In this ass-heavy end to the Hip Hop 2008, here is another contender for the “Most Eagerly Anticipated Album” – especially since nine years have passed since Q-Tip last released an official full-length effort. To put that into context, A Tribe Called Quest released ALL their work in a nine-year period… Then Q-Tip released his only solo album “Amplified” in 1999, a move that threw pretty much everyone. Not only did he release a booty-shaking pair of pretty awesome club hits (“Breathe & Stop” and “Vivrant Thing” – both of which I rinsed), it turned out that Jay Dee (aka J Dilla) produced them, plus most of the album. That “Amplified” somehow didn’t turn out to be a classic has always been perplexing, but perhaps the answer lies in “The Renaissance” – a short and undeniably sweet album that is thoroughly recommendable to virtually everyone, hip hop fan or not.
ATCQ were undeniably legendary, they had absolutely every facet needed to be incredible – themes, concepts, beats, flows, voices, you name it. If I HAD to be critical of any one thing, it would be that their lyrics, which, whilst very good, have never connected with me in the same way that other legendary figures did. Maybe it’s just me, or my slight preference for solo MC’s over groups. But on “The Renaissance” Q-Tip gets to flow for the entirety of this short twelve tracker, and it simply whizzes past – in a way eerily reminiscent of Common’s “Be” album. As a result, it can at times appear a bit thin on the ground, but before you can make your mind up, the excellent beats and clever touches will have you hooked in.
More than anything, “The Renaissance” creates a sumptuous mood – in fact, it really should have been released in the height of summer. After a couple of jazzy opening shots, the lush “Gettin’ Up” finds the Abstract one in perfect harmony with a beat beyond description. Giving the album an almost DJ-esque feel, “Official” gets scratched (or rather cut) in and it keeps the LP moving briskly, with a sequel of sorts to “Let’s Ride.” We then move into the more emotional sector with bittersweet grooves like “You” and the ever-soulful Raphael Saadiq contributes sterling work to “We Fight/We Love.”
A couple of tracks later and we are paid a special visit by the special one, J Dilla, who blesses the album with the wicked “Move” – apparently the next video, with a much harder sound eventually giving way to a bouncy whistle that takes a little time to grow. One of the highlights is the more lyrical “Dance On Glass,” complete with a one minute acapella build-up, and it is followed by the dulcet tones of “Life Is Better” featuring an on-form Norah Jones helping to craft an ode to hip hop MC’s. We finish on a more somber note with D’Angelo coming in on “Believe” and Q-Tip in reflective mood on “Shaka” – and the whole LP could fit on one side of a 90-minute cassette (remember the days?).
Q-Tip has clearly taken his time in crafting an expertly put-together album that doesn’t feel too forced. The beats are almost universally delicious and Kamaal himself seems to have paid more attention to the words, too. Conceptually, “The Renaissance” isn’t perhaps the most immediately fascinating body of work that he has been a part of, but it is still interesting enough. The real stars here include: Q-Tip’s voice and flow, which are still remarkably consist; the jazzy summertime music, contrasting with a couple of autumnal instrumentals; and the sequencing of an album that flies by so quickly, you’ll be reaching for the play button all over again time after time – less is most definitely more. He also appears to have shunned his “Vivrant” days in favour of making some beautiful music for a less commercial but more diverse market (hence going with “Gettin’ Up” for the lead single). Have no doubt, fewer people will buy “The Renaissance,” but those that do will buy into it wholeheartedly, and it should be considered a much more consistent offering than “Amplified.” As previously mentioned, some (including myself) may find certain issues with the album – you are more likely to treat this as an nice experience as opposed to a “connection” LP – but this is a subtle wave that will gently lap at your feet, not a revolutionary tidal wave. Whilst not quite a true Renaissance for hip hop, it certainly is a rebirth for Q-Tip – and fans of A Tribe Called Quest will dine out on this album for the next nine years too.