The Best in Rap 2008: Q-Tip
In part 2 of The Hurst Review’s eight-part end-of-the-year musical wrap-up, we celebrate the year’s finest offering from a genre that we don’t cover nearly as much as we’d like to: Rap. The end-of-the-year retrospective will continue off and on for the next month.
Q-Tip’s The Renaissance is a sleek, streamlined, and succinct affair– not much longer than 40 minutes, devoid of any skits or interludes, so consistent in mood that one song bleeds into the next without any dead space or bumpy transitions, like the whole thing is just one big tapestry of sound and song. In other words, it’s a very different animal from the other big-name hip-hop releases of 2008, be they albums that trumpet their own eccentricity and sprawl (Lil’ Wayne’s Tha’ Carter III) or flaunt their own huge sense of scale and self-importance (Nas’ untitled album). But then, Tip has always been a very different animal from the typical rap star– a true craftsman in a genre with more than its fair share of showboaters, an artist who keeps following his muse down the same roads because there’s still work to be done there.
That’s always been what’s made his music special, and that’s never been truer than in 2008, when rap music is as mainstream as its ever been and Q-Tip continues to exemplify an eerily laid-back intelligence and elegance. He’s not about making big statements, or pushing the envelope, or showing off just how many sounds and styles he can bring to the table; he’s simply interested in cutting a tight, utterly killer rap album, which is what he’s done here, not by beefing up his eccentricities or trying to dazzle us with his ambition, but simply by crafting an excellent, lean album that’s warm, jazzy, and charmingly low key, an album where words and beats and melodies blend in with the late-night jazzy vibe to create a set that’s more than the sum of its individual parts: It’s a statement of vision, a perfectly focused distillation of the auteur’s personality and sensibility.
It makes for thrillingly creative, direct music– music in which jazz guitar virtuoso Kurt Rosenwinkel and chanteuse Norah Jones bring their A-games but don’t detract from the flow of the album or steal the show from Q-Tip, because everything is arranged so perfectly that the album finds its own relaxed groove with the opening notes and doesn’t break from it until it’s over. It’s a record from an artist who’s done his share of searching and trailblazing, and has absorbed it all into his craft so seamlessly that he remains a visionary, oft imitated but never paralleled.