The album debuted at number 11 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, selling 34,219 copies in its first week. It produced three singles and has sold 131,200 copies in the United States. Upon its release, The Renaissance received universal acclaim from music critics, who praised Q-Tip's lyricism and production aesthetic, and earned him a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rap Album.
The album is Q-Tip's second released studio effort, following his solo debut Amplified and the 2002 shelving of Kamaal/The Abstract. Q-Tip put together a band for recording The Renaissance. In an interview for Billboard magazine, he discussed his musical direction for the album, stating "I wanted a hip-hop sonic feel, something pure to the sound of hip-hop with real drums, real emotion and people taking solos… In that sense this record feels like we're moving in a new direction … something hip-hop should do". Production for The Renaissance was primarily handled by Q-Tip, with the exception of the J Dilla-produced "Move" and the Mark Ronson-produced "Won't Trade". The album also features contributions from such artists as Norah Jones, D'Angelo, Raphael Saadiq and Amanda Diva. The album cover art features Q-Tip in a silver suit holding an MPC2000XL in front of his face.
The Renaissance received universal acclaim from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 82, based on 24 reviews.Chicago Tribune writer Greg Kot praised Q-Tip's rapping and production, commenting that "Comebacks don’t come more effortlessly than this". Anthony Henriques of PopMatters gave the album an eight out of 10 rating and complimented its "Ummah-era aesthetic – smooth, soulful, jazz-infused" production, writing that "The Renaissance feels like a complete album. Each song has distinctive characteristics, and brilliant sequencing allows for seamless transitions between tracks".About.com's Shannon Barbour gave it four-and-a-half out of five stars and called it "a polished production that makes the most of every song".Chicago Sun-Times writer Jim DeRogatis gave the album three-and-a-half out of four stars and commented that guest appearances by Raphael Saadiq, Norah Jones, and D'Angelo "sound inspired".
Steve Jones of USA Today gave the album four out of four stars and complimented his "ever-cool flow over a self-produced blend of jazzy samples and live instrumentation", stating "Q-Tip delivers danceable rhymes, mostly about love of self, women and hip-hop. He also touches society and music industry politics with an intelligence often lacking in today's music". Barry Walters of Spin noted "his eloquent flow over liquid arrangements shimmering with rhythmic finesse" and commented that the album "blurs distinctions between accessibility and avant-gardism".The Guardian 's Angus Batey wrote that the album "cloak[s] its eclecticism with a homogenising sheen […] frequent changes of mood and direction dazzle". Areif Sless-Kitain of Time Out gave it five out of five stars and viewed it as a return for Q-Tip to lyrical "old-school basics", stating "It’s a reverse renaissance: The suave MC returns to his glory days as part of the Native Tongues posse, showcasing his nimble rhymes and clever phrasing". In his Consumer Guide, Robert Christgau gave the album a one-star honorable mention () while picking out its two songs ("Shaka" and "Official"), and quipped, "If jazz lite it must be, by all means, rap on top."