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The Low End Theory

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Title: The Low End Theory  
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Subject: A Tribe Called Quest, Scenario (song), Check the Rhime, Midnight Marauders, Native Tongues
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The Low End Theory

The Low End Theory
Studio album by A Tribe Called Quest
Released September 24, 1991
Recorded 1990-1991, Battery Studios, Greene Street Studios, Soundtrack Studios, and Jazzy Jay Studio.
Genre Alternative hip hop, jazz rap
Length 48:03
Label Jive, RCA Records
Producer A Tribe Called Quest, Skeff Anselm
A Tribe Called Quest chronology
People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm
The Low End Theory
Midnight Marauders

The Low End Theory is the second album by American hip hop group A Tribe Called Quest. Released on September 24, 1991 through Jive Records, the album produced three singles: "Check the Rhime," "Jazz (We've Got)," and "Scenario."


  • Conception 1
  • Music 2
  • Reception and influence 3
  • Track listing 4
  • Samples 5
  • Charts 6
    • Singles 6.1
  • Accolades 7
  • Personnel 8
  • References 9


After A Tribe Called Quest's debut album, People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990), Jarobi White left the group to study culinary art. Phife Dawg learned that he was diabetic a month after the album's release and after a discussion with fellow member Q-Tip, they agreed to increase his participation on their second album and to "step it up in general as a group."[1] Q-Tip credited N.W.A's album Straight Outta Compton (1988) as an inspiration for the record.[2]

The group hired double bassist Ron Carter on the track "Verses from the Abstract". Q-Tip stated, "We wanted that straight bass sound, and Ron Carter is one of the premier bassists of the century."[3] Carter agreed to record tracks on the condition that the group avoid profanity, to which Q-Tip assured they were addressing "real issues".[4]

When asked by critics and interviewers if he was afraid of a "sophomore jinx", Q-Tip responded by saying "'Sophomore jinx?' What the fuck is that, I'm going to make The Low End Theory".[5]


The Low End Theory was one of the first records to fuse hip hop with a laid-back jazz atmosphere. Ali Shaheed Muhammad along with Q-Tip and Phife Dawg showcase how rap was done before commercial success influenced many rappers' creativity.[6] The album's minimalist sound is "stripped to the essentials: vocals, drums, and bass."[7] The bass drum and vocals emphasize the downbeat on every track.[8] Engineer Bob Power has been quoted numerous times calling the album, "The Sgt. Pepper's of hip hop" referring to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band released by The Beatles in 1967.

Reception and influence

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic [9]
BBC Music Favorable[10]
Robert Christgau [11]
Entertainment Weekly B[12]
PopMatters Favorable[7]
RapReviews (10/10)[13]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide [14]
The Source [15]
Spin (10/10)[16]
Yahoo! Music Favorable[17]

The Low End Theory helped shape alternative hip hop in the 1990s.[18][19] It established the musical, cultural, and historical link between hip hop and jazz.[20] The album was considered an instant classic with a 5 mics rating in The Source. Reviewer Reef lauded their "progressive sound" and "streetwise edge".[15] Writer Oliver Wang called the album "a consummate link between generations", which took the essence of jazz and hip hop, and "showing they originated from the same black center."[21] The group's "mellow innovations" helped jazz rap gain significant exposure from 1992 to 1993.[22] Rolling Stone ranked the album at number 154 in "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time", stating that "people connected the dots between hip-hop and jazz -- both were revolutionary forms of black music based in improvisation and flow -- but A Tribe Called Quest's second album drew the entire picture."[23]

In Time magazine's "ALL-TIME 100" albums, Josh Tyrangiel called the record an exception to jazz rap often being "wishful thinking on the part of critics". He described the album as "socially conscious without being dull" and likened a few tracks to "smokey rooms where cool guys ... say cool things."[24]The Low End Theory was voted at number thirty-two in The Village Voice‍ '​s 1991 Pazz & Jop critics poll.[25] AllMusic writer John Bush, who declared it "the most consistent and flowing hip-hop album ever recorded",[26] summed up the record as "an unqualified success, the perfect marriage of intelligent, flowing raps to nuanced, groove-centered productions."[9] On February 1, 1995, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certified the album platinum.[27] In 2005, comedian Chris Rock ranked it ninth on his Top 25 Hip-Hop Albums.[28] Electronica artist James Lavelle cited The Low End Theory as one of his favorite albums.[29]

Track listing

All songs produced by A Tribe Called Quest, except "Show Business" and "Everything Is Fair", produced by Skeff Anselm and co-produced by A Tribe Called Quest.

No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Excursions"   Jonathan Davis 3:53
2. "Buggin' Out"   Davis, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Malik Taylor 3:38
3. "Rap Promoter"   Davis, Muhammad 2:13
4. "Butter"   Davis, Muhammad, Taylor 3:39
5. "Verses from the Abstract" (featuring Vinia Mojica and Ron Carter on double bass) Davis 3:59
6. "Show Business" (featuring Diamond D, Lord Jamar and Sadat X) Skeff Anselm, Davis, Lorenzo Dechalus, Joseph Kirkland, Muhammad, Derrick Murphy, Taylor 3:53
7. "Vibes and Stuff"   Davis, Taylor 4:18
8. "The Infamous Date Rape"   Davis, Muhammad, Taylor 2:54
9. "Check the Rhime"   Davis, Muhammad, Taylor 3:36
10. "Everything Is Fair"   Anselm, Davis, Muhammad, Taylor 2:58
11. "Jazz (We've Got)"   Davis, Muhammad, Taylor 4:09
12. "Skypager"   Davis, Muhammad, Taylor 2:13
13. "What?"   Davis 2:29
14. "Scenario" (featuring Busta Rhymes, Charlie Brown and Dinco D of Leaders of the New School) Davis, Bryan Higgins, James Jackson, Muhammad, Trevor Smith, Taylor 4:10

A track by the name "Georgie Porgie" was originally on the album, but was rejected by Jive Records for being "too homophobic". The track was rewritten as "Show Business", which was added to the album.[30]



Charts (1991)[31][32][33] Peak
UK Albums Chart 58
U.S. Billboard 200 45
U.S. Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums 13


Year Single Peak chart positions[34]
Billboard Hot 100 Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks Hot Rap Singles Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales
1991 "Check the Rhime" 60 1 28
"Jazz (We've Got)" 19
1992 "Scenario" 57 42 6 34

"—" denotes releases that did not chart.


Publication Country Accolade Year Rank
The Arizona Republic U.S. 8 Albums That VH1 Missed 2001 *
BigO Singapore The 100 Best Albums from 1975 to 1995 1995 78
Blender Magazine U.S. The 100 Greatest American Albums of All Time 2002 53
Dance de Lux Spain The 25 Best Hip-Hop Records 2001 10
Ego Trip U.S. Hip Hop's 25 Greatest Albums by Year 1980-98 1999 2
Fast 'n' Bulbous U.S. The 500 Best Albums Since 1965 *
Juice Australia The 100 (+34) Greatest Albums of the 90s 1999 61
Kitsap Sun U.S. Top 200 Albums of the Last 40 Years 2005 151
LostAtSea U.S. 90 Albums of the 90's 2000 72
Mojo U.K. The Mojo Collection, Third Edition 2003 *
Music Underwater U.S. Top 100 Albums 1990-2003 2004 53
Paul Morley UK Words and Music, 5 x 100 Greatest Albums of All Time 2003 *
Pitchfork Media U.S. Top 100 Favorite Records of the 1990s 2003 56
Robert Dimery U.S. 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die 2005 *
Rock de Lux Spain The 150 Best Albums from the 90s 2000 128
Rolling Stone
(guest article by
Chris Rock)
USA Top 25 Hip- Hop Albums [2] 2005 9
Rolling Stone U.S. 100 Best Albums of the 90s[35] 2010 36
Rolling Stone U.S. The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time 2003 154
Rolling Stone U.S. The Essential Recordings of the 90's 1999 *
Spex Germany The 100 Albums of the Century 1999 10
Spin U.S. 100 Alternative Albums 1995 87
Spin U.S. Top 100 (+5) Albums of the Last 20 Years 2005 38
Spin U.S. Top 90 Albums of the 90's 1999 32
Stereophile U.S. Top 40 (+94) Essential Albums 2002 *
The Source U.S. The Source 100 best Hip-Hop Albums of All Time 1998 *
TIME U.S. The All-TIME 100 Albums 2006 *
Vibe U.S. 100 Essential Albums of the 20th Century 1999 *
Vibe U.S. 51 Albums Representing a Generation, a Sound and a Movement 2004 *
Zundfunk Germany The Best Albums of the 90's 2000 16
  • An asterisk (*) designates lists which are unordered.


Information taken from Allmusic.[36]

Performance credits
Technical credits


  1. ^ Cowie, Del F. (February 2008). "A Tribe Called Quest - Verses From the Abstract". Exclaim!. Accessed December 28, 2008.
  2. ^ Rodriguez, Jayson (October 11, 2007). "Lupe Fiasco Vs. A Tribe Called Quest: A 'Fiascogate' Timeline". MTV. Accessed December 28, 2008.
  3. ^ Watrous, Peter (October 23, 1991). "The Pop Life". The New York Times. Accessed November 11, 2008.
  4. ^ Relic, Peter (March 17, 2008). "More Uptown Conversation with Ron Carter". Stop Smiling magazine. Accessed December 29, 2008.
  5. ^ Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest
  6. ^ ya Salaam, Mtume (1995). "The Aesthetics of Rap". African American Review (Indiana State University) 29 (2): 313–314. ISSN 10624783.
  7. ^ a b Heaton, Dave (July 8, 2003). "The Low End TheoryA Tribe Called Quest: ". PopMatters. Accessed June 27, 2009.
  8. ^ Greenwald, Jeff (2002). "Hip-Hop Drumming: The Rhyme May Define, but the Groove Makes You Move". Black Music Research Journal (Center for Black Music Research - Columbia College Chicago) 22 (2): 268. ISSN 02763605.
  9. ^ a b Bush, John. "The Low End Theory - A Tribe Called Quest". AllMusic. Accessed June 27, 2009.
  10. ^ Jones, Chris (September 28, 2007). "The Low End TheoryBBC - Music - Review of A Tribe Called Quest - ". BBC Music. Accessed June 27, 2009.
  11. ^ Christgau, Robert. "CG: A Tribe Called Quest". Accessed June 27, 2009.
  12. ^ Bernard, James (December 6, 1991). " (1991)The Low End Theory". Entertainment Weekly. Accessed June 27, 2009.
  13. ^ Juon, Steve 'Flash' (April 1, 2003). " :: Jive/ZombaThe Low End TheoryA Tribe Called Quest :: ". RapReviews. Accessed June 27, 2009.
  14. ^ Brackett, Nathan; Christian Hoard (2004). The Rolling Stone Album Guide. New York City, New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 823.  
  15. ^ a b Reef (November 1991). "A Tribe Called Quest: The Low End Theory". The Source.
  16. ^ "The Spin Interview". Spin. August 2008. Accessed June 27, 2009. Archived October 10, 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ Derogatis, Jim (September 14, 1991). "The Low End Theory".  
  18. ^ Chinen, Nate (October 17, 2007). "CMJ Music Marathon: Q-Tip Catches the Fever". The New York Times. Accessed December 29, 2008.
  19. ^ Daley, Dan (November 2007). "New York Grooves". EQ. Accessed December 28, 2008.
  20. ^ Price, Emmett George (2006). Hip Hop Culture. ABC-CLIO. p. 296. ISBN 1-85109-867-4.
  21. ^ Wang, Oliver (2003). Classic Material: The Hip-Hop Album Guide. Entertainment, Culture, Writing Press. p. 102. ISBN 1-55022-561-8.
  22. ^ Bogdanov, Vladimir; Woodstra, Chris; Erlewine, Stephen Thomas (2002). All Music Guide to Jazz: The Definitive Guide to Jazz Music. Backbeat Books. p. 1416. ISBN 0-87930-717-X.
  23. ^ "154) The Low End Theory". Rolling Stone (November 1, 2003). Accessed December 29, 2008.
  24. ^ Tyrangiel, Josh (November 13, 2006). "The All-TIME 100 Albums". Time magazine. Accessed October 30, 2008.
  25. ^ "The 1991 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll" (March 3, 1992). Accessed January 15, 2009.
  26. ^ Bush, John. "allmusic ((( A Tribe Called Quest > Biography )))". Allmusic. Accessed January 15, 2009.
  27. ^ "Searchable Database - "The Low End Theory"". Recording Industry Association of America. Accessed October 6, 2009.
  28. ^ "It's really hard to top this album. They made other good records, but they never got to this level again. It is from beginning to end a masterpiece".
  29. ^ Over The Years, The Low End Theory has been a staple in hip hop as classic. The Mix of jazz and rap was unheard of, Low End has been regarded as shaping some of the jazz rap groups of 90's like The Roots and Digable Planets and shaping the sound of Alternative Hip Hop in the 1990's.
  30. ^ "A Tribe Called Quest f/ Brand Nubian "Georgie Porgie" - A Tribe Called Quest f/ Brand Nubian "Georgie Porgie" - 20 Horrible Songs Made By Great Rappers - Complex". Complex. 26 June 2013. Retrieved 26 October 2014. 
  31. ^ Warwick, Neil; Kutner, Jon; Brown, Tony (2004). The Complete Book of the British Charts. Omnibus Press. p. 1122. ISBN 1-84449-058-0.
  32. ^ "allmusic ((( The Low End Theory > Charts & Awards > Billboard Albums )))". Allmusic. Accessed September 2, 2008.
  33. ^ Patricia Romanowski Bashe et al. (1995). The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll. Fireside. p. 1017. ISBN 0-684-81044-1.
  34. ^ "allmusic ((( The Low End Theory > Charts & Awards > Billboard Singles )))". Allmusic. Accessed September 2, 2008.
  35. ^ 100 Best Albums of the Nineties: A Tribe Called Quest, 'The Low End Theory' | Rolling Stone at the Wayback Machine (archived July 12, 2012)
  36. ^ "allmusic ((( The Low End Theory > Credits )))". Allmusic. Accessed December 28, 2008.
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