“Industry Rule #4,080: Record company people are shady.”
– Q-Tip on A Tribe Called Quest’s “Check the Rhime”
Can’t say he didn’t warn you.
When Q-Tip [click to read] in 1991 succinctly outlined the snake-like nature of recording industry executives even he could not have known just how prophetic those words would be when it came to his own solo career.
A full decade after he began crafting it, Tip’s highly-anticipated, repeatedly stymied Kamaal the Abstract LP has finally arrived. That sound you hear is the collective, adoring sigh of Native Tongues fans across the globe.
According to published reports, Tip began working on Abstract after industry legend Clive Davis signed him to Arista. But Arista eventually disposed of Davis, leaving Tip to pitch his progressive project to the new administration. Tip would eventually walk away from Arista with Abstract in limbo. As the years stacked up it seemed the album would go the way of Saigon‘s [click to read] The Greatest Story Never Told, Cormega’s [click to read] The Testament [click to read] or Black Bastards by KMD [click to read].
And just like two of the three aforementioned LPs, Tip’s effort has finally come to fruition. But those of you waiting with baited breath for a Q-Tip solo venture in the vein of a classic Tribe [click to read] trek will have to continue to be patient.
Kamaal the Abstract is Tip’s Jazz baby, his self-professed “fusion” album that melds myriad influences and finds the Queens legend at his most vulnerable. Whether Tip hits the right notes really depends on how you approach such a unique thesis.
Abstract essentially is smooth mood music. With its introspective themes, impressive instrumentation and Tribal leadership, the 11-track album is the epitome of “grown-and-sexy” – which is amazing, considering this was completed long before the concept was coined.
On “Even if it is So,” Tip tackles single parenting, delivering a head-nodding ode to a hard-working mom. As with most of the album, instruments are at the heart of the song. The keys are a perfect match for slick horn play that really makes the drums come to life. Speaking of keys, check the incredible piano solo on “Blue Girl.” Though some might not feel Tip’s melodic vocals, the ivories deftly dance atop stop-and-go percussion, evoking aural images of Stevie or Alicia.
“Feelin’” is a feel-good, guitar-driven anthem that epitomizes Abstract’s instrumental bent, and will have you clapping along to the spiritual refrain by the end of the track. “Damn You’re Cool,” and “Make it Work,” two of the album’s best tracks, evoke that singular Tribe sound – in part because Tip rhymes on both – and have the Jazzy texture of a Soulquarians [click to read] production.
Not everything hits. Songs like “Barely in Love” are undoubtedly catchy, but become redundant after a while. And some fans might not take to Tip’s vocal styles on display throughout the record.
For those of you hoping for another Beats, Rhymes & Life or Amplified even, you are in for somewhat of a different vibe. Kamaal the Abstract might not be for everyone, and might alienate some hardcore Tribe fans, but is inescapably soulful, and given its original release date, way ahead of its time.