Unafraid of lengthy tracks and variation of style, Q-Tip's new album allows space for innovation and expression as he blends the beautifully matched genres of hip hop and jazz. Sliding across each other almost sensuously, the key to this album is the balancing of two equally strong traditions, pulling the music in different directions without it snapping and falling to pieces.
Q-Tip kicks straight in with deep throbbing bass on 'Feelin'. Unexpectedly raw guitars push the track forward and pairs well with the spiraling electric organ. Similarly, tracks like 'Barely In Love' manage to catch us out with the unusual move toward a more indie sound with Santana-esque squealing guitars.
Vocals on Kamaal The Abstract often take a back seat to the stunning instrumental solos scattered throughout the album. 'Do You Dig U?, a seven minute saga of beauty demonstrates this perfectly as the flautist Gary Thomas, of the Miles Davies Ensemble, takes centre stage. Human voices fade into the background as the focus shifts to the eloquence of the flute as it squeaks, squeals and flutters its story over the murmur of words and noises that hold less meaning than its song.
This is not to say that Q-Tip's lyrical prowess has begun to slip. Though repetitive in places, when he finds time to get back to what he does best, the rhymes he spits can touch a tender nerve at the heart of American poverty on songs like 'Even If It Is So'. By keeping the structure simplistic on this track he creates a defined poignancy to the expression of his sentiment. Upbeat horns from a lounge jazz tradition makes for an unassuming backing to this Cinderella story in the making.
Kamaal The Abstract's greatest strength is the imaginative daring to include unexpected moments that knock you off your feet and reorder you understanding of the album as a whole. One such moment is 'Caring', a choral composition with only piano accompaniment. Resembling a musical theatre piece, it soothingly breaks up the album's makeup without feeling incongruous. Its purpose is to act as a brief pallet cleansing barrier between two much longer, intense tracks and is a perfect opportunity for Q-Tip to experiment outside of his usual parameters.
Like karma, the more time you invest in this album, the more it will yield up for you to explore and enjoy.