Review: Q-Tip - Kamaal The Abstract

Way back in 2002, former leader of hip-hop/jazz fusion group A Tribe Called Quest, Q-tip, created his second solo album, Kamaal the Abstract. Abstract, with its sprawling and chunky stretches of instrumental jams, was conceived 6 full years before the interbreeding between hip-hop and other genres was as prevalent and well-received as it is today. In fact, this album was such a large departure from what was going on with rap music at the time, much less from what people expected to hear from Q-tip, that it was shelved by his label for fear of being a commercial disaster. LA Reid, who would go on the following year to oversee the release of Outkast's Speakboxxx/The Love Below (their most experimental and unorthodox work to date, which is saying a lot), didn't believe the album could prevail while The Game and 50 Cent were topping the charts with their information-age spin on Gangsta Rap.

In 2009 Abstract has finally seen the light of day that it deserves. While Q-tip's prior release just last year, The Renaissance, further explored the jazzy meoldies that have always been at the root of his music since his days with Tribe, it was still standard Q-tip through and through, with all the rubber-necking sample loops and soulful basslines that entails. Those looking for a looser version of that kind of instrumentation will be pleased with Abstract, but might be puzzled when Q disappears for noticeable stretches of time. However, the spontaneity that having such an unhinged structure brings doesn't so much hurt the album, but instead lends it a live feel which reminds you when you least expect it that anything can happen.

Things ramp up right away during the opener "Feelin'." It starts off innocuously with Qtip on the mic as usual, but its not long before the organ solo and distorted guitar get their way under your skin. Q-tip sings us out and ends the song on his own, as if to remind you that, yes, this is still his album. "Do U Dig You" features a lengthy and aimless jam-session between Gary Thomas on flute and Kirk Rosenwinkel on guitar, and sounds like Prince's lost contribution to Bitches Brew. "Blue Girl" is typical Neo-soul a la Rafael Saadiq or D'Angelo (by now you shouldn't be expect a lot of actual rhyming on this album, although there is some), until Q-tip tacks a short verse on the end out of nowhere.

Q-tip takes further chances on "Barely in Love" which suggests Sly Stone as a Schoolhouse Rock cartoon and stops just short of becoming an all-out gospel jam with its light organ chord progressions and hand-clapping, foot stomping refrain. "Heels" sounds like an attempt 311's brand of palm-muted rap-rock, draped in a goatee stroking jam-bandish rhythm. The ending of the song sounds like everyone from P-Funk is on stage somewhere singing its hook. Synthesizers somehow make a very auspicious and unapologetic appearance right in the middle of it all.

Even if it loses a bit of momentum with the last few tracks, Q-tip's Kamaal the Abstract (named after Q-Tip's self appointed nom de Islam) is pretty solid for an album that never misses a chance to take one. It stands tall next to any of the highly regarded work that his experiment prone contemporaries Outkast and D'Angelo were doing at the time, and it's avant-garde detours are what keep it fresh after 6 years. Just as the rest of the urban music world seems to be catching up with his experimental quirks, Q-tip points out, and helps ensure, that there isn't so much that's new under the sun.

Grade: B+

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