Music History

A Tribe Called Quest's The Low End Theory is 20 years old

On September 24, 1991, A Tribe Called Quest released The Low End Theory, a beautiful fusion of hip-hop, jazz, and esoteric lyrics aimed at a new generation of hip-hop. Twenty years later, the album sounds just the same in 2011, as it did, frankly, whenever you heard it. Inspiring such artists from the other side of the spectrum as Dr. Dre, and as recent as Kanye West -- Q-Tip, Phife Dawg and Ali no doubt changed history with this fourteen-track album.

With all the hoopla surrounding the crew these days -- check the Michael Rapaport-directed documentary on the trio and its not-so-nice elements -- it might be easy to forget that A Tribe Called Quest and the Native Tongues movement easily paved the way for all the rhyme slingers we listen to today. Not so easy to forget, though, when the foundations of one of the most regarded records in hip-hop history is explored.

From Dre, to comedian Chris Rock, many have consistently ranked The Low End Theory in the top most classic hip-hop albums. From a production perspective, the whips and dips and jazz fusion elements employed in tracks like, "Check the Rhime" not only educated the masses to newer uses of creative elements, from a lyrical perspective, Q-Tip spawned one of the wisest notions known to the music industry:

"Industry rule number 4,080: Record company people are shady."

The Low End Theory featured some of the most classic sampling used in hip-hop. From Minnie Ripperton ("Check the Rhime") to Miles Davis ("Scenario") Tribe are the Michael Jordans of the sampling game. And at Q-Tip's hand specifically, the crew maintained a beautiful jazz core fusion.

As a trio, Tribe didn't necessarily need additional MC's to rap on their records, what with Phife's hype energy, and Q-Tip's elegant and cool flow, but when the collaborations happened on The Low End Theory, they turned out to be epic. Such is the case with the aforementioned "Scenario."

Featuring Busta Rhymes, his verse turned into a watershed moment for the MC, solidly placing him out ahead of his Leaders of a New School bredren, and catapulting him into the rapid rapping, vocal phenom that he is today. The track itself is about as perfect a 4:10 you can get, and yes, the hype factor is still at a thousand and climbing at every listen. Even twenty years later.

What A Tribe Called Quest accomplished with The Low End Theory is akin to what professors accomplish after a semester of teaching freshman. Any hip-hop head will tell you, Tribe single-handedly changed the game with this album. It wasn't just beats, rhymes and life, the crew challenged many to get with the program, and from the output, it wasn't hard to be persuaded.

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Ru Johnson
Contact: Ru Johnson