Album review: Q-Tip's 'The Renaissance'
Q-Tip's 2003 solo album, "Kamaal the Abstract," was never released by Arista, which doubted its commercial appeal. That decision touched off a period in which the Queens, N.Y., native jumped from label to label in the middle of creating new work. Now he returns with his second official solo album, “The Renaissance,” a casually complex, brilliantly executed work of neo-soul made for the street philosopher.
The former de facto frontman of the landmark '90s hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest immediately dispenses with legend, rapping wearily in his trademark nasal flow, "I'm not a deity / I'm far from perfect, see," over a piano line that upends the security of the bass groove on the opening track, "Johnny Is Dead."
Though he gripes that fans are always bringing up Tribe, "The Renaissance" is a showcase for Q-Tip's cool and empathetic consciousness. The trait has made him one of hip-hop's most admired MCs -- even when chiding a girlfriend who cheated on "You," he's reflective and tender.
Q-Tip’s never wanted for friends. Norah Jones, channeling her inner Nelly Furtado, appears on the bright and smooth "Life Is Better," and "We Fight, We Love," with Raphael Saadiq, is one of the album's standout tracks, a sophisticated take on a complicated relationship made even more so by the man fighting in Iraq.
Kamaal Fareed, the name that Q-Tip took in the mid-'90s after converting to Islam, is at the helm here, but like a good actor, he's knows how to draw power even when he's not letting the rhymes go. It's a renaissance with redemption and humility but maybe also, if the adage about success is true, a touch of sweet revenge.--Margaret Wappler
3 and a half stars