PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Q-Tip: Kamaal the Abstract

For all the talk of it as experimental, Kamaal the Abstract satisfies and soothes more than it challenges or questions.


Q-Tip

Kamaal the Abstract

Label: Jive / Batttery
US Release Date: 2009-09-15
UK Release Date: 2009-09-14
Amazon
iTunes

The first song on Kamaal the Abstract is titled “Feelin’”. That seems about right. So much of what A Tribe Called Quest was up to in their 10-year career was trying to capture a feeling, a vibe. When they proclaimed “We got the jazz”, it wasn’t just about the music, but the feeling. Their whole approach to jazz had a lot to do with the cool attitude and live energy of jazz. During “Feelin’”, Q-Tip is actually decrying the lack of feeling. “What happened to that feelin’?”, is the chorus. Yet, even with the opening reference to racial profiling by police, the specifics of what’s been lost aren’t there. Any real sense of loss in the song is overpowered by the groove. And therein lies one major difference between Kamaal the Abstract and any A Tribe Called Quest album. They always excelled at mood and rhythm, but also wordplay and the viscera of everyday life. In contrast, Kamaal the Abstract is mainly about feeling. There’s no storytelling meat to the songs, less wit, not much of Q-Tip’s creative approach to language. It’s mostly about riding the groove, and that Q-Tip does well.

The groove is provided by a band of musicians, not samples. Q-Tip, aka Kamaal Fareed, joins in occasionally on mini moog, drum programming, bass, synthesizer, and hand claps, but mostly serves as bandleader and MC. The dominant jazz sound in hip-hop has generally been ‘70s jazz-soul fusion, and that’s mostly true here. More so than that, though, this music is hitting a Stevie Wonder-Prince funk-soul spot, and hitting it well, both on the up-tempo jams like the especially spunky “Barely in Love” and slower, moodier songs like the excellent “Blue Girl”. “Blue Girl” taps into the melancholy ‘blue’ feeling of jazz more than it tells a coherent story, but nevertheless it sparkles. “Even If It Is So” is another place where there’s clearly a story being told, but the story isn’t all that clear. In both cases, and every time this happens, it doesn’t matter because what we’re hearing sounds good, is satisfying. “Abstractionisms”, Q-Tip’s fastest rap, embodies the sweet nothing-ness of the album. The band and he are on fire, aggressive, and indulging in the sheer pleasures of sound.

“Abstractionims” and the album title reference Q-Tip’s common nickname, the Abstract (or the Abstract Poetic). Truth is, his rhymes were never too abstract, just unique. Here his rhymes are almost more abstract than usual, but in the sense of being indistinct. Other times he goes for the abstraction of Prince-style new age philosophizing, especially on “Do You Dig U?”, which boasts a series of classically meaningless Prince-isms. That’s one song where Q-Tip rolls out the sing-rap style that comes and goes on the album. On “Caring”, the album’s weakest track, he shifts to straight-up singing, but only as part of a trio of voices.

Q-Tip’s lean towards singing and use of a band are what marked this album as a shift in his career. Though you wouldn’t know it from the liner notes or the way the album’s being marketed as the new Q-Tip album, Kamaal the Abstract is a ‘lost’ album, Q-Tip’s would-be second solo LP after 1999’s Amplified. It was originally scheduled for release on April 23, 2002. Promotional copies had been mailed already when the record label, Arista, pulled the plug on it, apparently deciding it was too uncommercial. In 2009, Kamaal the Abstract doesn’t sound uncommercial. But I’m not convinced that it would have been anything but successful in 2002. It isn’t that big of a departure for Q-Tip, and doesn’t stand that far away from other music being made in 2002. This isn’t the first time a rapper’s worked with live instruments, and not the first time a rapper did a little singing.

Pitchfork’s claim that Kamaal the Abstract is a “heavily experimental mindf**k” is way off base, just as ridiculous as the critical claims that 2008’s lukewarm The Renaissance neared the heights set by A Tribe Called Quest. Kamaal the Abstract is refreshingly playful, a lot of fun, but not especially experimental. Hip-hop itself is experimental. A Tribe Called Quest at their best innovated more than anything here. Even Amplified, with its futuristic J Dilla beats and awkward Korn collaboration, had more of an edge than Kamaal the Abstract, which satisfies and soothes more than it challenges or questions.

That discrepancy says more about music critics’ struggles to credibly consider post-group-success solo work than it does about Q-Tip’s intentions or what Kamaal the Abstract accomplished. As an album, it’s a joy to listen to most of the way through. It’s more consistent than Amplified, though not as interesting overall, and both more consistent and more interesting than The Renaissance. It’s hard not to wonder how different Q-Tip’s career path would have been if this album had come out on schedule, and if it had been commercially successful. Instead, it set an unfortunate precedent: a series of failed record deals, unreleased recordings, and aborted attempts at A Tribe Called Quest reunion followed, until Q-Tip’s ‘comeback’ last year.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.