The Renaissance (released November 4, 2008)
This might surprise a few of you, given my fuddy-duddy tastes in music, but I was never a fan of A Tribe Called Quest. Growing up, I was drawn to the aggressive lyrics and production of guys like LL Cool J and Wu-Tang Clan. In most cases, Tribe’s jazzy beats, frankly, bored me.
And let’s be real, Q-Tip’s 1999 hit “Vivrant Thing” was pretty stupid.
I did appreciate the group as trailblazers. DJ Khaled should thank them for “Scenairo,” which set the standard for the “posse” rap records. And “Bonita Applebum” is one of the first hip-hop love songs I can remember.
Tribe frontman Q-Tip’s second official solo LP, The Renaissance, looks to bring that old school feeling back. On the album’s first track “Johnny Is Dead,” He admits that he “kinda digs” today’s music, but realizes the need for a change. And Tribe fans will be in for a treat.
Consider the album an old school approach on today’s rap. The first single, “Gettin’ Up,” isn’t much more than the tired ol’ rapper-flirts-with-an-unlucky-woman track, but it’s vintage Tribe – smooth, feel-good music. We’ve all heard 10,000 musical takes on the war on terror, but “We Fight/We Love” puts a different twist on things – putting war side by side with conflict in a romantic relationship. The track gets a big boost from another old head – Raphael Saadiq of Tony! Toni! Tone! fame. And “Shaka” is more than just a shout out to deceased homie J Dilla, it’s about finding strength in loss.
See, if other rappers put this much thought in their work I wouldn’t complain half as much.
And speaking of complaining, despite the strong messages every track, Q-Tip still irks me in some ways. His mellow flow, combined with the laid-back production, sometimes lulls the listener into a kind of a hypnotic state that makes it easy to tune out the lyrics.
That’s especially true on “Won’t Trade.” While I love the concept of the song – a sports star working to achieve fame – I feel myself having to strain to pay attention by the third verse. That, combined with a couple irritating hooks, slightly mars the experience (Norah Jones on “Life Is Better,” I’m looking at you).
But that’s nit-picking. Q-Tip’s attempt to revitalize the genre is pretty successful and The Renaissance is a must-have for Tribe fans.
I think I’m missing the chromosome that allows hip-hop fans to fall in love with Q-Tip, but I can still recognize a good album when I hear it.
Best tracks: “Gettin’ Up,” “Move”, “We Fight/We Love”
4 stars out of 5