Q-Tip: Won’t Trade + Believe (feat. D’Angelo)
From The Renaissance (Motown, 2008)

Ruby Andrews: You Made a Believer Out Of Me
From 7″ (Zodiac, 1969). Also on Casanova.

Large Professor: For My People
From The LP (Geffen, unreleased, 1995)

Having sat with Q-Tip’s new album for a few…I have to say, this is phenomenal. I know I may be biased – like many rap fans who grew up in the 1990s, Q-Tip and A Tribe Called Quest might very have been to us what the Beatles were to my parents’ generation. Especially given that Q-Tip has been incognito now for the last 9 years, since Amplifeid dropped (and Kamaal The Abstract did not), Q-Tip’s coming back into the game at a risky time. Young bucks don’t necessarily know him and old heads might have too-high expectations after such a long hiatus.

I can’t speak to whether The Renaissance is going to intuitively appeal to the same cats bumping T.I. and Young Jeezy (though, in T.I.’s case, maybe they are) but as an old head, The Renaissance not only reminds us why Q-Tip was one of our favorite MCs a decade but he’s also – remarkably – improved in that time off. I can’t think of too many other rappers who could claim that but Tip’s upgraded his flow. It’s more rhythmically complex, more in-the-pocket yet can play off the beat when it wants to. Listen to how he just darts effortlessly on “Won’t Trade” – this is not the same laconic, breezy flow from the days of “Bonita Applebaum.”

Personally, I was also tickled by the fact that Tip uses one of my favorite femme funk singles of all time: Ruby Andrews’ “You Made a Believer” out of me. Andrews’ original is ferocious – I think that’s the Brothers of Soul backing her and they cook up a monster of a funk mover here.

Q-Tip’s sample choice actually has some Native Tongues resonance since De La Soul used the same loop all the way back in 1989 for a bonus skit called “Brain Washed Follower.”

However, as I just suggested, Q-Tip is still down with the Abstract Poet vibe, recreating some of the magic of the Tribe era with songs that have a rich, emotional resonance thanks to the soul and jazz stylings and accented by Tip’s own philosophical meditations. A track like “Believe” (the album’s penultimate song) embodies the same qualities that Tip’s embodied throughout his career – putting the MIA D’Angelo in the mix only enhances the sweetness.

I was enjoying the track so much, I didn’t notice this right away but it dawned on me that it sounded familiar and then it hit me – this version of “Believe” interpolates a very similar beat to what Large Professor cooked up all the way back in 1996 for his doomed solo debut, The LP. In some ways, the two men share more than just musical tastes – both had bitter label experiences resulting from unreleased projects. Though Large Professor’s new Main Source hasn’t garnered the same attention (or strong reviews), there’s a nice serendipity to having the unreleased song from one man’s album being remade for the comeback album of the other.

If you want to check out my radio review of this album, voila.
(This post originally written for Side Dishes).