The Quotable Reviews: The Renaissance

"And its up to me to bring back the hope / and feeling in the music that you can quote" - Q-Tip; "Johnny Is Dead"

Nearly a decade has passed since the the masses have sunk into a new, full-length Lp from the-artist-also-known-as Q-Tip.

And its not his fault entirely.

Three-years after the release of his craptastic solo debut, Amplified (uber pop-centered compared to the timeless material released as a member of A Tribe Called Quest), Tip's critically-acclaimed sophomore Lp, Kaamal The Abstract (2002), was shelved by Arista Records due to a feared lack of commercial appeal. Since then, Q-Tip has left Arista, guest-appeared on cuts by everyone from Jay-Z to R.E.M., toured internationally with newly-reunited A Tribe Called Quest, signed with Motown/Universal Records, hinted at forming a group with Common (The Standard), and still found the time to craft his third solo album, The Renaissance.

A busy man to say the least.

Its been a minute since Q-Tip's surfaced from the lab with new product for heads to O-D on. Much has happened in the world. Much has happened in his world. Whats on his mind? Whats in his ear? What does he have to say?

Come along and ride with us, as The Quotable Reviews: The Renaissance.

"So get it in your head / We gon' rock the dead. / Night of the living Emcees. / The weak ones fled." - Q-Tip; "Move"

From the onset of The Renaissance, Q-Tip, A.K.A. Kamaal The Abstract, makes it crystal that he's back, and returned with an evolved soundscape. Over the funky strings and light snare of "Johnny Is Dead", Kamaal reintroduces himself and tells us to "inform a friend / that your boy from the hood / is on that shit again." "Won't Trade" showcases that quintessential Q-Tip flow (slightly nasal, slightly monotone, somehow appealng) and wordplay as he uses hoops analogies to describe his attraction to the ladies and hip hop heads alike, while riding the base strings and sped-up soul sample to perfection. This track also sports one of the albums iller quotables:

"I train for the pressure. / It comes out fresher.
Equiped for the game / you know my name it makes me better.
I cheer for the home team. / Lets go for the whole thing.
The ballots that your holding. / MVP voting.
And I represent the sentiment that your emoting."

Q-Tip slides into relationship mode on the smooth "Gettin' Up", discussing the allure of reuniting with an ex. "Official" is a subdued, head-bobbing, scratch-heavy freestyle track which Tip rips lovely - kicking "percussions our weapons / drums are Smith & Wessons / Lyrics poppin off leaving deep impressions." From there relationship mode resumes with "You" (an ode to the realization that at the end of it all, it wasn't was you), the Raphael Saadiq assisted "WeFight/WeLove" (where the two opine on loves ups and downs), and the funky, snare driven "ManWomanBoogie" (a musical metaphor for the spiritual connection between women and men).

The album's apex arrives with the J Dilla produced "Move." Clearly the Lp's standout cut. Tip spits cypher rhymes over Dilla's impectable drums and Jackson 5 sample ("Dancing Machine"). The beat switches 2 minutes and 49 seconds in as Kaamal reverts to a Rakim-esque delivery while reflecting on his path into rap lore ("And then my legend would grow on the A train line / where brothers would gather to see me, blowin' nicks and dimes"). Yep, clearly the album's standout cut.

"Plus a little bit more because you're choosing the prettiest / The wiliest, wittiest, on the low we the grittiest." - Q-Tip; "Dance On Glass"

The Liu Kang of the Loose Leaf page comments on Hip Hop's morbid state ("Who can make it up? / Dark Age is here in Rap") on "Dance On Glass." Norah Jones guest appears on the sultry "Life Is Better" where Q-Tip delivers the central theme of The Renaissance - "hip hop is here again...and its bangin'" - while giving shout outs to everyone from Kool Herc to Kanye West (excluding Lupe Fiasco. Not suprising after their recent dustup following last year's VH1 Hip Hop Honors). The tempo slows down on bass guitar-heavy, motivational, D'Angelo featured "Believe." "Shaka" is the closest Kaamal gets to bringing back that feeling of A Tribe Called Quest - carrying an early 90s vibe throughout. The Renaissance closes with the upbeat, soulful "Good Thang." Top to bottom, a pretty nice run.

"The formidable, unforgettable painting Abstract" - Q-Tip; Dance On Glass

All in all, The Renaissance feels like...well, a renaissance. Its apparent Q-Tip hasn't lost a lyrical step during his hiatus. The album is diverse, with a complimentary mixture of intropection, common man sensibilities (relationships rather than revelry), and fun freestlye cuts.

Perhaps whats most impressive and simultaneously most unfortunate is that Q-Tip produced nearly the entire album (excluding the ubiquitous "Move") himself. No doubt he's talented behind the boards and the album knocks most of the way through. But the problem with single-producer albums is the potential danger of sounding repetitive. For the most part, Kaamal stays away from the trap, but tracks like "Gettin' Up", "WeFight/We Love", "Official," and "Life Is Better" (although all dope) feel very similar - most noticeable when rocking on random and they happen to follow each other. A petty, pet-pieve of The Company Man. Plus, its been a while since I've listened to an all Q-Tip album, and unfortunately his trademark pitch is slightly less appealing than remembered. Not necessarily Freeway annoying. Just less appealng. Still classic though.

Front to back, The Renaissance is one of the better albums of the past couple years. Its a lean 13 tracks (only 2 verses on most), zero interludes, and maintains a solid lounge feel all the way through. Its the type of album that you'd appreciate more at S.O.B.s than MSG (smaller intimate setting as oppose to a stadium). And its versatile soundscape (you can clean to it, ride to it, enter mack-mode to it) signals the all important replay-value potential. The Renaissance will likely not break any sales records, but its a top-shelf Lp nonetheless. And most importantly for Tip, a more-than-worthy return. Hip Hop is playin' again...and its bangin'.

Rating: QQQQ.5

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