[CD Review] Q-Tip, 'The Renaissance' (Universal Motown)

It’s not called The Renaissance for nothin’. Nine years have passed since Q-Tip’s solo debut, 10 years since A Tribe Called Quest’s swan song—career suicide for most. But Q-Tip, given his secure status as a hip-hop luminary, is afforded the leeway. With The Renaissance, he rewards patience and doesn’t compromise our reverence. If 1999’s Amplified skewed too mainstream for some, The Renaissance hints at traces of Tribe’s heyday while proving Q-Tip to be just as relevant as he’s ever been.

Besides calling on a diverse but intimate cast of guests—production from Mark Ronson on “Won’t Trade” (a song Kanye West will wish he crafted) and the late, great J Dilla (“Gettin’ Up,” “Move”) and cameos from Norah Jones, D’Angelo and Raphael Saadiq—Q-Tip sets out on a clear-cut lyrical agenda. He worries about love (“You”) and war (“We Love/Fight”) and even samples a Barack Obama speech on the closing “Shaka,” as if there were any question about the album’s Election Day release date.

On “Life Is Better,” his pairing with Jones that actually works better in practice than in theory, Q-Tip shouts out past and present influences, a roll call of hip-hop dignitaries. But the album’s anchor, no doubt, is the Dilla-produced “Move,” an almost-six-minute spot that might as well be two tracks—its first half a driving dance beat, the second half a tempered message in which Q-Tip embraces his past (“It’s the midnight marauder on the scene”) while announcing with passion, “It’s the renaissance.”

And that’s the fine line Q-Tip walks: a nostalgic icon who has put his reputation on the line. Though his standing will forever be tied to Tribe, this revival—this renaissance—will stand as testament to his legacy and staying power.

 
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