Q -Tip, formerly the front man of revered New York hip-hop band, A Tribe Called Quest, counted down the hours to his first UK show in 14 years by posting a flurry of videos of his favourite British bands on Twitter (The Clash's "Guns Of Brixton" and "Police And Thieves", Joy Division's "Transmission" and The Who's "I Can't Explain").
These may seem unusual influences for a rapper but ever since A Tribe Called Quest followed De La Soul's wake in the early 1990s, Q-Tip has cut a singular, maverick figure. ATCQ's cheeky, life-affirming hip-hop-jazz was a beacon of hope as gangsta rap came to the fore and has influenced contemporary icons including Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, The Cool Kids and Kid Cudi. Yet after five top-notch LPs, A Tribe Called Quest split and then, after one promising solo album –1999's Amplified – Q-Tip's career stalled, thanks to record company wranglings.
Then late last year Q-Tip returned with the magnificent The Renaissance, a glorious fusion of rock'n'roll, soul, jazz, funk and rap. Gilles Peterson's intro tonight, describing Q-Tip as "one of the most influential spokespeople in music and hip-hop over the last 20 years!" isn't hyperbole. A sample of an Obama speech heralds Q-Tip's entrance: he leaps to centre stage and conducts the band to the dramatic "Shaka" and the guttural funk and psych-rap of "Feva". It's immediately clear that The Renaissance is an album to be heard live: this isn't one of those hip-hop gigs with a mumbling rapper backed by a DJ, it's a big, bright and ballsy Technicolor experience, where you feel the full force and weight of a tight band (bass, guitar, keys, sax, DJ, drummer).
After three tracks Q-Tip is mopping sweat from his brow, straining every sinew as he gives his all. Q-Tip's versatility is a marvel – trademark vocal tics morph into a languid high-pitched flow, and supple soul. Meanwhile the band switches from space-jazz to Motown soul to fatback funk and explodes into rock'n'roll with similar fluency.
"We Fight/We Love", a thoughtful analysis of America's invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, and response to terrorism, is proceeded by an a capella "Dance on Glass", chastising record company execs who are obsessed with "singles". An ATCQ medley, featuring the playful "Bonita Applebum" and the blissed out jazz of "Electric Relaxation", highlights where Q-Tip has come from and how much The Renaissance is a realisation of his early potential.
Then comes a high intensity reprise of another ATCQ classic, "Scenario", and military marching, brassy horns signify yet another Tribe anthem, "Check the Rhyme". Q-Tip falls to the floor in mock astonishment as the audience roars back the prescient line "Record company people are shady". Q-Tip's Kamaal the Abstract LP was never released, allegedly because it didn't contain any "singles".
He switches back to new school Q-Tip with the love song "Gettin' Up", and then reverts to Tribe with "Award Tour", leaping atop the speaker stacks and soaking up the adulation. In this moment Q-Tip is reborn. He closes the triumphant 100-minute show with "Life is Better", which he performs from within the audience.
Hip-hop is renowned for artists and acts who like to shine brightly and briefly. Twenty years after first emerging, Q-Tip has clearly come of age and is undoubtedly improving as he progresses. He's on the verge of true greatness and becoming as influential as the iconic English bands on his Twitter feed.