Album Name: Low End Theory
Band: A Tribe Called Quest
Release Date: September 24, 1991
Genre: Alternative Hip-Hop
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With all the memes incessantly stabbing you in the eyeballs with a punch line along the lines of “2020 RIGHT?!” I’d like to get you far away from this year. Wouldn’t it be nice to be transported to another decade? I just love when TV characters get all sassy and tell each other to get with the times because it’s the 90’s now. Well, A Tribe Called Quest got with the times before anyone because they made one of the best albums of that decade real early on. By injecting jazz flavours into their beats, they brought a certain beatnik bebop into the hip hop game which elevated the word “cool” to a whole other level.
So listen, I realize I’m a white lady suggesting ‘Low End Theory’ as if it’s some deep cut selection on my part. But as a Mennonite-raised prairie kid you gotta understand that my hip hop history education is self-sought and to me, Low End Theory is just the gosh dang neatest thing I’ve heard this year.
The beats are produced to sound like live instruments, but they run with choppy rhythms that can only come from a loop. Q Tip is a trailblazer who slaved to perfect what loop programming as an instrument can do. And while remaining minimalist in arrangement, he blends multiple layers into each hit to give you some of the most satisfying snare snaps in the game.
As an example of this layering effect, listen to “Check the Rhime” with its wild bebop horns and building bass beat that gives way to a breakdown that’s just bongo and bass guitar in unison. What a great pairing.
A Tribe Called Quest preaches about the truths of their times vividly and poetically without aggravation or pontification. Tribe keeps it cool, cascading through topics like gender relations, date rape, and consumerism. Your heart rate won’t rise, you’ll just nod along while Q Tip and Phife Dawg pass the mic back and forth with effortless chemistry.
This album also has some mighty Busta Rhymes features sprinkled throughout like on “Scenario,” so that’s always a delight. (Recommendception: Busta just released a new album lately with feature artists like Kendrick Lamar, Mariah Carey and Anderson Paak.)
“Low End Theory” is total 90’s boom-bap rap, but A Tribe Called Quest has remained timeless in a way that 2020 audiences will always appreciate because they knew that being woke was cool.