The sophomore jinx is almost becoming a natural occurrence in the Hip-Hop world today. It seems that while most artists enjoy success on their debut release, their second album fails to capture the same status. Many of the big names in Hip-Hop over the years have succumbed to this infamous jinx, but the Tribe once again broke the mold. Not only did A Tribe Called Quest defy the odds and beat the sophomore jinx, but amazingly released another classic album that was better than their first.
Back to back classic albums are a rare occurrence in any type of music, especially Hip-Hop. But A Tribe Called Quest did just that by releasing their second LP in 1991, “The Low End Theory”. However, this time around the atmosphere was totally different then the one seen on “Peoples Instinctive”. “The Low End Theory” featured a more jazz inspired feel as ATCQ brought in Jazz legend Ron Carter for live acoustics. Which was nothing short of a monumental move for the Tribe, as it was the first time a Hip-Hop group brought in a Jazz legend like Ron Carter for the album's production. And while the production on “Peoples Instinctive” was truly ground breaking at the time, the production on “The Low End Theory” would surpass it in every aspect imaginable as even die hard Tribe fans couldn’t have imagined such a huge leap. The production was truly groundbreaking and ahead of its time. It not only influenced Hip Hop at that time, but it would help bring about numerous Hip Hop/Jazz offspring’s in the future.
Lyrically we saw almost a brand new Tribe on “Low End Theory”. Q-Tip continued to be the main attraction in the group, however it was Phife Dawg who made the biggest improvement since their last album. On “The Low End Theory” Phife proved he was no longer in the shadows of Q-Tip and could do much more than play the backup role. On “Peoples Instinctive” Phife really never matched up to his predecessor Q-Tip as his lyricism was simpler and his flow wasn’t as established yet. However, on ”The Low End Theory” we saw Phife make huge strides as he now could keep up with Q-Tip and even outshine him in some cases. He was no longer the diminutive under dog, this time he was an emcee in every sense of the word. He now showed the world that he was a great Emcee in his own right, and would help make the two one of the best duo’s the Hip Hop world would ever see.
Every genre of music has that one album which altered times, shaped minds, and changed the way we would look at music. For Hip-Hop “The Low End Theory” is this album. Not only is the album one of the most influential in Hip Hop, but in modern music as it would shape what we would call Jazz/Hip Hop forever.
However, one could go on for days about “The Low End Theory's” influence and impact. An album can be influential, but what makes it a masterpiece is its material. The material on “The Low End Theory” does not deserved to be called a classic, it deserves something higher or more lofty such as masterpiece. Simply calling this album a classic is a huge understatement.
The timeless songs featured on the album are plentiful, as almost every track exemplifies the word classic. Most of ATCQ’s finest material is feature on “The Low End Theory” such as, “Check The Rhime”, “Scenario”, “Everything Is Fair” and “Jazz (We’ve Got)”. “Check The Rhime” is one of ATCQ’s standout tracks in their long and successful career, and is a timeless piece of work. We can all remember hearing those mesmerizing horns blare through are speakers as most of us were probably lost for words. Not only were the perfectly placed horns sampled from The Average White Band’s “Love Your Life’ spectacular, but lyrically it was just as amazing. The track features both Phife and Tip going back and forth, trading verses in utterly mind-blowing fashion. “Back in the days on the boulevard of Linden. We used to kick routines and presence was fitting. It was I, The Abstract. And me the five footer, I kicks the mad style so step off the frankfurter. Yo, Phife, you remember that routine that we used to make spiffy like Mr. Clean? Um um, a tidbit, um, a smidgen I don't get the message so you gots to run the pigeon. You on point Phife? All the time, Tip”.
However, if one wants to talk about classic songs, then “Scenario” is everything and more as it is still to this day the greatest collaboration in Hip Hop history. Featuring The Leaders Of The New School, the track not only help propel The Tribe to the next level, but took a then unknown emcee named Busta Rhymes and single handily thrusted him into superstar status. And while Busta’s verse has and always will remain one of the most memorable, its amazing how every Emcee on the track is able to give an unforgettable performance. From Phife Dawgs “Aiyyo, Bo knows this (what?) and Bo knows that (what?). But Bo don't know jack, cause Bo can't rap”, to Charlie Brown’s “Some may, I say, call me Charlie. The word is the herb and I'm deep like Bob Marley”, every aspect, verse and moment of the track is monumental. Of Course it was Busta who stole the show as his raw energy and vicious lyricism is still his finest work to to this day. “I heard you rushed and rushed, and attacked. Then baby puked then you had to smack. Causing rambunction, throughout the sphere Raise the levels of the boom, inside the ear………Rrrrrroaw, Rrrrrrroaw like a dungeon dragon”. If there were ever a hall of fame for lyrical verses, Busta’s would be one of the firsts to be inducted.
As with most of ATCQ’s albums, The beauty of “The Low End Theory” is the topics as well as the production stayed varied throughout the album. The Tribe attacked topics such as “Rap Promoters”, date raps “The Infamous Date Rape” and the ‘Show Business”. Not every song is intended to strike a message; tracks such as “Jazz (We’ve Got)” and “Excursions” are laid back, silkily smooth songs that show the Tribes versatility as well as their production minds behind the boards. With Tip, Ali and Ron Carter along for the production “The Low End Theory” would never be duplicated in terms of shear production talent again. The samples used just for this album along could be made into a review, as the Tribe’s keen ear and dedication to digging in the crates really showcases on this album. When you hear such tracks as “Buggin’ Out”, “What?”, “Vibes And Stuff” and “Butter” you not only get song making brilliance, but sheer production masterpieces.
In the end, saying “The Low End Theory” is a classic album is an understatement. The album is a lot more than just a Hip-Hop album; it is a testament to a culture. You could go on for days describing each song and its brilliance, influence and presence.
As most have probably noticed, the term masterpiece gets thrown around a lot during any Tribe review, however there are no other terms in which to describe it. They say words cannot describe the emotions we feel. Then it’s a fact that words cannot truly describe the emotion and feelings portrayed on “The Low End Theory”. Listen to the album, sit back and let the aura of ATCQ seep into your mind, then you will surely get the picture A Tribe Called Quest painted with “The Low End Theory”. Forever it will stand, and forever it will be remember. The album will never be forgotten, and as the years go by and Hip-Hop continues to change, one thing will remain the same, “The Low End Theory”.