Q-Tip beats Democracy to the punch with The Renaissance.
It seems for the past couple of weeks the big news in the music media has been the release of Guns N' Roses' long-awaited new album Chinese Democracy. Ever since Axl Rose first announced a GNR album was in the works way back in 1962 or something, people have been talking about it in some capacity or other.
(Oh, and while we're on the subject, why can't everybody see that Democracy is not a Guns N' Roses album? Last I checked, Guns is Axl Rose, Slash, Duff McKagan, Izzy Stradlin and Steven Adler. It appears the Democracy Guns N' Roses consists of Rose, a bunch of guys from Marilyn Manson's old band and one douche from Slipknot. When a new GNR album drops with at least some of the original members, that's when we should celebrate.)
But all this talk of Democracy finally seeing the light of day has overshadowed another album many of us--at least those in the hip-hop community--thought would never come to be: Q-Tip's second album, The Renaissance.
If you're a fan of the Queens MC (born Jonathan Davis, later changed to Kamaal Fareed), you know Renaissance is just as important a pop-music arrival as Democracy. It's been nine years since the rapper from A Tribe Called Quest went solo with his gold-selling, dance joint-heavy, J Dilla-produced Amplified. Nine years of delays, postponed release dates, title changes and fans just wondering, "What the hell, man?"
In the same way people began to lose all hope Democracy would actually become a reality, a lot of hip-hop heads were feeling skeptical about Renaissance, and for good reason.
Technically, Renaissance is Tip's fourth album. In 2002 he had another album, Kamaal the Abstract, all ready to be shipped. Unfortunately, Arista, Tip's label, thought the album's organic fusion of jazz, funk and hip-hop--not to mention Tip's penchant for rapping on some tracks and singing on others--didn't have commercial appeal. They shelved it.
Then there was Open, the 2004 album that was supposed to be his first for new label Universal Motown. But even with appearances from Common and Andr� 3000, it was also thrown in the not-commercial-enough, unreleasable pile. Most of the songs from Open ended up getting released on a mixtape called Abstract Innovations or overseas on a 2005 import titled Live at the Renaissance.
So with not one, but two albums getting shelved, expectations for an actual Renaissance were not looking good. But somehow, someway, The Renaissance actually happened last month, released on the same day a community organizer named Barack Obama became president-elect of this country. So basically, unbelievable shit was happening all over the place.
With the entire album mostly produced by Tip (one track, the Jackson Five-sampling "Move," is all J Dilla), Renaissance sees him giving the listener a smooth-out maturation of the conscious hip-hop Q-Tip perfected when he was with Tribe. A couple of tracks from Open have been reworked and included on Renaissance: "Johnny Is Dead" and "Believe," which features guest vocals from none other than D'Angelo.
"Johnny," which is also Renaissance's opening track, sets off what appears to be the album's recurring theme: Q-Tip recognizing his own flaws--not as a performer, but as a human being. "I'm not a deity/ I'm far from perfect, see," he declares, essentially letting listeners know he's aware it's been, like, forever since he's dropped new stuff. But he also reminds them he's just one person and, as his track record has shown, he can't deliver the goods if there isn't a demand for it.
Q-Tip's absence didn't spark the conversation GNR's would-be album got in the mainstream media. (Let's just say Rolling Stone never took the time to write an article about where Q-Tip was.) Still, Tip can bask in the knowledge that he beat Rose and his Guns N' Roses Jr. gang to the new-release punch. Sure, Democracy is finally here, but The Renaissance came first.
PW's Music Issue 2014