Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Best Hip Hop Album of 2008

Okay, so it's the beginning of March now, and everyone is looking ahead to what's coming out in '09. Well, me too. But, I gotta backtrack for a minute (or for the next few posts) because I've been going back and forth in my mind for the past few months about which album I liked best in 2008. I'm not really too sure why. I mean, what does it really matter? A good album is a good album, and people should check it out and enjoy it for what it is - not what it is better than. Someones always gotta be crowned in hip hop though for some reason - even if they do it themselves (right Wayne??) It's the spirit of competition that helps make hip hop so interesting. Another aspect that makes it unlike any other genre. So, in my humble opinion the best album of 2008 can be summed up by one of the first lines in the opening of the album...

"What good is an ear if a Q-tip isn't in it?"

Throughout most of the year, the debate in my head was between Atmosphere and eMC. Both great albums. When I heard Q-Tip was about to drop 'The Renaissance', I actually was sort of dreading checking it out. I wanted it to be good, but I was afraid I'd be disappointed by The Abstract once again. Personally, I thought 'Amplified' was pretty bad, and even though his label trouble made it hard for him to release anything for many years, what I did get to hear was not impressive. Q-Tip seemed to be a shell of his former self, foregoing the sound and depth of his Tribe days, making sub par dance music, and a bunch of empty filler tracks instead. Songs that didn't display any real thought or originality. To borrow a line from Guru, it was "mostly the voice" that carried him.
That said, when I decided after a week or two to put this on while taking a trip somewhere it brought a smile to my face. Q-Tip is finally back. From beginning to end Q-tip is on his A game like never before - or like he was in the early to mid nineties. The songs are original, soulful, and expressive. The lyrics flow so nicely over the musical backdrops, it's hard to imagine they could ever be separated. The Renaissance is hip hop to the core, but is pushing the genre forward in a unique way. Soul, Jazz, Rap. Cutting, scratching, and looped samples are not forgotten on this album, but live instrumentation is added to really bring the tracks to life. The bass guitar and percussion on "Man/Woman Boogie" is a perfect example of where Q-Tip is at musically. Q-Tip rhymes, but isn't afraid to drop some melodic vocals to round out a track (no, not like 50 Cent - I said melodic vocals that round out a song). Those that have been fans since the Tribe days know that no one makes music like Tip does. His voice adds to the music like it was just another instrument in the band. Spoken perfectly by him on "Official", "I feel what the beat does, people fuck wit me cuz, when the song end, I become what the best was". Exactly.
I love this album more and more every time I hear it - and I must have listened to it 50 times or so by now. If you actually have not taken the time to experience The Renaissance yet, then go buy it, put it on, turn it up, and find out what good hip hop music feels like.

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