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Q-Tip: Almost a Renaissance Man

By Danielle Gewurz

Section: Arts

November 14, 2008

“Back in the days when I was a teenager/Before I had status and before I had a pager,” Q-Tip raps in the opening of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Excursions,” you could find him “listening to hip-hop.” Tip’s reverence and respect for the genre is evident in his newest solo album, The Renaissance.

In the 1990s, even as rap exploded into the mainstream, it also began to splinter, with the so-called “conscious” rap movement fading from the spotlight to remain more obscure. Best representing the conscious rap movement was, of course, A Tribe Called Quest, whose talented MCs, Q-Tip and Phife Dawg, exchanged verses over classic samples, jazz, and funk beats. Their two definitive albums, Midnight Marauders and The Low End Theory are ageless, genre-defining classics.

Now, almost 10 years after the debut of his first and only solo album, after being shuffled around in major-label purgatory, Q-Tip has released a second album, The Renaissance, a record with modern influence that nevertheless feels like a throwback to ATCQ’s glory days.

Q-Tip is, as ever, a fantastic emcee, unerringly calm and smooth in delivery but never lazy or comatose. Tip’s flow is best featured in an a cappella opening to “Dance on Glass;” no matter how long it’s been, Q-Tip definitely still knows what he’s doing, and it’s almost disappointing when the beat drops in.

The other two album standouts are “Shaka” and “You.” “You” features one of the better narratives as well; the story of a relationship degenerating is best captured by Tip’s dissection of her hypocrisy in accusing him of cheating: “Your honest words turned to fables…The things you were accusing me of/Were the things you were guilty of doing, love.” Yet, their relationship has a renaissance of sorts as well, with Tip concluding, “We’ll make amends if you admit it/We can ascend if you’re committed/Your heart, is it in it?”

“Shaka” features what is by far the best beat in the album, which is composed of the same jazz-heavy influences heard in ATCQ’s work. This beat is more notably weird than the rest of the album, with heavy synths and a distinct power. His voice, despite staying in a limited tonal range, is as compelling as it ever was. As an album closer, “Shaka” is transcendent.

“Manwomanboogie” ups the jazz/funk quotient and “Life is Better” recalls Theory’s “Verses from the Abstract” as Tip name-checks other respected artists in hip-hop, rattling off a series as he speeds up in excitement.

The main weakness of this album is that it is so similar to Midnight Marauders or The Low End Theory. Though Tip is certainly able, I couldn’t help but miss Phife Dawg’s verses and the ATCQ dynamic, and there’s no equal to fantastic posse cuts like “Show Business” or “Scenario.” Q-Tip produced almost all of the album himself, and while he is both deft and consistent, it is strange to hear so many chorus/hook-heavy songs from a rapper who has eschewed such trappings of hip-hop.

I’m not sure that Q-Tip has legitimately started a renaissance, but this album is nonetheless much appreciated in 2008’s otherwise mediocre year of rap. As Kanye’s been drifting towards the Auto-Tune, Tip hearkens back to the glory days without seeming dated, and it’s fantastic to hear a consistent, moody, and introspective album from one of the greats.

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