My pet theory about Q-Tip’s solo career for a long time has been that something went awry when his house burned down back in 1998. The trauma of losing his entire record collection to the flames purged the glory that was A Tribe Called Quest from his system and begat the abomination that was Amplified (1999), and his career has been in recovery ever since. Record label limbo did him little good, but spared us the snoozefests that were the unreleased-but-leaked Kamaal the Abstract and Live at the Renaissance. But now he is back with an actual official release full of new songs, The Renaissance, and it’s actually pretty damn good. Who’da thunk it?

There’s no Busta, no Common, no Kanye here, and best of all no “Vivrant Thing” to rot your ear canals. Just pleasant, thoughtful hip hop songs. Almost everything is produced by the Abstract himself, except the fine “Move” by the late, great J-Dilla. The vibe is laid-back and soulful, at times more than a little reminiscent of back when Tribe recorded the magisterial Midnight Marauders (1993). Guest appearances are limited to a number of singers: an as always smoothly androgynous Raphaael Saadiq, an Amanda Diva with a gleam in her eye, and a warm and endearing Norah Jones. Hell, he has even unearthed the long-lamented absentee crooner D’Angelo!

In terms of both lyrics and delivery, Tip has sounded somewhat quaint for a while, far from the eloquence of his Tribe days, but this time around he has recaptured the distinctive charm of those days. In contrast to the similarly spartan, at times facile earlier solo efforts, the pared-down approach lends to this album a sense of focus we have long missed from him. There’s an touching earnestness in his singing about how “at the end of it all is you” or how happy he is that J-Dilla and his late father were in his past.

This is not so much a bold step forward for Q-Tip as it is a self-critical overhaul of his music, a return to his core strengths. In abandoning the pop overtures that led him astray over the past decade without becoming esoteric, he has crafted a set of empowering, optimistic hip hop songs that at last do his legendary status justice. A discrete, but affirming renaissance.

Q-Tip – “Renaissance Rap” from Three/21 Films on Vimeo. Never mind that the video doesn’t make much sense — dig that song.

Q-Tip’s MySpace

1 Comment

  1. I’ve been listening to The Renaissance every day for the last three weeks! According to my ears it’s the (hip hop) album of the year.

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