[Universal Motown] ****
Within six years, Jonathan Davis, better known as celebrated rapper Q-Tip, bounced around five different labels. And although he recorded a wealth of material, none of it saw official release. Only one album, 2002's Kamaal the Abstract, came close to actually seeing the light of CD stores. But at the last minute, Arista, Q-Tip's label at the time, decided to shelve the project after promos had been sent out. It's a shame, because the album was a pointed and wickedly ambitious mash-up of soul-jazz, Beatles-inflected pop and New York-style hip-hop. With any luck, mainstream rap fans will get a chance to check it out one of these days.
But until then, fans can hear moods and ideas from it on The Renaissance, Q-Tip's first official release since his 1999 gold-selling solo debut Amplified. On the CD, which lands in stores today, the rapper streamlines the aquatic amalgamations of Kamaal and the dance floor-ready grooves of his first album. The jazzy funk inflections and melodic rhymes that imbued his classic work with A Tribe Called Quest also remain.
In his nearly 10 years away, Q-Tip has lost none of the quirks and musical fluidity that have made him a peerless presence in hip-hop for nearly 20 years.
He explores the ups and downs of love's roller coaster on the excellent first single, "Gettin' Up," and the sassy "We Fight/We Love," featuring the silken vocals of Raphael Saadiq. Norah Jones adds her ethereal voice to the rubbery funk of "Life Is Better," a subdued standout. And "Shaka," the hopeful closing track, features an excerpt from a Barack Obama speech.
Q-Tip refreshes old moves and tricks throughout The Renaissance. Perhaps because he's been away so long, it all sounds new. Or maybe his sharp approach stands out more now that so much of mainstream hip-hop has been reduced to minstrelsy. Whatever's the case, it's great to have Q-Tip back - officially.
Download these: : "Gettin' Up," "We Fight/We Love," "Life Is Better," "Shaka," "You," "Johnny Is Dead," "Official"
Other CD releases today: : Toby Keith, That Don't Make Me a Bad Guy (Show Dog Nashville); The Cure, 4:13 Dream (Suretone/Geffen); Jim Hall & Bill Frisell, Hemispheres (ArtistShare)
Rashod D. Ollison