Q-Tip's 1999 solo debut, AMPLIFIED, was perhaps too party-oriented, too pop-influenced, too strayed from straightforward hip-hop, to have pleased die-hard A Tribe Called Quest fans. After nine years of the genre's evolution, which saw a handful of experimenters (i.e., Andre 3000, Kanye West, Pharrel Williams) running with Tip's instincts to great mainstream success, the positivistic, soft soul-based hip-hop sound purveyed by the nasal-voiced Tribe frontman now seems a whole lot closer to rap conventions. Tip's second official solo release, THE RENAISSANCE, has been a long time coming and is a welcome breath of fresh air. The man once known as the Abstract Poetic lets his complex lyrical intuitions run wild as he spits some of his most intricate free-associated verses since his Tribe days. Entirely self-produced (save for one gem, "Move," from the late J Dilla), THE RENAISSANCE relies on spacey jazz grooves, looping guitar lines, uplifting soul samples, and melodically suave vocal work courtesy of guests Norah Jones, D'Angelo, Amanda Diva, Raphael Saadiq, and, of course, Tip himself. THE RENAISSANCE is both nostalgic and forward-looking--one of the most rewarding and well-rounded albums of 2008.