In rap years, roughly a century passed between the release of Q-Tip's 1999 solo debut, Amplified, and its official follow-up, The Renaissance. It wasn't supposed to be that way: In 2002, the hip-hop legend recorded a never-released album of funk-jazz-soul as alter ego Kamaal The Abstract. So what does the Tribe Called Quest frontman sound like in 2008? Though it seldom reaches the heights of Q-Tip's seminal early work with that group, The Renaissance settles into a safe, soothing, mellow groove early on and sustains it throughout with the help of guest vocalists Norah Jones, D'Angelo, Amanda Diva, and Raphael Saadiq.
Q-Tip's past haunts the album, especially on the neo-soultastic "Life Is Better," in which he name-checks the rappers and producers who took hip-hop from the old school to the present day, and the J Dilla-produced "Move," which riffs on the chorus of "Scenario" as the late producer slices and dices a funky old soul sample. The Renaissance is appealingly modest in scope, a grown-up album for fans who grew up alongside Q-Tip, and like him, grew estranged from the empty flash of mainstream hip-hop. In a rare nod to the present, Q-Tip samples Barack Obama before sliding into a jazzy Tribe Called Quest-style groove on the album-closing "Shaka." The song pays homage to his lost friends, including J Dilla. It's an appropriately elegiac, bittersweet conclusion to a solid though less-than-transcendent comeback album from a hip-hop icon who has survived to make good music, even if he hasn't exactly thrived.