Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Abstract, a.k.a. the left cross

Q-Tip has the coolest voice in hip hop. I've maintained that statement since first hearing "A Tribe Called Quest" years ago. Tip also goes by the handle "The Abstract Poet." When I think about his lyrics, his flow, his songs, abstract doesn't seem to be the right word. His narratives paint pictures with more detail.

But then I think about the fact that he produced Tribe's earliest albums. And I think about how those albums affect me: that if I disregard the words and just roll with the beat, the jazz, the music, then I am tapped into the abstract.

Mark Rothko said, "We favor the simple expression of the complex thought." Rothko went after "the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea and between the idea and the observer." That led him to large canvases with swaths of color. The canvas as a portal for the viewer to look into, look through. The abstract.

Abstract hits me differently. Maybe it's the left cross you don't see coming. A landscape painting or a ballad relies on story, and per Rothko, the the idea is buried in the story. You've got to excavate. It's not naked before you. Maybe unearthed is another word for abstract.

The abstract is the likely reason I dig jazz. Miles, Monk, Mingus. With little in the way of lyrics, the bass, the horn, the keys emote directly to the soul. For me, Mingus may be the master of the unseen left cross. Mingus has one-punch knockout power, raining down  a river to float your soul down a Nile of the abstract.

Mingus, Rothko, Q-Tip. They've all attended some sort of boxing/archaeology school. That school that teaches you how to unearth an idea, dust it off and straight knock someone out with it.

Funny, my response is the Obi-wan Kenobi stance: let my guard down and take it. I don't expect to become more powerful. But there is something to being hit with the left cross. Hit with the abstract.