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Phrenology (album)

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]


  • Background 1
  • Music and lyrics 2
  • Critical reception 3
  • Track listing 4
  • Personnel 5
    • Musician 5.1
    • Production 5.2
  • Charts 6
    • Singles 6.1
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Bibliography 9
  • External links 10


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

Primarily a hip hop album, Phrenology features themes of 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

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic [1]
Blender [15]
The Guardian [8]
Mojo [16]
Pitchfork Media 8.1/10[9]
Q [17]
Rolling Stone [18]
Slant Magazine [10]
Spin 8/10[19]
The Village Voice A−[20]

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.[21] Mojo magazine hailed it as a "masterpiece",[16] while Rolling Stone writer Pat Blashill said it has "a startling array of hip-hop reinventions".[18] 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.[22] 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".[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 felt the lyrics "challenge the commodification and subsequent destruction of hip-hop culture".[10]

In a less enthusiastic review, coda to "Water".[24] 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,[20] as they "humanize their formal commitment with injections of singing and guitar".[25]

At the end of 2002, Phrenology was named one of the year's best albums; according to Acclaimed Music, it was the 18th most ranked record on critics' year-end lists.[26] It was voted the seventh best album of 2002 in The Village Voice‍ '​s Pazz & Jop, an annual poll of American critics.[27] 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".[5]

Track listing

  • 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 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.[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),[28] and "Thirsty!".[29]


Credits for Phrenology adapted from Allmusic.[30]




Charts (2002) Peak
Danish Albums Chart[31] 29
Dutch Albums Chart[32] 54
Finnish Albums Chart[33] 14
French Albums Chart[34] 117
Swiss Albums Chart[35] 57
UK Albums Chart[36] 112
US Billboard 200[2] 28
US Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums[37] 11


Song Chart (2002) Peak
"Break You Off" UK Singles Chart[36] 59
US Billboard Hot 100[38] 99
US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks[39] 55
Song Chart (2003) Peak
"The Seed (2.0)" Danish Singles Chart[31] 2
Dutch Singles Chart[32] 35
Finnish Singles Chart[33] 5
German Singles Chart[40] 67
Swiss Singles Chart[35] 22
UK Singles Chart[36] 33

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f Huey, Steve. PhrenologyReview: . 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. "PhrenologyReview: ". 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. PhrenologyReview: . The Guardian. Retrieved on 2009-07-09.
  9. ^ a b Chennault, Sam. PhrenologyReview: . Pitchfork Media. Retrieved on 2009-07-09.
  10. ^ a b c Cinquemani, Sal (November 26, 2002). PhrenologyReview: . Slant Magazine. Retrieved on 2011-02-23.
  11. ^ Sterling, Scott T. PhrenologyReview: . Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on 2009-08-11.
  12. ^  
  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.  
  15. ^ a b Smith, RJ (November 26, 2002). "Review: Phrenology".  
  16. ^ a b "Review: Phrenology".  
  17. ^ "Review: Phrenology".  
  18. ^ a b Blashill, Pat (December 12, 2002). PhrenologyReview: at the Wayback Machine (archived January 30, 2008). Rolling Stone. Retrieved on 2011-02-22.
  19. ^ Pappademas, Alex. "PhrenologyReview: ". Spin: 95. January 2003.
  20. ^ a b  
  21. ^ (2002): ReviewsPhrenology. Metacritic. Retrieved on 2009-06-11.
  22. ^ Heaton, Dave. PhrenologyReview: . PopMatters. Retrieved on 2009-12-05.
  23. ^ DeRogatis, Jim. "PhrenologyReview: ". Chicago Sun-Times: 4. December 1, 2002.
  24. ^ "Roots – Phrenology".  
  25. ^ Christgau, Robert (February 18, 2003). "Party in Hard Times". The Village Voice (New York). Retrieved May 5, 2015. 
  26. ^ "The Roots".  
  27. ^ "The 2002 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll". The Village Voice (New York). February 18, 2003. Retrieved May 5, 2015. 
  28. ^ Juon, Steve (February 23, 2011). Feature for December 3, 2002 - The Roots' "Phrenology". RapReviews. Retrieved on 2011-02-23.
  29. ^ Phrenology (Explicit) by The Roots. Yahoo! Music. Retrieved on 2011-02-23.
  30. ^ PhrenologyCredits: . Allmusic. Retrieved on 2011-02-23.
  31. ^ a b "Discography The Roots". (in Danish). Retrieved June 16, 2010. 
  32. ^ a b "Discografie The Roots". (in Dutch). Retrieved June 16, 2010. 
  33. ^ a b "Discography The Roots". (in Finnish). Retrieved June 16, 2010. 
  34. ^ "Discographie The Roots". (in French). Retrieved June 16, 2010. 
  35. ^ a b "Discographie The Roots". (in German). Retrieved June 16, 2010. 
  36. ^ a b c "The Roots". Chart Stats. Retrieved June 16, 2010. 
  37. ^ The Roots Album & Song Chart History – R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. Billboard. Retrieved on 2011-02-23.
  38. ^ The Roots Album & Song Chart History – Hot 100. Billboard. Retrieved on 2011-02-23.
  39. ^ The Roots Album & Song Chart History – R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. Billboard. Retrieved on 2011-02-23.
  40. ^ "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.  

External links

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