A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory


A Tribe Called Quest released their second studio album “The Low End Theory” back on September 24, 1991. The album was produced by A Tribe Called Quest and Skeff Anselm and released on Jive Records.

I can remember the anticipation on picking up this album after “Check The Rhime” had us buzzing and bouncing all summer long!  The way that Phife Diggy and Q-Tip traded rhymes while flowing a Minnie Riperton beat, had us feenin’ for more!  To this day, this track will make you get up off your seat!

When the album dropped, I remember placing the cd in the Panasonic and then listening to that jazzy bass groove followed by Q-Tip saying,

Back in the days when I was a teenager
Before I had status and before I had a pager
You could find the Abstract listening 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”
It’s all expected, things are for the looking
If you got the money, Quest is for the booking

I was blown away, then the drums drop in!  Holy crap!!!  “Excursions” is that track that makes you listen to the words and the beat at times seems like it’s not even there.  A beat so woven within the rhyme fibers, that they are a part of each other.  This is Q-Tip at his finest!  I really thought at the time that this would be my favorite Tribe track of all time.  Nope.

Now it was Phife’s time to shine!  We just heard Q-Tip drop some ill verses over a jazzy bassline, and now Phife flows like butter over another dope jazz bassline (Jack DeJohnette’sMinya’s the Mooch“) on “Buggin’ Out“.  Here, Phife drops his most memorable rhymes.

Yo, microphone check one, two, what is this?
The five foot assassin with the roughneck business
I float like gravity, never had a cavity
Got more rhymes than the Winans got family
No need to sweat Arsenio to gain some type of fame
No shame in my game cause I’ll always be the same
Styles upon styles upon styles is what I have
You wanna diss the Phifer but you still don’t know the half
I sport New Balance sneakers to avoid a narrow path
Mess around with this you catch a size eight up your {ass}
I never half step cause I’m not a half stepper
Drink a lot of soda so they call me Dr. Pepper
Refuse to compete with BS competition
Your name ain’t Special Ed so won’t you seckle with the mission
I never walk the street thinking it’s all about me
Even though deep in my heart, it really could be
I just try my best to like go all out
Some might even say yo shorty black you’re buggin’ out

So after listening to 3 tracks off the album, the “low end” in “Low End Theory” must mean the bass groove.  Another dope track is “Verses from the Abstract” with a nice slow beat courtesy of Heatwave’sThe Star of a Story” and Joe Farrell’sUpon This Rock.”  Another great solo track from the Abstract.  If you think that Q-Tip is selfish on the mic, remember that he carried the entire first album so…

The Tribe has never been a group surrounded by controversy.  On “Georgie Porgie” the Tribe and Brand Nubian (including Grand Puba) get on the mic and talk about a friend they have “George” that is on the down low.  If you listen to the entire song, all 5 mc’s drop some really homophobic rhymes.  in 1991, the song might not of been that damaging, but it would probably considered one of Tribe’s lowest points nowadays. Here’s a sample of the rhymes that were spit.

Now Georgie Porgie pudding pie
What made you choose the path of the gays, oh why
Ain’t got no reason, to hell with alibis
Won’t play basketball cause your nails ain’t dry
Call me homophobic but I know it and you know it
You’re filthy and funny to the utmost exponent
Never will I do that, disrespect my mommy
So run and hide your salami
Used to, didn’t you, used to be my man
Instead of shaking, you’re dragging your hand
Yes it’s the Abstract the info provider
Here’s your new name – the rump rider

Yikes!!!  Luckily Jive rejected the track and “Show Business” was born. Unfortunately, Puba refused to rewrite his lyrics and Diamond D took his place. Personally, I don’t think this would tarnish their legacy, but they would have less fans because of it.

Butter” gives us a whole solo track with nothing but Phife Dog behind the mic.  We then realize that the Phife Diggy is one great storyteller.  He spits about the ladies and how he’s smooth like butter in the mack game.  Listening to this track, I realize how much I miss the dude!  RIP PHIFE

I had Tonya, Tamika, Sharon, Karen, Tina, Stacy, Julie, Tracy
Used to love ’em, leave ’em, skeeze ’em, tease ’em
Find ’em, lose ’em – also abuse ’em
My whole attitude was new day, next hon
And believe it or not, they all got done
Well here comes Flo, with the crazy whip appeal
And I’m all true man, like Alexander O’Neal
Is this really love, then again how would I know
After all this time trying to be a Super Ho
She finally played me, but yo I’d find another
Cause I got the crazy game and yo, I’m smooth like butter

When you go back to 1991, you’ll notice that a lot of groups were using Jazz as their background music.  Other than Gang Starr, ATCQ was using Jazz in a way that it would blend perfectly with Hip Hop.  As you know, both Hip Hop and Jazz were born here in the USA so, it was inevitable!  “Jazz (We’ve Got)” was one of those tracks that was ultra jazzy yet very boom-bap.  Both Q-Tip and Phife represent on this track.

What?” has to be my favorite track off this album.  Why “What?”?  Well, it’s funny af!  It’s a track that only asks questions and is so genius that every time I would start the track I would press the repeat button.  Q-Tip even pauses the track because Doug E Fresh said “silence”.  Genius.  Absolute genius!

Babies babble on, they lookin for excuses
Game for the buzzer who kicked it to the mooses
Lame as a brain, could be, golly gee
If you see a shrink he’ll charge you a fee
If you see me ya see the fee is nothing
[Fee will be for patience] all backs no fronting
What is a party if it doesn’t really rock?
What is a poet? All balls, no cock
What is a war if it doesn’t have a general?
What’s Channel 9 if it doesn’t have Arsenio?
What is life if you don’t have fun?
What is a “what?” if you ain’t got a gun?
What’s Ali without Shaheed Muhammad?
Nothing. Kapelka makes you vomit
What is a Quest if the players ain’t willing?
What is a pence if you don’t have a shilling?
Excuse me if I’m chillin, hey what, say what
What’s a fat man without food in his gut?
What’s a child birth, without the umbilical?
What’s United Parcels, without the deliverer?
What’s momma-san, without poppa-san?
What’s martial arts without Daniel-San?
What’s Rasheed without Tonya, Tamika?
What’s Oran Juice and Doug E. Doug without Shaniqua?
Not a not a not a, not a damn thing
What’s Duke Ellington without that swing?
What’s Alex Haley if it doesn’t have roots?
What’s a weekend if you ain’t knockin boots?
What’s a black nation, without black unity?
What is a child who doesn’t know puberty?
What is my label when I exit wound status?
What’s menage-a-tois, or, that is
What is sex when you have three people?
What are laws if they ain’t fair and equal?
What’s Clark Kent without a telephone booth?
What is a liquor if it ain’t 80 proof?
What are the youth if they ain’t rebellin?
What’s Ralph Kramden, if he ain’t yellin
At Ed Norton, what is coke snortin?
What is position if there is no contortin?
What is hip-hop if it doesn’t have violence?
Chill for a minute, Doug E. Fresh said silence
*four second pause*
What is a Glock if you don’t have a clip?
What’s a lollipop without the Good Ship?
What’s S&M if you don’t have chains?
What’s a con artist if he doesn’t have brains?
What’s America without greed and glamour?
What’s an MC if he doesn’t have stamina?
What’s music factory without Mr. Walt?
What’s Trugoy without a phrase called talk?
What’s Chris Lighty if he wasn’t such a baby?
What is a woman if she didn’t say maybe?
Baby laid down, I removed the frown
What would be my penal cord if it wasn’t brown?
What is a paper without a president?
What is a compound without a element?
What is a jam if you don’t spike the punch?
What’s a brewski if you don’t bite brunch?
Oooh ooh, it’s like that you keep goin
Freak freak y’all cause you know that we showin
What to go what to go what to go what to go what
To go what to go what to go what to go WHAT!

The last track and anchor of the album is the posse cut “Scenario” where the Leaders of the New School and ATCQ represent and not one rhyme (word really) is wasted. Now everybody remembers “Roar roar, like a dungeon dragon” but Phife had the best rhymes on scenarion.  YES…I said it!  The remix though…

Heyo, Bo knows this, (What?) and Bo knows that (What?)
But Bo don’t know jack, cause Bo can’t rap
Well what do you know, the Di-Dawg, is first up to bat
No batteries included, and no strings attached
No holds barred, no time for move fakin’
Gots to get the loot so I can bring home the bacon
Brothers front, they say the Tribe can’t flow
But we’ve been known to do the impossible like Broadway Joe, so
Sleep if you want, NyQuil will help you get your Z’s, troop
But here’s the real scoop
I’m all that and then some, short, dark, and handsome
Bust a nut inside your eye to show you where I come from
I’m vexed, fuming, I’ve had it up to here
My days of paying dues are over, acknowledge me as in there (Yeah!)
Head for the border, go get a taco
Watch me wreck it from the jump street, meaning from the get-go
Sit back relax and let yourself go
Don’t sweat what you heard, but act like you know

How can a rap group drop 3 absolute classic albums back-to-back-to-back? No sophomore jinx and absolutely no junior jinx!  It was as if they were getting better as time went along.  The Native Tongues as a whole were incredible but we all know that Tribe were the leaders and De La Soul the vice presidents.   When ever I have a bad day, I can pop this groups music and they will always make me smile.  From Q-Tip’s wordplay, Phife’s sports themed lyrics and Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s beats, they are that perfect group!  If an alien came to this earth and asked what Rap music was, you play them this!

-Al E.

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