June 19, 2009

My Gut Reaction: Q-Tip - The Renaissance (November 4, 2008)

So, yeah, I fucked up. A Tribe Called Quest's Q-Tip released his second solo album, The Renaissance, in November of 2008 (on the same day that Barack Obama was elected President). But did I run out to buy it, the same as I would, apparently, any b-grade Wu-Tang Clan album? I most certainly did not. Some Tribe fan I am, right?

While you ruminate on that for a moment, I figured out that the reason I didn't rush out to procure The Renaissance was, mainly, because I didn't believe that it actually came out. After Q-Tip released the mainstream Amplified to critical boos, the man decided to switch musical gears and record a jazz-fueled disc known as Kamaal the Abstract, but even though the press received promotional copies (and the disc leaked on the Interweb - I know that many of my two readers have a copy of it somewhere on their hard drive), Arista Records claimed they had no clue as to how to market it, and it remains unreleased to this day.

Undeterred, Q-Tip switched record labels and recorded Open (this may also be known as Abstractions), set for release in 2004. Open was supposed to be a return to the man's hip hop roots, but that, too, saw release dates come and go with nary a display on a Best Buy endcap. A lot of the same material, tweaked for posterity, made it on to Q-Tip's next project, Live At The Renaissance, which was supposed to be released in 2006, but that also never got released. Clearly, the guy is a glutton for punishment. All the while, Q-Tip remained good-humored about the situation, dissing record labels left and right while watching artists heavily influenced by A Tribe Called Quest (such as Kanye West and Outkast (or at least Andre 3000)) move millions of units and scoop up Grammys left, right, and left again.

In 2008, Q-Tip switched labels again, this time ending up on Universal Motown Records, and he somehow tricked them into actually releasing The Renaissance in 2008, nine years after Amplified and seven years after his aborted first sophomore album. The Renaissance is made up mostly of old ideas introduced on both Open and Live At The Renaissance, but since nobody got to hear them in the first place anyway, it's basically all new material for Tribe followers. While that still doesn't really explain why it took me so long to pick this album up, I have successfully written enough words that your eyes will glaze over and run straight to the track-by-track breakdown.

Is it wrong that I keep expecting Motown to pull the disc from shelves and disavow its existence outright?

“What good is an ear if a Q-Tip isn't in it?” I've read many studies that imply the use of q-tips can actually cause more damage to your eardrum than would occur if you didn't use them, as they tend to push the earwax further down the canal than can be reached. Anyway, this sounds like a natural bridge between Amplified and The Renaissance, commendable because Kamaal recorded three fucking albums before this one, but whatever; this isn't bad, although I'm not too fond of the hook.

This is actually pretty awesome. The vocal sample fits the man's own bumping production, combining with some deft lyrical wordplay to create a sound that, in my opinion, was mostly missing from Amplified. I'm loving this shit right now.

Altogether pleasant. Invokes the same feel of his earlier “Let's Ride” (although that song was better). You won't get any complaints if you throw this one on while driving around with your significant other. Hell, they'll probably like it, too.

This sounded a bit too similar to “Gettin' Up” for me to really get into the song. It is what it is.

5. YOU
Kamaal's anatomy of a breakup is calm, collected, and most assuredly not diplomatic (he blames the split on the other party for numerous reasons, all meticulously detailed). However, Q-Tip sounds far from angry: he comes off as a guy who's had a lot of time to consider all of the angles before he drew his conclusion. Since this is all from his point of view, of course it sounds a bit aggressive and sexist, but even given that disclaimer, this track is fucking awesome.

I've written about “Get Involved”, an earlier collaboration between Q-Tip and Raphael Saddiq, before (I still love that song today), and although this isn't really on that level, “We Fight/Love” is still pretty good. It's obvious that Q-Tip was sick of the same ol' thing in hip hop and decided to write about the internal and external struggles of life, and he does a commendable job. This sounds as if it wouldn't have been out of place on Beats, Rhymes, and Life, and you can take that as you will.

I liked the drums on here, but the rhymes were ineffective. Especially those of Amanda Diva: I prefer her input as a talking head on VH-1 shows. Moving on...

I think this track (the first single) would have made a much better introductory song, since its beat announces the second (official) coming of Q-Tip the solo artist. This shit actually rocks, thanks to the late J Dilla's instrumental. It also begs for a Native Tongues reunion remix of some sort. “Move” also leads into a different bonus song, the hidden "Renaissance Rap", which features Q-Tip donning his Abstract Poetic hat and absolutely ripping shit, Tribe style.

The beat takes forever to kick in, but it's well worth the wait. Regardless of the title, this will definitely appeal more to the hip hop head than the average radio listener.

This is actually the second rap album I've reviewed this year that featured Norah Jones (the first being on The Lonely Island's Incredibad: you have to love a song that turns into a commercial for Chex Mix halfway through). She sounds fantastic on here, and even though Tip resorts to stringing together a bunch of rapper's names and calls it a “verse”, my life is, oddly, better for having heard this. There's Huh.more of a Norah Jones presence on here than Q-Tip, although you do hear the man singing at the end, as well.

Featuring D'Angelo? How fucking old is this recording? (I know, this song was actually intended for an earlier attempt at a second solo album, but still: D'Angelo?) I wasn't really impressed with his contribution, but the track itself isn't bad, thanks to harder drums than you would expect from a song featuring the guest star. I wonder what that guy's been up to lately.

A decent way to end the album. Well, it sounds pleasant enough, anyway.

THE LAST WORD: I had heard good things about The Renaissance, but when one of the music editors of Entertainment Weekly listed it as one of the best overall albums of 2008, I was intrigued. Truth be told, I had lost faith in Q-Tip's solo career after Amplified, which is why I didn't bother picking this up until now. And was that ever a mistake. The Renaissance fucking rocks, with Kamaal's lyrics and beats meshing to create the most Tribe-ish experience since, well, A Tribe Called Quest. It's also one of the most consistent albums I've heard in a while. So, yeah, I fucked up by not listening to this before; I'm an idiot. But that doesn't mean you have to follow my lead. If you haven't heard this yet, you need to.


Q-Tip - Amplified


  1. And you just brought me back to the blog.

    Well, not really, but you compelled me to make a comment for the first time in ages.

    Anyway, good call Max. It is a pretty solid listen. One of my favorites from last year.

  2. What the... Max, I was wondering when you going to review this joint. I did me review back in november and got some comments for once (I still cherish that post). I said this was one of the better albums I have heard in hip hop in a long time. You should hear the original version of shaka which features the President Obama! Much more ups-to-the-lifting. In fact, you already commented on that album. Seems as I am rambling like Kurt (lets see how many people get that reference), Agree with the review and how do I get into this reader review situation?

  3. Max,
    Great review I couldn't agree with your opinion more. Definitely one of the best hip-hop albums of 08'(if not THE best). By the way Amplified was a pretty nice album, I think you need to revisit that one. -Peace

  4. Great review Max! I was wondering what was taking you so long to review The Renaissance. Anyways I was wondering if you have listened to Kamaal the Abstract, and if you have, what your thoughts were on it? I personally find it a very chillaxed album that's nice to put on when you're falling asleep.

  5. AnonymousJune 19, 2009

    wish this was better though...

  6. i reviewed this album a week ago, check it out at Novablast.blogspot.com

  7. great review! may i also draw your attention to Masta Ace's albums

  8. Hey man give We Fight/We Love a few more spins. That's definetly a grower. "They say salam (peace), they carry bombs"... that line alone in the song is the nails. Rawr and I'm out.

  9. AnonymousJune 20, 2009

    Nice review, I might check this one out...

    And I echo Anshuman's sentiment... find "Take a Look Around" already!

  10. I found it a really boring album, but im not a ATCQ fan

    I agree with Anshuman btw, more Masta Ace

  11. Max, you're also gonna want to track down the "Renaissance Rap Remix", featuring Raekwon, Busta Rhymes, and, um, Lil Wayne. Raekwon's sleepy rap sounds really good over the renaissance rap instrumental

  12. AnonymousJune 25, 2009

    im not even gonna bother listenin to renaissance rap remix, why? cuz lil wayne ruined it for me