The Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest
Written by Jeff Ramella on November 19, 2018
Reviewed by Dan Livingston
Regarded as one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time, A Tribe Called Quest’s Low End Theory stormed the early 1990’s rap scene with its unique, alternative, and jazzy sound. Releasing only a little over a year from the previous album People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, the hip group built upon the foundation of alternative hip hop and jazz they crafted and expanded upon it. The group consisted of members Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali-Shaheed Muhammed, and Jarobi White who all grew up in Queens, New York. What differentiated them from other hip-hop artists at the time was their deep, thought-provoking lyrics that provided social commentary that was layered on their laid-back, yet catchy production. While rap was transitioning to gangsta rap and hardcore rap and maintaining this macho man persona, ATCQ focused on sending this message to its listeners: to be yourself and do not be afraid to be different and you don’t have to follow mainstream trends. The group gave representation and a voice for black youth and hip-hop fans alike.
The alum covering topics that related to societal expectations, everyday problems, becoming successful, existential and philosophical ponderings, date rape, city life, and even their trials and tribulations in the rap industry itself. For example, on the track The Jazz (We’ve Got), Q-Tip starts his verse claiming, “Stern firm and young with a laid-back tongue, The aim is to succeed and achieve at 21. Just like Ringling Brothers, I’ll daze and astound Captivate the mass, cause the prose was profound.” Here we see Q-Tip feels how society has molded our expectations to already be thriving by the age of 21 and how he is able to capture the attention of an audience with his distinctive lyrics and rap versatility similar to how Ringling Brothers had unique circus performances that no else performed. This is only a small portion of what the album is like, as there is much more to enjoy listening to the entirety of the project with its abstract and jazzy sound.
Overall, this album helped solidify alternative hip-hop as its own genre and laid the groundwork for future alternative hip-hop artists. This masterpiece has captured an abstract and original sound that is still distinct from other hip-hop music today.
Rating: 4.8/5 stars
Favorite Tracks: “Scenario-LP Mix,” “The Jazz (We’ve Got),” “Excursions Buggin’ Out”