Album Reviews

Q-Tip – Kamaal The Abstract

(Jive) UK release date: 14 September 2009

Q-Tip - Kamaal The Abstract Q-Tip‘s career after A Tribe Called Quest has met with considerable acclaim and a loyal following. It’s logical that any new album from this hip-hop legend will be eagerly awaited, but in the case of Kamaal The Abstract fans have been waiting a staggering eight years for it to see the light of day.

The official story is a little cloudy, but Kamaal The Abstract (the title comes from Q-Tip’s real name) has been sat on the shelves since its recording in 2001. Some say the experimental approach of the album held it back, others look to a combination of record company personnel changes or personality clashes. In any case, those ignorant of the album’s history will find this so fresh that they will swear blind it had been recorded only last week.

Describing this album as experimental will probably wrong-foot the listener, but if you want to describe a hip-hop artist exploring slightly different musical territory as experimental then so be it. It’s certainly not a crazy album and is nowhere near as wild as anything OutKast were doing at the same time. Rather it’s Q-Tip having fun, looking into different forms without alienating his core audience. There’s a rich seam of Jazz and laid back late-night soul – a little different to what his long term fans have come to expect, but it’s hardly in the vein of Bob Dylan strapping on an electric guitar either. There’ll be no cries of “Judas!” resonating from the crowds for these tracks.

As if to announce his different intentions, the album’s first note is that of a guitar. Thereafter the disc gives way to Stevie Wonder-esque soul with the jagged edges of be-bop jazz. It feels like exactly the sort of thing that Prince would be doing now if he hadn’t disappeared up his own symbol long ago. There’s also some throbbing bass to be had, not the tinny-chav-on-a-bus or boy-racer’s-car-radio bass, but funky bass that rumbles and shakes your foundations. Also, Rap isn’t completely dispensed with – but it’s more like beat poetry and wouldn’t be out of place in a poetry slam.

Kamaal The Abstract is laid back, not in your face and not off its face. It’s quirky but not alienating and had many strong tracks – the epic Do U Dig U?, toe-tapper Barely In Love and Even If It Is So should be singled out for special attention. If it’s late at night and you’re in for something chilled but challenging, this is the perfect listen.

The album is an effortlessly cool, almost forgotten gem that can more than hold its own in 2009’s music scene. While it’s perhaps not as abstract as the title implies, it’s certainly a contender for one of the funkiest albums of this – or any – year.

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