CD Review of The Renaissance by Q-Tip
Recommended if you like
A Tribe Called Quest,
Mos Def, Talib Kweli
Label
Universal/Motown
Q-Tip: The Renaissance

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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W
hen he split from A Tribe Called Quest in 1998, few people would have bet on Q-Tip going on to achieve greater success as a solo artist – but even fewer would have guessed that he’d only release one album, 1999’s Amplified, before disappearing into a nearly decade-long, Axl-like thicket of aborted sessions, unreleased albums, and ever-increasing expectations (not to mention disappointed fans). That’s just what happened to the rapper, though; after Clive Davis left Arista, he lost his main booster at the label, and when his planned follow-up to Amplified was shelved, his solo career started losing momentum that it never really recovered – to the point that some long-suffering fans may not believe The Renaissance is actually out until they hold it in their hands.

Respected artist, nearly decade-long wait – The Renaissance can’t help but fall short of the hype, right? Well, actually, no: while it may not contain any paradigm-shifting classics, and perhaps not even Q-Tip would argue that it’s a masterpiece, the album is a rock-solid collection of smart lyrics, often brilliant production, deftly chosen guest spots, and Q-Tip’s typically matchless flow. This statement doesn’t mean as much as it might in a better year for the genre, but The Renaissance is a legitimate contender for rap album of 2008.

Typically, the longer an album is labored over, the more it sounds labored over, and after a nine-year wait, The Renaissance should, by all rights, have had all the fun sucked out of it – but there really isn’t a bad track among the dozen here. Q-Tip covers the spectrum with the album’s first two songs, starting off with the dark, jazzy “Johnny Is Dead” and then moving into the killer up-tempo dance cut “Won’t Trade.” The contrast represents the album nicely, as these songs find Q-Tip moving freely between songs about relationships (“You,” “ManWomanBoogie”), the world outside (“Move,” “Gettin’ Up”), and both at once (“We Fight/We Love”). Fittingly, the production is its own hybrid, blending live tracks with chopped-up samples (or, in the case of “We Fight/We Love,” what sounds like a rhythm loop lifted from an old Boz Scaggs record that’s right on the tip of this writer’s tongue. First one to name it for me gets a free copy of the album).

Q-Tip’s choice in collaborators is impeccable, too: Raphael Saadiq pops in for the Motown-flavored “We Fight/We Love,” “Getting Up” takes its basic DNA from a J Dilla beat, Floetry’s Amanda Diva sings a duet on “ManWomanBoogie,” and Norah Jones – yes, Norah Jones! – sings the hook on “Life Is Better.” (It’s got many other charms, obviously, but it’s worth purchasing the album just to hear Jones sing “Hip-hop is playin’ again / And it’s bangin’, too / And it’s bangin’ for you.”)

There aren’t any eye-popping moments, or any songs that make you think Q-Tip is pushing the limits of his talent, but that’s pretty much the worst thing that can be said about The Renaissance – it finds its star MC relaxed, at the top of his game, and sounding like the last nine years never happened. Which is pretty damn appealing, when you think about it.

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