A personal, unique project compared to Amplified (Q-Tip's first under his own name), Kamaal the Abstract fittingly sounds more like a solo album; whereas Amplified merely built on the digital soul of the last Tribe Called Quest album (The Love Movement), this one is wide-ranging and diverse, a relaxed, loose-limbed date. Q-Tip lays way back on these cuts, rapping in a quick, low monotone for the opener, "Feelin'," even while the song breaks into some restrained guitar grind on the choruses. Guitars, in fact, crop up all over this record.
There’s history here, so let’s deal with that straight away. Q-Tip produced Kamaal The Abstract way back in 2001, but it was never released. Some classic record label tripe was thrown his way about its ‘lack of accessibility’. Since then, he’s gone on to release his ‘second’ album, The Reniassance, to worthy acclaim, while KTA has been on the backburner.
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 ….
Kamaal the Abstract is not a great record by any means. But it is an interesting one, a unique effort by an artist struggling to mesh two disparate musical systems, gambling that inherent internal friction could spark some excitement. Unfortunately, the road to 6.3 is paved with experimental intentions. Kamaal the Abstract first leaked at the beginning of the decade, the follow-up to Tip's solo debut Amplified.
Recently, over a meal with a music attorney, I heard a sad, familiar tale: A singer he had helped sign to a label had recorded an album, only to have the label shelve it. But there was an unfamiliar twist to his story. Not releasing finished records, he said, is becoming increasingly common now that companies are seeing a major, MP3 related drop-off in revenue.
When A Tribe Called Quest decided to call it quits, many of us wept, including yours truly. Undoubtedly, as sad as it was, the group’s creative differences were too much to handle and when the dissention overwhelmed the fruition, it was time to call it quits. This created a void in hip-hop; one that would shoulder a heavy burden of shadowed darkness.