The Roots, "Illadelph Halflife," DGC. (*** 1/2)

The Roots rank among hip-hop's creative elite because of the totality of their sound. Like A Tribe Called Quest, they maraud the listener's ears with a cornucopia of raw spirit, aggressive melody and Coltrane-esque spirituality. The group's organic amalgamation of thunderous live drums, bass kicks and rapper Black Thought's acrobatic rhyme patterns knows few equals.

Philadelphia's latest hip-hop Smokin' Joe Frazier has another championship belt to hang on the wall. The follow-up to 1995's classic "Do You Want More?" accomplishes the impossible by nearly surpassing a collection that was one of the most innovative rap albums this side of Eric B & Rakim's "Paid in Full" or the Wu-Tang Clan's "Enter the 36 Chambers."

Reducing their sound to its barest elements, the Roots expose hip-hop's creative soul. The rip-roaring "Section," the mind-bending duet "? vs. Scratch" and the rollicking "Clones" are only a few of the standout tracks. Unlike many rap albums, this record takes listeners hostage, never letting them reach for the fast-forward button. Its influence promises to be felt for quite some time. (The Roots are scheduled to perform Thursday at the House of Blues.)


Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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