The Renaissance

Rating: 4.0

Label: Universal Motown

In a year that seems overrun with pop-rap releases, Q-Tip’s second solo effort comes as a breath of fresh air, especially against the omnipresent pollution of AutoTune machines.

It’s been a long time since 1999’s Amplified and the mega-hit single, “Vivrant Thing” that truly showed that Q-Tip was a legitimate threat to the solo rap arena; for some reason, this wasn’t evident from his decade of success with A Tribe Called Quest. But now, after the defunct Kamaal the Abstract project, the Native Tongues member is back with an insanely solid album that surprisingly doesn’t rely on samples or guest vocals. Granted, both of these techniques make appearances on the record, but they are used with care and concentration, putting the artist at the forefront.

Tip takes the captain’s chair this time and supervises the bulk of the album’s production, minus the two singles, which were expertly put together by the late (and great) J Dilla. The first of which, “Gettin’ Up” contains the catchiest beat I’ve heard all year next to Kanye West’s “Good Life”. The track is a good-natured try at getting an old flame back from a previous relationship while he shows her how great of a catch she’ll get in return: (We’re like Ruby Dee and Ossie/ Martin and Coretta/ Doin’ it to death/ No one could do it better). His old-school flow is in top-form here and hopefully will send a message to other rappers that in order for us to get better, maybe we have to take a step back. The second single, “Move” focuses on the club scene while fittingly utilizing a tiny sample from the Jackson 5’s “Dancing Machine”. The beat may base itself in someone else’s work, but comes out as a great dance song on its own.

Like Q-Tip’s earlier work on A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders, the tracks mostly move at a similar pace, so the entire disc comes off as one giant 43-minute jam. This is a smart decision on his part, because even if you’re not ready to listen to what he’s got to say, he’s going to keep it coming at you relentlessly.

Q-Tip’s work with one of rap’s most praised groups definitely takes its long-run pay off here, taking notes from the neo-soul and jazz playbooks at every turn. These influences are best exemplified on his D’Angelo collaboration, “Believe.” The themes here are heavy, focusing on a more existential view on life and soul searching. It’s not often these days where rappers take time out and just reflect on life. Sure, they speak on life experiences, but it’s seen as off-putting to mainstream record labels when their artists aren’t lamenting on the same old subjects. They don’t think it sells. New ideas are scary in mainstream rap, and Q-Tip’s dressed for Halloween. Helming the bulk of the production, coming back from a shelved album, some old trades and new tricks up his sleeve, this title is quite appropriate. He really is a renaissance man.

by Cameron Mason

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