Finally, the Roots' music has caught up with its ideas.
Socially, politically and emotionally charged, the Roots have acted as the most intelligent hip-hop collaboration since their 1994 major-label premiere, Do You Want More?!!!??! However, MC Black Thought and crew have garnered only a small mix of die-hard followers and casual fans, never breaking into the highest tier of rap icons.
But then again, that is never what the Roots wanted. Much of Black Thought's lyrics circle around the fallacy of black artists rapping about platinum chains and gold teeth when the majority of their audience still struggles with poverty. Instead, Black Thought chooses to spin rhymes about his friend's struggle with a drug addiction and trying to balance his love life with his life on the road performing.
But before Phrenology, the jazzy backbeats, unconventional hip-hop instrumentation and charged lyrics kept the Roots distant, if not elevated, from popular exposure. Even the master of vocal orchestration, the human beat box Rahzel, could not pull the Roots' albums to the top of the charts.
With the energetic, full-bodied blast of stripped-down hip-hop found in Phrenology, much of that has changed. The Roots, however, have not changed. Their work still carries the same weight and awareness that has made the band a welcome refreshment from general hip-hop trends, but their latest attempt is the first time musical prowess has been fused fully with idealistic ambition.
Songs still carry the same swagger and swing, but all the bells and whistles have been torn away. Phrenology ends up capturing all of the Roots' on-stage presence and power without losing the refinement and perfection of a studio production.