe Grand Wizzards0:24
90."Sacrifice" (featuring Nelly Furtado)Trotter, Thompson, James Gray, HubbardKamiah Gray, Kamal Gray (co.)4:44
91."Rolling with Heat" (featuring Talib Kweli)Trotter, Thompson, Gray, Kyle Jones, Talib Greene, Karl JenkinsThe Grand Wizzards3:42
92."WAOK (Ay) Rollcall" (featuring Ursula Rucker)Thompson, Gray, HubbardThe Grand Wizzards1:00
93."Thought @ Work"Trotter, Thompson, Hubbard, Gray, KenneyQuestlove4:58
94."The Seed (2.0)" (featuring Cody ChesnuTT)Trotter, Antonious Bernard ThomasQuestlove, Cody ChesnuTT (co.)4:27
95."Break You Off" (featuring Musiq)Trotter, Thompson, Hubbard, Gray, Jones, Kenney, Jenkins, Taalib Johnson, Jill ScottKamal Gray7:27
96."Water"Trotter, Thompson, Hubbard, Gray, Kenney, Tahir WilliamsTahir Jamal, Kelo Saunders (co.), The Grand Wizzards (co.)10:24
97."Quills"Trotter, Karriem RigginsKarreem Riggins, The Grand Wizzards (co.)4:22
98."Pussy Galore"Trotter, Scott StorchScott Storch, Zoukhan Bey4:29
99."Complexity" (featuring Jill Scott)Trotter, Thompson, Hubbard, Gray, Scott, EdwardsThe Grand Wizzards, Questlove (co.), Omar the Scholar (co.)4:47
100."Something in the Way of Things (In Town)" (featuring Amiri Baraka)Thompson, Kenney, Amiri BarakaThe Grand Wizzards7:16
Unlisted tracks
101."Rhymes and Ammo" (featuring Talib Kweli)Trotter, Thompson, GreeneThe Grand Wizzards4:32
102."Thirsty!"  2:47

Sample credits and 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.[8]
  • "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.[8]
  • "Quills" contains elements of "Breakout" by Swing Out Sister and features guest vocals from Tracey Moore of the Jazzyfatnastees.[8]
  • "Pussy Galore" contains elements of "Because I Got It Like That" by the Jungle Brothers.[8]
  • On the CD version of the album, there are 18 tracks instead of 16: Tracks 15, 16 and 17 are silent blank tracks.[1] Track 18 starts with another 2:00 of silence, and after that consists of two untitled songs, identified as "Rhymes and Ammo", originally from Soundbombing III (2002)[35] and featuring Talib Kweli, and "Thirsty!", which is originally a track by Elektrochemie LK called "When I Rock".[36]


Credits for Phrenology adapted from Allmusic.[37]





Song Chart (2002) Peak
"Break You Off" UK Singles Chart[46] 59
US Billboard Hot 100[53] 99
US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks[54] 55
Song Chart (2003) Peak
"The Seed (2.0)" Danish Singles Chart[55] 2
Dutch Singles Chart[56] 35
Finnish Singles Chart[57] 5
German Singles Chart[58] 67
Swiss Singles Chart[59] 22
UK Singles Chart[46] 33


Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[60] Silver 60,000*
United States (RIAA)[61] Gold 500,000^

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Huey, Steve. "Phrenology – The Roots". AllMusic. Retrieved August 11, 2009.
  2. ^ Gonzales, Michael (March 19, 2015). "Love, Peace and Soulquarians". soulhead. Retrieved August 20, 2020.
  3. ^ The Roots Album & Song Chart History – Billboard 200. Billboard. Retrieved on 2011-02-23.
  4. ^ "Gold & Platinum: The Roots". RIAA. Retrieved June 16, 2010.
  5. ^ Acclaimed Music – Phrenology Archived 2011-07-23 at the Wayback Machine. AcclaimedMusic. Retrieved on 2011-02-23.
  6. ^ a b c Hoard, Christian. "Review: Phrenology". Rolling Stone: 702–703. November 2, 2004.
  7. ^ Venable, Malcolm (October 2002). "Mo' Money, Mo' Problems". Vibe. New York. 10 (10): 124–128. Retrieved July 9, 2009.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Phrenology (Media notes). The Roots. MCA Records. 2002.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  9. ^ a b c Petridis, Alexis (December 6, 2002). "The Roots: Phrenology". The Guardian. London. Retrieved July 9, 2009.
  10. ^ a b Chennault, Sam (January 28, 2003). "The Roots: Phrenology". Pitchfork. Retrieved July 9, 2009.
  11. ^ a b Cinquemani, Sal (November 26, 2002). "The Roots: Phrenology". Slant Magazine. Retrieved February 23, 2011.
  12. ^ a b Sterling, Scott T. (November 24, 2002). "The Roots, 'Phrenology' (MCA)". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 11, 2009.
  13. ^ Kot, Greg (November 24, 2002). "The Roots: Phrenology (MCA)". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
  14. ^ Terich, Jeff (January 8, 2012). "The Roots : undun". Treble. Retrieved July 16, 2021.
  15. ^ Flore, Raymond (July 16, 2004). "The Tipping Point". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved February 29, 2020.
  16. ^ Kot, Greg (March 19, 2000). "A Fresh Collective Soul?". Chicago Tribune. p. 1. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
  17. ^ Muyumba, Walton M. (2009). The Shadow and the Act:Black Intellectual Practice, Jazz Improvisation, and Philosophical Pragmatism. University of Chicago Press. p. 158. ISBN 978-0226554259.
  18. ^ a b "Reviews for Phrenology by The Roots". Metacritic. Retrieved June 11, 2009.
  19. ^ a b Smith, RJ (December 2002). "The Roots: Phrenology". Blender. New York (12): 149. Archived from the original on May 4, 2006. Retrieved June 6, 2016.
  20. ^ Hiatt, Brian (November 29, 2002). "Phrenology". Entertainment Weekly. New York. Archived from the original on January 18, 2017. Retrieved August 11, 2009.
  21. ^ "The Roots: Phrenology". Q. London (199): 97. February 2003.
  22. ^ a b Blashill, Pat (December 12, 2002). "The Roots: Phrenology". Rolling Stone. New York. Archived from the original on January 30, 2008. Retrieved February 22, 2011.
  23. ^ Cross, Charles R. (2004). "The Roots". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 702. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  24. ^ Pappademas, Alex (January 2003). "The Roots: Phrenology". Spin. New York. 19 (1): 95. Retrieved February 23, 2011.
  25. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (January 14, 2003). "Escape Claus". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
  26. ^ "The Roots: Phrenology". Mojo. London (110): 100. January 2003.
  27. ^ Heaton, Dave (January 8, 2003). "The Roots: Phrenology". PopMatters. Retrieved December 5, 2009.
  28. ^ DeRogatis, Jim (December 1, 2002). "The Roots, 'Phrenology' (MCA)". Chicago Sun-Times. p. 4. Retrieved December 5, 2009.
  29. ^ Gladstone, Jeremy. "The Roots: Phrenology". Kludge. Archived from the original on February 6, 2003. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
  30. ^ "Roots – Phrenology". Uncut. London (69): 86. February 2003. Retrieved May 5, 2015.
  31. ^ Christgau, Robert (February 18, 2003). "Party in Hard Times". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved May 5, 2015.
  32. ^ a b "Phrenology". Acclaimed Music. Retrieved February 29, 2020.
  33. ^ "The 2002 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll". The Village Voice. New York. February 18, 2003. Retrieved May 5, 2015.
  34. ^ Robert Dimery; Michael Lydon (23 March 2010). 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die: Revised and Updated Edition. Universe. ISBN 978-0-7893-2074-2.
  35. ^ Juon, Steve (February 23, 2011). Feature for December 3, 2002 – The Roots' "Phrenology". RapReviews. Retrieved on 2011-02-23.
  36. ^ Phrenology (Explicit) by The Roots. Yahoo! Music. Retrieved on 2011-02-23.
  37. ^ Credits: Phrenology. Allmusic. Retrieved on 2011-02-23.
  38. ^ "Albums : Top 100". Jam!. December 12, 2002. Archived from the original on December 10, 2004. Retrieved April 13, 2023.
  39. ^ "R&B : Top 50". Jam!. December 19, 2002. Archived from the original on December 26, 2002. Retrieved January 29, 2023.
  40. ^ " – The Roots – Phrenology". Hung Medien. Retrieved September 7, 2020.
  41. ^ " – The Roots – Phrenology" (in Dutch). Hung Medien. Retrieved September 7, 2020.
  42. ^ "The Roots: Phrenology" (in Finnish). Musiikkituottajat – IFPI Finland. Retrieved September 7, 2020.
  43. ^ " – The Roots – Phrenology". Hung Medien. Retrieved September 7, 2020.
  44. ^ " – The Roots – Phrenology". Hung Medien. Retrieved September 7, 2020.
  45. ^ " – The Roots – Phrenology". Hung Medien. Retrieved September 7, 2020.
  46. ^ a b c "The Roots". Official Charts Company. Retrieved June 16, 2010.
  47. ^ "The Roots Chart History (Billboard 200)". Billboard. Retrieved September 7, 2020.
  48. ^ "The Roots Chart History (Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums)". Billboard. Retrieved September 7, 2020.
  49. ^ "Canada's Top 200 R&B; albums of 2001 [sic]". Jam!. Archived from the original on September 6, 2004. Retrieved March 25, 2022.
  50. ^ "Top 100 rap albums of 2002 in Canada". Jam!. Archived from the original on October 12, 2003. Retrieved March 28, 2022.
  51. ^ "Top Billboard 200 Albums – Year-End 2003". Billboard. Retrieved September 7, 2020.
  52. ^ "Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums – Year-End 2003". Billboard. Retrieved September 7, 2020.
  53. ^ The Roots Album & Song Chart History – Hot 100. Billboard. Retrieved on 2011-02-23.
  54. ^ The Roots Album & Song Chart History – R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. Billboard. Retrieved on 2011-02-23.
  55. ^ "Discography The Roots". (in Danish). Retrieved June 16, 2010.
  56. ^ "Discografie The Roots". (in Dutch). Retrieved June 16, 2010.
  57. ^ "Discography The Roots". (in Finnish). Retrieved June 16, 2010.
  58. ^ "Chartverfolgung/Roots,The/Single". (in German). Archived from the original on October 11, 2012. Retrieved June 16, 2010.
  59. ^ "Discographie The Roots". (in German). Retrieved June 16, 2010.
  60. ^ "British album certifications – The Roots – Phrenology". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved June 28, 2023.
  61. ^ "American album certifications – The Roots – Phrenology". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved June 28, 2023.


External links[edit]