Q-Tip: The Renaissance (Album Review)

In Hip-Hop time, fifteen years is the equivalent of a lifetime. That’s how long fans feel they’ve been waiting for Tribe front man Q-Tip to return to the perfect combination of abstract poetry, boyish charm, and social commentary he exhibited on the 1993, ATCQ classic Midnight Marauders.

While Q-Tip has had memorable verses and production credits since that album, that LP was last time fans got a prime, non-commercial Tip for a full album. Now over a decade later, the guarded Queens native has finally opened the vault from reveal The Renaissance (Universal Motown); a collection of his best recorded work over the last six years.

The opening salvo “Johnny Is Dead” shows the Abstract Poet hasn’t lost a step, as he coolly bombards the listener with rapid-fire bars touching on everything from musical and personal integrity, to the spiritual perseverance of people of color. The rock-tinged rhythms and chorus suit Q-Tip perfectly and serve as a forceful reintroduction for an artist whose last solo album was nine years ago.

Producer Mark Ronson stops by to give Q-Tip a gem in “Don’t Trade”. Here, Tip uses her words to craft a very clever and humorous double entendre on the word “player,” phrasing his prowess with women as the statistical figures and abilities of a basketball player.

“Official” resurrects the jazzy boom-bap of Tribe’s best days, with Tip deftly alternating between boastful rhymes regarding his Rap ability and wooing a female over precise chorus scratches and cutting. On “Love,” Tip again tackle our better halves, but this time using a sprawling soul sample to help capture the growing indifference one can feel when an intimate relationship is close to dissolution.

The Renaissance packs on all of its guest appearances in the second half, none of which are emcees. However, each artist was carefully selected, and compliments the featured emcee and the album perfectly.

Raphael Saadiq delivers a low-key performance on the urgent, social-commentary fueled “We Fight/We Love.” On “Manwomanboogie,” Q-Tip continues easily analyzing difficult topics like Western imperialism and absentee fathers utilizing a quirky, funk-leaning beat that helps keeps the mood seemingly light. Assisting in matters is Amanda Diva, who delivers one of her better guest appearances on chorus cleanup.

Dilla’s signature sound is also alive and well on the catchy first single “Getting’ Up,” and “Move.” On the latter, the Abstract Poet rides a dual beat that starts as a soulful vocal loop and turns midway into a sprawling wind instrument lead rhythm. Q-Tip adjusts his flow and content accordingly, first handling the song as a party track before stopping on a dime and treating it as a musical manifesto for the rebirth of Hip-Hop.

Although unable to get Barack Obama’s vocals cleared for the track, the album’s great closer “Shaka” loses no potency in message or musicianship. Here, Q-Tip frames his lyrics around honoring his loved ones (Dilla, father) over lush chopped synth breaks that serve as a chorus refrain.

Nine years from his last album, the commercially focused Amplified, Q-Tip has created an album that will bring him and inevitably his Tribe family tree to a new generation of fans. The time taken to deliver this LP was well spent, and Q-Tip impressively was able to pick the best songs from a six year recording period. And not only has the Abstract Poet delivered his best collection of work since the seminal Midnight Marauders, but he’s showed the maturity the genre can achieve in the hands of its elder statesmen.

The Renaissance