When it comes to innovative takes on R&B, you can’t go wrong with Zo! and Tall Black Guy and their next-level creations that invoke the genre’s classic sound while pushing it forward. So what happens when these two guys collaborate? You get a progressive joint album like Abstractions.
The set showcases the undeniable chemistry between the musicians while inviting a whole host of their friends — including Phonte, BeMyFiasco, Sy Smith, Omar, Darien Brockington, Muhsinah and many more — to play alongside them. This means that the fellas have all the talent they need to create music as beautiful as the artwork by Rachel Stewart that graces the cover.
Lead singles “Talkin’ To Myself” and “Hold My Hand” already gave listeners the tone for the project, with the majority keeping things laid-back and mid-tempo. They further explore this when they get into tracks like “The Ride,” which features Sy alongside rhymers Black Milk and Elzhi. The groove here is undeniable, with a bumpin’ kick made to ride to as Sy delivers a staccato melody on the chorus while Black and Elzhi trade rhymes that pay tribute to Detroit with style.
Things heat up a bit more when Omar joins the fray on “I Love The Way.” On the song, the duo matches the sensuality of his rich baritone with a smoldering bass-and-guitar led groove and percolating drums that make it feel steamy without veering into explicit territory. By the time we get to the Josh Milan-featuring “Connected,” however, the fellas are ready to party. They mix a bit of downtempo house into the mix and while rounding out the groove with keys, warm synth flourishes and an elastic bass line that will have you running to hit repeat as soon as the final notes play.
The fuller songs get their time to shine, but listeners shouldn’t give short shrift to the shorter tracks here, as they show Zo! and Tall Black Guy getting the most experimental as they give the audience different aspects of their hometown. “Sightseeing” taps Diviniti and Pirahnahead (with an assist from Phonte on backgrounds) to offer the city’s soulful essence, “Blackout” takes listeners to the house while also giving a little something to do some footwork to, “Northland” takes it to the streets with a gritty hip-hop feel and “Epilogue” ends things on a jazzy, soulful note with horns, harmonies and keys.
It would have been easy to make Abstractions a vanity project for the two outstanding producers/musicians. Instead, they made it a musical journey that music lovers will be more than willing to take.