There’s a good chance anyone reading this has heard of Q-Tip’s Kamaal the Abstract, though never actually heard it. There’s a good reason for that: until now, it’s been stuck in limbo, shelved for eight years after initially being rejected by Tip’s then-label Arista. It’s an understandable, if regrettable situation. Fresh off the success of first solo effort Amplified, label heads were expecting Q-Tip to deliver a hip-hop record. Instead, he gave them a trippy, funk-jazz record with little rapping to speak of. A bit tricky to market, ill-suited for any particular target audience, and the farthest thing from radio friendly, Kamaal was destined for obscurity. What’s remarkable about it, however, is that it almost was released, way back in 2001. Promotional copies landed on music journalists’ desks. In fact, it received a positive critical response. But ultimately, the album was pulled, and until recently, was a bootlegged lost album, infamous and underheard.
After Q-Tip’s much-heralded return in 2008 with his excellent album The Renaissance, Battery Records gave the album a second chance to be heard, and against the odds, it’s available in stores now. Seriously, you can buy it. And, in a way, now seems as fitting a time as any for Kamaal to resurface. Having aged eight years, the album sounds as fresh as ever. And, quite frankly, doesn’t seem all that bizarre of an album, just a bit out of character. It’s absolutely nothing like the vibrant (and “Vivrant”) hip-hop of Amplified, and much closer to an album like D’Angelo’s sexy, psychedelic soul on Voodoo. Yet, that album actually did get released, and a full year prior to this one’s conception.
Indeed, Kamaal is a step out of Q-Tip’s comfort zone and into a funky, improvisational realm. Yet, curiously enough, he seems perfectly comfortable here, at ease with its serpentine grooves. After a ringing guitar chord that sounds decidedly more rock than anything else, Tip & Co. bust into a funky, meaty groove that actually finds Q rapping, which is a rare occurrence on this set. The lengthy “Do U Dig U?” is a spacy, low-key funk number that bridges the gap between Prince and electric Miles Davis. There’s a slightly sinister groove to “A Million Times,” but in the end it’s good times all around. “Barely In Love,” meanwhile, comes as a bit of a surprise for being a more straightforward(ish) pop song, rather than jazz fusion, and “Heels” throws down a raw, nasty funk.
Kamaal The Abstract is a damn good album, and more than that, a damn cool one. It may have initially seemed like a commercial nightmare back when Q-Tip first presented it, but the fact that it’s finally seeing the light of day is a victory, if a belated one. Regardless of the drama and commercial mishaps that kept it in the dark until now, Kamaal sounds great, and makes for a funky companion as the summer fades into fall.
Andre 3000 – The Love Below
Prince – Musicology
D’Angelo – Voodoo
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.