The Renaissance

Q-Tip

Universal Motown, 2008

http://www.qtiponline.com/

REVIEW BY: Jedediah Pressgrove

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/23/2009

Funk, soul, and R&B show up in The Renaissance, but rapper/producer Q-Tip is ultimately a jazzman. His rapping reminds me of Miles Davis searching for notes in “Right Off” (A Tribute To Jack Johnson). Only Q-Tip is much calmer during his journeys. Doesn’t matter how fast he raps or how serious the subject of his lyrics is, Q-Tip has remarkable control.

Check out “You” for evidence. The song is Q-Tip’s realization that his lover is killing the relationship: “You were doing so much to try to pin me / Going through all my stuff / But it was empty.” In the first verse, he admits the truth got to him (“I couldn’t … even swallow / Had a lump in my throat, my stomach hollow”), but his flow throughout the track is more soothing than it should be.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

I had a question before listening to The Renaissance (my first exposure to Q-Tip’s solo work): Am I going to miss Phife Dawg, the second essential piece of A Tribe Called Quest? For the most part, I didn’t miss the Five-Foot Freak. Sure, The Renaissance could use more humor, but you’re in cool hands with Q-Tip. This is made damn clear with a few lines he delivers on the opening track, “Johnny Is Dead:” “But what good is a ear if a q-tip isn’t in it? / So just stick it in / And inform your friend / Your boy from the hood / Is on that shit again.” There are a few guests on the album, with Norah Jones standing out the most on “Life Is Better” (and even then, Q-Tip’s slick robot rapping made me forget her mantra).

For a while I thought this album was sort of lopsided. The first five songs are excellent. The sixth track, “We Fight/We Love,” is good, but unfortunately it follows “You,” perhaps the best song on the record. Moreover, “We Fight/We Love” almost hits five minutes, so it tends to drag compared to previous tracks, which hovered around three minutes.

Then the music takes another turn. “Manwomanboogie” is very stripped down and funky, certainly blunter than everything before it. But Q-Tip takes his biggest risk on “Move” (produced by J Dilla), which soars like the beginning of the album before deconstructing halfway through, an odd whisper lingering behind Q-Tip’s steady rap. Skip to the final track, “Shaka,” and things are irrefutably psychedelic.

So what about this lopsided business? I interpret that initial conclusion as my inability to keep up with progress. With The Renaissance. And looking at the album length (12 tracks at about 43 minutes), it is clear Q-Tip wanted to blow my mind in a hurry.

(Just wanted to quickly note that this two-line rhyme from “Won’t Trade” is impeccable: “The physical ability with mental capability / Legitimately faces me inside of your vicinity.”)

Rating: A-

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© 2009 Jedediah Pressgrove and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Universal Motown, and is used for informational purposes only.