When the best rapper/producer in hip-hop history spends almost a decade without a record on the shelves (despite his best efforts), it has to be considered a crime -- if not a tragedy. Difficult to tell, though, is why Q-Tip was bounced to five different labels within six years. He never pronounced himself angry about the situation, saying only that he continued to work, reportedly recording three full albums that were never released. (At least one of those, 2003's Kamaal the Abstract, was a reality, since it was only denied a release after promos were sent out.) His long-awaited return on The Renaissance is no disappointment, offering more of the same understated, aqueous grooves and fluid rapping that the Abstract Poetic has built his peerless career on. Although it has a few more message songs than his dance-heavy debut from 1999 (Amplified), many of these tracks are club grooves painted with the same production touches as ten years earlier; his work is still excellent 20 years after his career began, but he seems less interested in spinning four minutes of fluent rap for each track. (Granted, he's carrying this show alone, with no Phife Dawg to take every other verse.) Some of the songs are built with a live group (including guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel), although they usually sound programmed. One thing is for sure: Q-Tip is still a master of pacing and atmosphere, structuring the first half of the record so smoothly that listeners may not notice a transition until the sixth track, "We Fight/We Love," which contrasts the perspective of a man in the middle of war with a woman left alone. The closer, "Shaka," got the most attention leading up to release, since an early version sampled Barack Obama (perhaps coincidentally, The Renaissance was originally scheduled to be released on Election Day). Sounding like a latter-day Midnight Marauders and The Love Movement, and very similar to the unreleased Kamaal the Abstract, The Renaissance is a worthy comeback for the man who's arguably done more to make hip-hop enjoyable than any other figure.
AllMusic Review by John Bush
feat: Norah Jones