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Q-Tip and Kobe Bryant have a lot in common (and no, it has nothing to do with Nas’ baby mother ). As a member of A Tribe Called Quest Kamaal obtained two (and some would argue three) championship rings with the classic Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders. But since parting ways with Phife, Shaheed and Jarobi in 1998, the MC/Actor/DJ and Nicole Kidman dater has been on a quest …er..mission…to obtain a ring on his own.

His first solo effort, Amplified, certainly sold as many units as any Tribe record and changed the genre of hip-hop music videos forever with the bootylicious “Vivrant Thang,” but doesn’t live in folks hearts like his group effort. Amplified was followed by the now commonplace “rappa-turnt-singer” experiment, Kamaal The Abstract, that only lives on the hard drives of a few industry insiders.

After many false starts and name changes (this collection was originally dubbed Live At The Renaissance) Q-Tip has finally deemed his years of work worthy of the masses and the timing couldn’t be better.

Musically, The Renaissance is a compromise between the fun-loving b-boy leanings of Amplified and the ambitious, live instrumentation of Kamaal The Abstract. The bright and inspirational lead single “Gettin’ Up” is built around the pianos of Black Ivory’s “You And I” and is complemented by some extraordinary live bass guitar work. It seems that Tip is channeling his inner rock star as the six-stringed wooden instrument is at the heart of many of the songs, either as a sample or played. From the opening cut “Johnny Dead” to the melancholy but satisfying “You” and “Shaka” Tip gives the sound beds a lush twang, as if he took the J-Dilla produced “Let’s Ride” (with its sample of Joe Pass’ “Giant Steps“) from Amplified and used it as the inspiration for much of this project.

Where Q-Tip surprises is in his lyrical dexterity. Though he is a competent MC with many memorable lines, Tip is rarely mentioned in arguments about “top 5 dead or alive.” However, on The Renaissance he delivers some much- needed, heartfelt couplets that will serve as motivational ear candy for the minority of listeners that still pay attention to such things. On the ambidextrous “We Fight We Love” he laments a war of the hearts and just war in general: “…you get to travel the world, it’s cheaper than college, and you get guns and you get knowledge, lookin for your soul and WMDs, you can’t find nothin’ because it’s empty…””

Fighting for the hearts and minds of listeners is probably what has delayed the completion of this project: how to make common sense and good vibes relevant in the ring tone era. As a result some gems like the Andre 3000 collab “That’s Sexy” ended up on the cutting room floor but “Believe” got a much needed makeover since the first draft that leaked last year. In the end Q-Tip has succeeded in striking a balance that will satisfy fans of ATCQ while establishing his artistic sovereignty. The verdict is still out on whether The Renaissance brings Tip the championship that he has been seeking but he has made a clear and present case for being a franchise player in this league.

Steal these: “Official” “Life Is Better” (f/Norah Jones)

Watch this: Q-Tip making a beat that will hopefully be a remix to “You” or something

And for even more Tip, watch the highlights of his midnight in-store appearance at New York’s legendary Fat Beats record store below:

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