The time is ripe for The Renaissance, the Abstract MC's first solo album in nine years. Produced primarily by Q-Tip with plenty of live instrumentation and a love fixation, The Renaissance is a stark portrait of the artist as an elder statesman.Â One listen to the frenetic drumming and strutting live bassline of a track like "ManWomanBoogie" reveals that Q-Tip is on a mission to create original music as timeless as the tracks he used to sample once upon a time. It's also obvious that the title of his latest album is no accident. "The Renaissance is significant because for some time now people have questioned the integrity of hip-hop," he reveals. "I feel like the time is ideal for something that has a revisionist spirit to it."
On "Life Is Better," singer Norah Jones helps Q-Tip give a unique spin on the hip-hop love song: a love of hip-hop itself, that is. "The state of hip-hop is in conception now," he says, discussing the regeneration and renaissance of the culture. "Something else is happening to it and there's a new approach, a rebirth that's going on. One of the many cool things about the digital world is that it has grown the appetite for good music. Now people can find an obscure Beatles song or an EPMD remix online, so everyone is becoming more hip." Q-Tip's love of hip-hop only rivals his love for the opposite sex, an adoration that's clear and evident on tracks like "Believe" featuring D'Angelo, or The Renaissance's first single, "Gettin' Up": "I like to watch everybody gravitate towards you/Your magnetic presences make them come through/The same way you got them, you got me too."
Love talk is all around The Renaissance, but Q-Tip remains as characteristically diverse as ever. "Fight/Love" with Raphael Saadiq, for example, alludes to the ever-present realities of the Iraq War. The sole track handled by a producer other than Q-Tip himself is "Move," a hyper-kinetic pastiche of diced-up Jackson 5's "Dancing Machine" courtesy of the late, great J. Dilla. "A Tribe Called Quest is no more," says Q-Tip, putting a cap on rumors sparked by their recent reunion shows on the recent Rock the Bells Tour. Yet hardcore fans will still recall J. Dilla's participation in The Ummah, the production team (also including Q-Tip and DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad) that handled full chores on the final two ATCQ albums. "Move" comes closest to reviving the head-nodding kick of A Tribe Called Quest, a fitting testament to the funky skills of James "J. Dilla" Yancey.Â Q-Tip is in his own extremely capable hands for the remainder of The Renaissance.
"When I recorded my first album, I was 19," Q-Tip says. "So I was very much in the moment and did not think about my career past the following year. I knew I loved what I did and had big fun, but I never imagined this." The Renaissance marks the return of one of the most recognizable voices and individualist figures in all of hip-hop. At this moment for change in the hip-hop nation and the nation at large, The Renaissance could not have come at a more appropriate moment. Leave it to Q-Tip to be right on time.
Man Woman Boogie
Circuit City Bonus Track: Feva