Q-Tip’s Return to Grace

The artist's forays into singing prove that he’s a better rapper than he is a crooner. But “Kamaal/Abstract“ is still a good record.

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This decade, many a rap and R&B artist, from Missy Elliott to Mya, have seen their albums stalled or put on permanent hold. But Q-Tip’s Kamaal/The Abstract has the dubious distinction of being one of the most delayed hip-hop records in the history of rap, nearly done under by seven long years of corporate hemming and hawing.

The story of Kamaal/The Abstract is an epic battle of creative artistic control against an increasingly homogenized and claustrophobic mainstream market.

The album, which was released last month, was originally scheduled to hit the streets in early 2002 as the follow-up to Q-Tip’s first solo, and highly controversial, album, Amplified (Arista, 1999). With Kamaal/The Abstract, there was much at stake. Longtime fans felt that for his solo debut, Q-Tip had abandoned the thoughtful verses he waxed with A Tribe Called Quest, for a decidedly more glamorous, blinged-out approach. Kamaal/The Abstract was to be Q-Tip’s return to grace

Kamaal/The Abstract was a move to show both Q-Tip returning to the more experimental approach of Tribe as well as delving deeper into the group’s jazz aesthetic, an aesthetic that made ’90s discs such as The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders enduring classics for both hip-hop and jazz heads. On Kamaal/The Abstract, Q-Tip recruited the heavyweight talents of saxophonist/flutist Gary Thomas, alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett and guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, giving them plenty of room to shine. And instead of balancing the jazz equation with high-profile, hip-hop guest artists, he explored more conventional instrumentation and many times opted to sing rather than rap.

While pre-release media coverage was mixed, the underground buzz about the record generated a lot of excitement in the music world. Unfortunately, that exhilaration didn’t touch the powers that be at Arista Records, who initially kept postponing the release date. And then label execs put Kamaal on ice, arguing that it didn’t have a single hit on it.