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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After that, Q-Tip’s career floated, in limbo; another disc, Open (Hollywood) also stalled. It wasn’t until he pulled a Rocky Balboa last year with The Renaissance (Motown Records), that his recording career landed back on solid ground. So the thawing and release of Kamaal/The Abstract is a long time coming.

It must have been incredibly frustrating for Q-Tip to watch Kamaal/The Abstract held back while other risk-taking albums recorded later—Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (ironically also on Arista), Common’s Electric Circus, Gnarls Barkley’s St. Elsewhere and Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak—became critical and commercial successes. With Kamaal/The Abstract, Q-Tip proved himself to be prescient in challenging the status quo of what a hip-hop artist could do.

Given Q-Tip’s status as one of hip-hop’s most imitable rappers from one of hip-hop’s most distinguished groups, A Tribe Called Quest, holding up the release of Kamaal/The Abstract seemed all the more absurd—insulting, even. As part of the Native Tongue Collective, (De La Soul, Jungle Brothers, Queen Latifah, Black Sheep, among others) A Tribe Called Quest helped elevate the game of hip-hop with its sonic ingenuity and sometimes sociopolitical themes that were at once playful and thought-provoking. Between 1990 and 1993, the group maintained a near peerless track record, releasing the magnificent trilogy—People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders—that came to epitomize the golden era of hip-hop.

And while latter discs—Beats, Rhythms & Life and The Love Movementsaw the group’s magic beginning to wane, those discs helped introduce the phenomenal J Dilla and provided much inspiration for other hip-hop renaissance figures such as Mos Def, Erykah Badu, Common and The Roots. With the Soulaquarian movement of the early 2000s, other kindred spirits such as D’Angelo, Roy Hargrove, Raphael Saadiq, Jill Scott and Bilal pushed intelligent hip-hop and R&B into the new century. Kamaal/The Abstract should have been a no-brainer.

But as some people say, “better late than never.” Still, a lingering question remained with the official release of Kamaal/The Abstract, which was “Is it still as groundbreaking and more importantly “good to the ears” as was seven years ago?” The answer: Yes.