A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory - Classic Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory

by Brian Thompson Rating:10 Release Date:1991-09-24
A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory
A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory

Like the other Native Tongues acts, A Tribe Called Quest made a name for themselves by blurring genre lines and even artistic media in order to create a diverse, flourishing ecosystem of aesthetic variance. They began to gain a devoted following with their moderately successful debut, 1990’s People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, which found the group preaching the gospel of positivity through Afrocentric lyrics and spitting witty verses over a minimalist jazz groove. Their signature sound was built around an efficient production that worked as a cultural bridge between generations.

With their 1991 follow-up, The Low End Theory, the hip-hop prodigies expanded upon their groundbreaking foundation, using the vehicle of poetry as it’s always been intended – as an unfiltered expression of our rawest emotions. Maintaining its blend of predominantly black genres, the record lays out its central thesis on its opening track, “Excursions”: “You could find the Abstract listenin' to hip-hop / My pops used to say, it reminded him of Bebop / I said, ‘Well, Daddy, don't you know that things go in cycles? / Way that Bobby Brown is just amping like Michael.’”

Right from their inception, A Tribe Called Quest stood out, blending social commentary with humor, often through the gripping wordplay tossed back and forth between Q-Tip and Phife Dawg. Between the former’s esoteric, introspective flow and the latter’s crude, self-deprecating stylings, the duo crafted a harmonious dichotomy, not unlike that of Lennon and McCartney. Their complementary talents allowed them to take a measured approach while tackling a variety of pressing issues, even taking pointed jabs at the monetization of the rap industry with tracks like "Rap Promoter" and "Show Business."

The Low End Theory boasts a striking optimism, at least compared to that of the group’s peers. The album’s lyrics distance themselves from the subjects of substance abuse and gang violence that continues to permeate rap culture. By subverting the expectations of their art form, they ensured that their tracks would stand the test of time. This record is a celebration of culture, rather than a snapshot of brutality. The verses are often satirical – even cynical – but there is always an undercurrent of hope. As such, it is bursting forth with raucous energy, as evidenced by songs like "Check the Rhime" and "Scenario."

A Tribe Called Quest’s sophomore effort cemented the group as one of the most influential rap acts of all time, and ensured that they would become nearly as intrinsically intertwined with the conversation around jazz as Miles Davis or John Coltrane. And like the great albums that inspired it, The Low End Theory has gained an undeniable purity with age. Emblematic of the pressure cooker hip-hop had quickly become, the album was extraordinarily forward-thinking, particularly in terms of genre expansion. Countless major players in the industry can tell you precisely where they were when they first heard the playful enthusiasm of Buggin' Out" or the intricate sonic landscape of "Verses from the Abstract." This was the sound of a revolution.

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