Kamaal the Abstract is one of these long-talked about albums that was inexplicably shelved by an evil record company (Arista, in this case) for years. Kamaal was set to be released way back in 2001, and we’ve had to wonder all this time, why?
There’s a tendency for fans to mythologize these lost records into classics before we’ve even heard them. It wasn’t released because it was simply “too good” for the public to handle. That’s sometimes true of unreleased material (Nas’ The Lost Tapes, for instance), but sometimes projects are shelved for a reason–they’re not marketable, or at the end of the day, they’re really just not any good. Kamaal, now released by Battery Records, falls into neither category. It’s not a treasure, but it’s not a disaster either. It’s really just a Q-Tip side project. It’s a jam/groove album with a jazz vibe, several long tracks and, yes, singing.
Some of the tracks are going to work really nicely for you (“Feelin’,” “Do You Dig U”). Others are promising and then become repetitive and go nowhere (“Barely in Love”). The singing and instrumentation, some of which Q-Tip reportedly performed himself, can be a bit loose (read: bad). He warbles on “Heels.”
There’s also the issue of Q-Tip’s rhyme skills. A Tribe Called Quest was this reviewer’s favorite all-time group and it seems they were able to utilize Tip’s unique voice while hiding some of his deficiencies. Maybe all his best lyrics were lost in that house fire before The Love Movement came out, but he just hasn’t progressed much over the years.
His sound–a jazzy groove–has essentially stayed the same. It’s not a bad sound and he did t better on The Renaissance than on Amplified, but the gap between his best post-Tribe work and his worst isn’t that wide. Kamaal is a very logical extension of the two aforementioned albums. He stretches it out a little, but the core is still there (except for one outlier, the Christmas carol sounding, interludish, “Caring”–not sure what that was about).
Still, there was no reason for this album to have been kept from us for eight years. It’s perfectly accessible. It fits into the laid back sweet spot that you’ll like if you’re a Q-Tip fan. And maybe the best thing about it is how comfortable Tip seems in his own skin. He’s making music he believes in here, for better or worse, and it generates a positive vibe through your speakers.
“Even If It Isn’t So” is vintage Q-Tip and he lets us know exactly where he was at when he recorded Kamaal when he says: “I’m just an arty music gigolo.”
There’s a nice symmetry in that he seems to still be in the same place. – Stefan Schumacher
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