A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory 30 Years Later
The Low End Theory dropped on September 24, 1991, and has aged better than most hip hop albums from that era. It is the definitive “hip hop classic”. Loud is looking back at some of the most influential hip hop albums with significant anniversaries in 2021.
The alternative hip hop music genre wouldn’t become what it is today without the remarkable contributions of the legendary group, A Tribe Called Quest. Q-tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Jarobi White were hip hop trailblazers who have never shied away from bringing it with their unique style and approach to the genre (White would later leave the group after their debut album).
They laid the groundwork of what seemed to be a crazy idea in their first album called “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm”. Then a year later, BOOM! They released yet another mind-blowing album – The Low End Theory which cemented their spot as one of the great hip hop groups of all time.
People lost their minds when The Low End Theory dropped. Perhaps you can say they were buggin’ out, because 30 years later, the album remains in heavy rotation for most hip hop fans.
Musical critics from all generations praise the album for its creative showcase of talent, musicality, and social awareness. Hence, the album became one of the best collections of hip-hop songs ever written!
In this article, we’ll be dissecting the reasons that made the album a timeless classic!
From the very start, the group wanted to be different. Thus, they embarked on a fearsome journey of revolutionizing the hip-hop industry. Their ingenious musicality and unmatched creativity gave birth to Jazz hip hop, a form of alternative hip hop that fuses earsplitting hip hop music with unruffled jazz beats.
The amazing part is, this close-to-perfect album did not require any ludicrous and complex musical production. The members decided to stick to the basics and straightforwardly used the three most essential elements – bass, drums, and vocals.
A Tribe Called Quest was unafraid of trying novel musical techniques. They were the first musical group that used double bass to create solid and crisp jazz beats alongside drum programming and electric keyboard samples. As a result, the downbeats of their songs sound more refined and hardcore.
Q-tip also played with snare and bass drums in this album. In fact, before the album’s release, drum breaks were seldom used in hip hop music – not until Q-tip decided to change it! This was very evident in track number # entitled “Buggin out”.
The group also displayed an enormous appreciation for their musical predecessors as they mixed familiar tunes with their original sounds. One of the most notable samples included in the album were from the Abstract Poetic and Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers who were all remarkable musicians in their own rights.
And even after 30 years have passed, The Low End Theory remains well celebrated for the exceptional artistry, killer instrumentality, and unique musical flow it showcased.
The feel-good grooves are not the only things to look forward to in The Low End Theory. Unlike its peers, the songs on the album stirred away from the traditional themes of rap music like profanity, violence, and drugs. Instead, its intelligently written verses focus on the celebration of black culture. The song lyrics try to paint the everyday lives of black people, especially the youth, into the listener’s mind.
Not only that, but the group also raised some serious societal issues like racism, consumerism, and the oppressive music industry in this album. The talented group told their stories and truths using satirical, cynical, and witty verses that touch all human emotions.
However, no matter how moving and socially conscious their songs were, the album remained playful, hopeful, and optimistic. That just shows the personality of the group.
EXPLOSIVE DUO: Q-TIP AND PHIFE DAWG
All the fans of A Tribe Called Quest must agree that Q-tip and Phife Dawg have unmatched rapping chemistry. Their styles are not the same, but they click perfectly.
Q-tip is a gifted lyricist and an exceptional rapper. His vocals are often described as “mellow” and “smooth-sounding”. On the other hand, Phife Dawg was infamous for self-deprecation who rose to stardom for his high-pitched vocals and battle-ready rhymes.
Their dynamic duo indeed gave life to the album. Their wild lyrical exchanges and in-tune performances always leave the audience speechless.
As critics often say, Q-tip and Phife Dawger are great rappers individually but they’re stronger when working together. Indeed, their legacy is still being manifested by many modern-day rappers.
The Low End Theory’s Greatest Hits
Here’s a quick look at the most famous hits in the album.
JAZZ (WE’VE GOT)
This is the second track in the album that is widely known as the “quintessential jazz-rap song”. Compared to the other songs in the album, Jazz (We’ve Got) lies on the softer side with its rich jazz influence. Listeners will certainly enjoy the harmonious blend of piano, saxophone, snare drums, and various samples.
VERSES FROM THE ABSTRACT
What sets this track apart from other hip hop songs is Ron Carter, a true legend of jazz music. His collaboration with Q-tip, Phife Dawg, and Ali Muhammad gave birth to a masterpiece. Carter’s acoustic bass is indeed an amazing addition to the album’s sound.
The opening track of the album succeeded in impressing the world with the group’s exceptional instrumentality. The supple and refined bass notes of the song emphasize the jazz influence in the song. Overall, the track feels good, light, and enjoyable for listeners.
This track must be the polar opposite of Jazz (We’ve Got) in the entire album. Among all the songs in The Low End Theory, Scenario is the most buoyant and upbeat track. This track not only sampled a Black Sabbath drum loop, but it also introduced the world to a relatively new rapper on the scene named Busta Rhymes.
Final word on The Low End Theory
Needless to say, A Tribe Called Quest set the standards high. The legendary group with their perfect The Low End Theory album continues to inspire modern-day rappers while inviting new listeners from every generation. The sound and lyrics of the album truly transcend time, culture, and musical preference. Their influence is scattered throughout the hip hop landscape. No matter what decade we’re in, The Low End Theory will always rock!