Q-Tip’s New Release Well worth the Wait
Fans have waited patiently nearly ten years since the release of Amplified for another solo album from seminal leader of the innovative A Tribe Called Quest squad. In this time, Q-Tip has recorded several albums' worth of material that never saw the light of day due to label politics. Such is the life of an emcee in an industry that favors quick hits with a short shelf life over slow-cooked grooves from veterans. Fortunately, the dolor of business drama is scarcely detectable over the smoothly unfolding euphony on The Renaissance.
Long Time Coming
Q-Tip dashed hopes last summer when he said that there will "never, ever" be another album from A Tribe Called Quest. This is especially disappointing in light of their successful 2006 reunion tour. Hopefully, the dozen tracks on The Renaissance will fill the void as a show of Q-Tip’s resilience after a seemingly endless stretch of false starts. Even the cover art is a revelation. The half color, half double-exposure treatment of the emcee with his face hidden behind an MPC machine informs listeners that this is a one-man show. The album starts off with “Johnny is Dead,” a reference to his (government) name change from Jonathan to Kamaal after converting to Islam. He asks rhetorically "What good is an ear if a Q-Tip isn’t in it?" to let newer and longtime fans know that the though Tribe’s heyday was nothing short of amazing, it is a new day. As one of hip-hop’s most distinctive voices, with a career spanning nearly twenty years, he only needs to state his legendary status once in the beginning. The result is a polished production that makes the most of every song.
Q-Tip, The Renaissance Man
Each track melds into the other like the movements of a jazz composition. The Raphael Saadiq-assisted soul is the perfect backdrop for “We Fight/We Love,” a song about a young man entering the war in Iraq that showcases the storytelling rhyme ability that made for many Tribe classics. It is one of four guest vocals, including “Manwomanboogie” with Amanda Diva, “Believe” with D’Angelo and “Life Is Better” with Norah Jones. No one other than Q-Tip rhymes on The Renaissance. The absence of guest rappers is not only refreshing, but helps build cohesiveness that is otherwise cluttered with too many other voices on too many hip-hop albums. Who needs to hear another emcee with a tune like “Dance on Glass,” that serves as a pure exercise in lingual dexterity. Q-Tip sizzles with lines like “the magnanimous decision unanimous I am fed/what you lookin’ at, wait, I can help you with that/the formidable, unforgettable painting, the Abstract.” Immediately following is the aforementioned “Life is Better” with Norah Jones, a silky smooth funk-jazz collab the likes of which we haven’t heard since she harmonized with André 3000 on “Take Off Your Cool” from The Love Below.
The Bottom Line on The Renaissance
Radio no longer embraces the understated genius in an artist like Q-Tip, but much like new leadership on Election Day, he is exactly what hip-hop needs now. The only true drawback of The Renaissance, it its brevity. Rhythms like this can go on for days.
Top Tracks on The Renaissance
Release Date: November 4, 2008
- "Won’t Trade”
- "Gettin’ Up”
- "Life Is Better”
- “Dance on Glass”