Q-Tip demonstrates his unique talent in this sleek, soulful, silky-smooth hip-hop album.
Q-Tip (AKA Kamaal Ibn John Fareed)’s appeal bridges the indie/mainstream divide quite effortlessly. Both the suffocating self-righteousness of backpacker hip-hop and the macho excesses of more chart-friendly rap are absent from his music, which instead finds a pleasingly-relaxed middle ground between the two extremes.
The Harlem-raised MC made his name in acclaimed jazz-rap combo A Tribe Called Quest, who reformed in 2006 after a long hiatus, and are reportedly set to drop a new record in the near future. He has still found time to knock out The Renaissance, his third album, and one which maintains the high standards exhibited throughout both his Tribe and solo careers.
The Renaissance is something of an anomaly in the contemporary hip-hop scene. For starters, it is 43 minutes long – standard length for albums in certain genres, sure, but decidedly short when compared with the majority of recent high-profile hip-hop LPs. It is also tight, sonically-unified and (largely) self-produced; the record’s focused nature ultimately serves to enhance its appeal.
The Renaissance contains 13 tracks, most of which are very good. Opener ‘Johnny Is Dead’ sets the tone, its sleek, soulful, silky-smooth backing track providing the perfect sonic platform for Q-Tip’s likeably mellow, nasal rapping style.
There are several top-notch cuts. ‘Won’t Trade’ marries lush, soulful vocal samples to a rumbling piano hook and some breezily cool rhymes. ‘Gettin’ Up’ is squelchy and luxurious, an effortlessly chilled groove built around a burbling bassline and a simple, childlike keyboard motif. The J Dilla-produced ‘Move’ is a damn fine mini-epic divided into two parts – the first exuberant and soul-tinged, the second cooler and more downtempo.
Minus points for including an a cappella rap – a sonic device topped only by the employment of an accordion player in the Best Ways to Bore the Listener stakes – at the beginning of ‘Dance On Glass’. But, for the most part, this record exhibits not only immense talent but a keen awareness of how best to use it.