From the opening lines of Q-Tip’s newest classic, The Renaissance, it’s obvious that the Queens rapper knows just how important he is to the music and culture that is hip-hop. “And it’s up to me to bring back the hope, feeling in the music that you could quote” raps Q-Tip about the way things are now and how that old, soulful, and rich approach has been lost in the genre. Maybe it’s the fact that the group he co-founded, A Tribe Called Quest, was so impeccably compelling and thrilling, or maybe it’s the evident fact that as a proper MC, Kamal Fareed is one of the best of all time but whatever it is, The Renaissance is arguably, the best hip-hop album of the year.
The album’s music is amazingly gripping and it’s remarkable to find out that Q-Tip wrote almost everything by himself. The cover shows him holding up a beat-maker to his face while half of his body is embracing a new era as the other hustles to catch up. The implied revitalization is the resurgence of genuine music into an era where practically everything is made with some kind of machine. A song like “You” is evenly balanced between poignant lyrics and catchy, toe-tapping beats. Everything is richly colored and as one of the songs that Q-Tip didn’t get any help writing, it’s wildly successful.
He thrives in merging his east-coast genuine soul with this new altered state. The opening lines, pulled from the album’s opener, “Johnny is Dead” is a fresh representation of what Q-Tip stands for: impressive wordplay, vivid and expressive music and downright captivating beats. As soon as you get the first uttering from his mouth, that unique voice is enough to assure you that this will be a worthy listen. And even after so many years of writing and performing music he hasn’t lost his sense of humor when he matter of factly asks, “But what good is an ear if a Q-Tip isn’t in it?”
This is an album that rejoices in a strong return to form. Although his other released solo album, 1999’s Amplified is a classic in its own right, that was almost ten years ago—Fareed has returned and in a superb, fine manner. The music is substantially moving and most of it literally makes you want to get out of your seat and dance. The fittingly titled, “Manwomanboogie” is a perfect example of this with its funky bass line, syncopated hi-hat and Q-Tip’s terrific flow.
Honoring someone immense and significant, there are also two J Dilla-produced tracks on here and as expected, they are absolutely excellent. There is the piano-led, “Getting’ Up,” which features many of Dilla’s trademarks including his embodiment of the neo-soul sound and the bumping, “Move.” Each fit right in with the album’s overall jumpy and appealing music and the pleasant use of blips and voice modifications work very nicely. This homage comes full circle on the album’s closer, “Shaka,” which is a direct dedication to his brother and loved one that passed away two years ago.
The Norah Jones-collaborated, “Life is Better” only lightly touches on what a tremendous gift Q-Tip is to hip-hop with its moving and aesthetic wonder. This is an album that rightfully deserves a slot next to any of Q-Tip’s best albums. When you’re someone as intelligent and gifted as he is, his music is bound to come outfitted with great expectations and with The Renaissance, he does not disappoint.