Trepidation… is the best word I can use to describe my feelings upon learning there’d be a 5th and final A Tribe Called Quest album when Ali Shaheed Muhammad teased that fact a few weeks before its release on November 11th, 2016. Since then, there’s been a triumphant SNL performance, an avalanche of positive reviews and “We’ve Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service“‘s position as the #1 album in the country. Wait, what? This played out better than I ever could have hoped. Well done, gentlemen.
Q-Tip has one of the most undeniably distinctive voices in hip hop. That’s been mighty helpful recently because I was sure he’d been abducted by aliens shortly after the release of the wholly under appreciated “Amplified” and its killer single, “Vivrant Thing“, back in 1999. The first time I listened to his brand new album “The Renaissance”, and first release in 8 years, my response was a resounding “meh”. During a long drive yesterday I listened to the record twice more and am now subsequently hooked. I rarely end up liking albums that really impress me the first time I listen to them. And let me tell you, kids – I’m already across the street and down the road from ‘impressed’. This record isn’t a Renaissance for rap – it may end up being its savior. Sufficiently over dramatic enough for you? I’ll explain.
A Tribe Called Quest was a group of monumental importance to music in general (I am deadly serious) and probably my very favorite crew from what many now refer to as the Golden Age of rap. This era isn’t to be confused with “Old School” which predates it by a good 3-5 years. No, the Golden Age is generally considered to be from 1990-95 and includes such acts as De La Soul, Biggie, Gang Starr, Leaders of the New School, Craig Mack, Black Moon and other personal favorites of mine. I’m glad timing was on my side and that I was the age I was in the midst of it all. Fore t’was a special time in the history of hip hop music – before bitches and bling completely took over the ‘subject matter’. Before previously lost, rich and creative samples found by people like Pete Rock and Diamond D during hours spent digging through ancient record crates were replaced by modern rap production that sounds like a challenged 4-year-old banging away on a rundown Yamaha Port-a-Sound.
Q-Tip “Gettin’ Up”
“Gettin’ Up” takes an old early 1970s Black Ivory single, makes it gleam with modern sheen and lets Tip loose on the kind of love jones you’d expect from a man with 15 years’ worth of relationship experience and maturation since “Electric Relaxation”. – Pitchfork
I could feature the whole of The Renaissance on Wadio today – it’s comprehensively the best rap long play to rear its head in a very, very long time. I’m always asking myself: does rap suck now or am I just old? I’ll never know the real answer (Yes I will. I’m 35 as opposed to 19), but am still so delighted it has come down the pike when it did. I’d given up on the musical genre I once loved.
The name (The Renaissance for anyone not paying attention) is perfectly appropriate as upon listening one almost feels as though they’re looking back through a musical time warp, complete with quick glimpses of Arsenio and the Philly Blunt logo. Harkening back to an age where, you know, rap wasn’t… embarrassingly awful. Yet all the while Q-Tip stays relevant talking about Blackberrys, web pages and email – via the sort of smooth verbal gymnastics only he can effectively vocalize. I’m not sure what that means, exactly, but you’ll see what I’m getting at the first time you hear “Dance on Glass”. More on that in a second.
My favorite song is the awesome “Won’t Trade“ which you can click to download or listen to below. It features amazing delivery, sharp lyrics and a beat which samples real drums (gasp!) while lifting a catchy snippet from “You Made A Believer Out Of Me” by Ruby Andrews.
Q-Tip’s “Won’t Trade”. Welcome back sir!
Tip’s beyond-welcome return to form doesn’t end there. “Dance On Glass” sees him rapping acapella for a full minute before a snare drum finally busts in and reminds you that you were listening to… acapella. That’s the power of the man’s voice and delivery which is as strong on The Renaissance as it ever was rapping alongside Phife Dawg – who recently had a kidney transplant and whom I wish all the luck in the world. “Move” features two completely different sounding halves which are both amazing nods back in the direction of the golden age, even borrowing Black Sheep’s “here we come yo, here we come” chant from 1991’s The Choice is Yours. Come to think of it, I haven’t once skipped over any of the record’s 12 tracks. It’s a solid piece of work to put it mildly.
Little Malik Taylor and Jonathan Davis have brought me a lot of joy over the years and I am thrilled that Q-Tip has pulled off such a stunning comeback LP. Do yourself a favor and I really mean that. If you’ve ever misplaced your wallet in El Segundo, gotten lost during an award tour or simply walked down Linden Boulevard – Buy “The Renaissance” on CD or download the MP3 version – right frigging immediately now.