Title - 'Phrenology' (MCA)
Artist - The Roots
I'm not an exclusive rap fan, but I do like those rappers who take a serious approach to the musical and artistic sides of their sound, and are interested in taking their songwriting into new territory. The Roots succeed without a doubt on all those levels. Here we have great elements of rock, funk, and soul fully integrated into the Roots' intelligent hip hop sounds. They could be criticized for trying to latch on to the neo-soul movement, but that's a logical progression for these cats who are from the same town (Philly) as the neo-soulsters anyway. The best tracks here are the relentlessly funky "Thought @ Work" which features an incredible beat that sounds like an African Led Zep, plus the rock-oriented "Rolling With Heat" and "Rock You." There are some great cameo appearances like Jill Scott's in "Complexity" and outstanding vocals from Cody Chesnutt in "The Seed (2.0)." However some of the other big name cameos come out rather bland and under-utilized, like Musiq in "Break You Off" and Nelly Furtado in "Sacrifice." To prove that the Roots are true musical thinkers, check out the bizarre punk rock freakout "!!!!!!!" and the noise experimentation that makes up the second half of "Water," which really reminds me of fusion-era Miles Davis. This is a truly forward-thinking album from some very intelligent artists.