Been waiting for that follow-up to "Fear of a Black Planet?" Been wondering when a mainstream hip-hop record would come along that's unafraid to tread the forked path of experimentation and jaw-drop skill-show? Been concerned that "Things Fall Apart" was the last gasp of a group on the way down? Well, this skull-rubbing "tour de force" should ease your pain. Having moved from bleeding-edge provocateurs screaming "Look we're live, but we're not retro!" The Roots are now firmly beyond the pale, having released a resolutely underground record under the guise of a major-label "big deal." Jamming years of influences, corporate frustrations and far-flung musical explorations into the mix, this album is truly all over the place, and at times, is complex enough to be very nearly inscrutable. But the organic sense of experimentation that has always defined The Roots is the key here and this album bristles with the same visceral fire that marked not only mid-'80s hip-hop, but also the Power Soul movement of the '70s. "Phrenology" might well stand as the penultimate statement for hip-hop in this decade, as it absolutely forces the genre forward another couple steps; whether the genre wants to keep up is another story.
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