While 1999's Amplified was the last full album that Q-Tip [click to read] actually released, it certainly wasn't the last one he made. His career since then has been a harsh lesson in Industry Rule #4080 with three entire albums that were reduced to bootleg collectors items and two random singles that never actually made it to a real LP. Ultimately, the check-writers didn't feel that Q-Tip's "Abstract" art projects would meet the expectations of fans who were still looking for more Tribe [click to read] and he struggled to get his hard work into anyone's hands.
With the history leading up to it, The Renaissance could have easily become a train wreck had Tip chosen to compromise his artistic vision simply for the sake of getting an album in stores. Those familiar with any of his false starts might initially assume that he's done just that but thankfully, the return to traditional Hip Hop doesn't come off like a compromise with Universal--he's apparently legitimately interested in expressing himself through rhyme again.
"Gettin' Up" [click to listen] is no bait-and-switch single and the rest of The Renaissance generally follows suit. The clean, well-edited 12-song lineup doesn't leave him much room to get lost in his own imagination so the overall effect leaves the intended impression. Because Q-Tip still approaches each track with a desire to innovate, the music feels new even while nodding to his roots. The captivating and radiant "You" could have been released at any point in Tip's career and still felt natural and relevant.
Resisting the temptation to wax about how "the game done changed," Tip takes the next step and actually demonstrates how the music can move forward without losing what was great about the past. "Life is Better" gives love to Ludacris [click to read] and Lil Wayne [click to read] as sincerely as Dana Dane and Schoolly D. The only slight misstep is "ManWomanBoogie" with Amanda Diva [click to read], but it shuffles around something interesting even if it never quite settles there.
Q-Tip's latest actually manages to find the intersection of the desires of the artist, the office and the fans. It is important to point out, however, that while the spirit of Tribe still lingers in this reincarnation of The Abstract, it's quite a bit more like The Love Movement than Midnight Marauders. Before you jump to any conclusions though, remember that time has helped thaw that album's undeservedly icy reception--disregarding The Renaissance when you don't hear "Scenario 2008" will only make you feel silly when you finally learn to appreciate it in 2018.