It's hard to imagine what people made of Q-Tip when he first broke through. What late 80's America thought about a rapper named after a cotton bud is anyone's guess. Because nowadays, with the legacy of A Tribe Called Quest following him, Q-Tip commands legendary status.
The Renaissance suggests Q-Tip feels he still has something to prove, which is understandable for a solo album which is only his fourth in nine years - with two of those, Open and critical hit Kamaal The Abstract, never released by his label.
This album - the first for new label Universal Motown - is an easy listen, with a vibe of being refreshed and newly in control. There are samples, Motown vibes (Won't Trade and Move) and some big guest stars - like D'Angelo, Norah Jones and Raphael Saddiq on the stunning We Fight / We Love.
"I'm not a deity I'm far from perfect, me", he commands on opener Johnny Is Dead - perhaps a reference to this shedding of skin, as he was Jonathan before he converted to Islam in the mid 90s and became Kamaal. Whatever the meaning, the track sets a blistering standard.
He doesn't even need backing for a shining sixty seconds on Dance On Glass. And there are signs of other artists' influences here too - Eminem on Move and Outkast's lazy sexuality on You.
Q-Tip is in fine form when spitting solo raps, but also shines on the album's collaborations. Amanda Diva's effortless vocals on Manwomanboogie are pure funk when combined with Q-Tip's rapped verses. D'Angelo track Believe channels old school Prince. And if you can count him as a contributor, excerpts of a Barack Obama campaign speech are reportedly used on Shaka - though you'd struggle to distinguish them.
This is not commercially poppy like Breathe and Stop - though brilliant Norah Jones collaboration Life Is Better leans towards it. But Q-Tip's infectious enthusiasm for being where he wants to be, doing what he wants to do, shines through. Even bonus track Feva feels like an album highlight, rather than a last minute slapdash addition. If this is the renaissance, then forget the early years - Q-Tip has found himself. --Sophie Bruce
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