Recently, I read an article about an album that I listened to extensively about 2 years ago, “Kamaal The Abstract” by hip-hop guru and legend Q-Tip. The album was actually recorded in 2001, but wasn’t released until 2009, eight years later. The label didn’t think it had commercial appeal, so they shelved it. After a fan petition and the album being passed to a new label, we finally saw it’s release.
"Kamaal The Abstract" is what Q-Tip described at one point "a hip-hop fusion album." The album incorporates elements of jazz, r&b, and funk; often the album places a rap verse, a heavy funk guitar riff, an r&b chorus of vocals, and a saxophone solo all into the same song. I think the album deftly accomplishes the idea of a fusion album without forcing the idea: it all sounds organic. It’s kind of a "Bitches’ Brew" for hip-hop. Sometimes songs will go on for minutes, without any vocals or a hook, and just rely on the groove, something that is rare from a "hip-hop" artist. "Kamaal The Abstract" doesn’t rely on a specific genre for its sound, but I think that’s why I like it. Despite the various ideas contained, it remains cohesive.
Oh yeah and did I mention that Kenny Garrett, Gary Thomas, AND Kurt Rosenwinkel play on this album? It’s tight.
So, I bring this album up to ask this question: why do we need genres?
I’ve always enjoyed various types of music, and I tend to side with Ellington’s thought that “there are two kinds of music; the good kind, and the other kind.” To me, it always seems that the most interesting music is the music that forgets about genre and just does what sounds right. When a bird sings, I doubt it thinks of what genre or type of song it wants to sing; it just sings whatever song nature places inside of it. Genre is a human creation, and I personally feel that people flourish when they reach their most natural state of creation, without any specific genre guiding them. Perhaps certain precedents can inspire and provoke new ideas, but I don’t think we should ever let precedent contain us.
Sorry, I had to get all philosophical for a second…
"While growing up in the ’70s New York City, Fareed listened to CBS-affiliated radio stations that would play Joni Mitchell, Al Green, Stevie Wonder, Led Zeppelin and B.B. King in one hour. “It was a correct mix of music. That’s the way it should be. Music is now so separated.” -Q-Tip