The Low End Theory is the second album by A Tribe Called Quest, released in 1991. The record recieved rave reviews upon release, and in the time since has become regarded as an absolutely essential album of the 1990s, and one of the greatest Hip-Hop records, period. Time Magazine included it in its 2006 Time All Time 100 Albums list and Chris Rock in his list of Top 25 Hip-Hop albums. The album was listed at nr. #153 in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time
The album was groundbreaking in the then-burgeoning style of Jazz Rap. Producers Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad employed a minimalist style to their beats, mixing laid-back jazz samples with crisp bass and drum breaks, leaving plenty of room for Q-Tip and fellow MC Phife Dawg to lyrically trade nuggets of wisdom, humor, and social commentary track after track.
The singles "Check the Rhime", "Jazz (We've Got)" and "Scenario" are some of the Tribes most well-known songs, as well as some of the most legendary rap songs in general.
- "Excursions" (3:53)
- "Buggin' Out" (3:38)
- "Rap Promoter" (2:13)
- "Butter" (3:39)
- "Verses from the Abstract" (3:59)
- "Show Business" (3:53)
- "Vibes and Stuff" (4:18)
- "The Infamous Date Rape" (2:54)
- "Check the Rhime" (3:36)
- "Everything Is Fair" (2:58)
- "Jazz (We've Got)" (4:09)
- "Skypager" (2:13)
- "What?" (2:29)
- "Scenario" (4:10)
Tropes From The Abstract
- Accentuate the Negative: Subverted with these two examples:
Get in the zone of positivity, not negativityCause we gotta strive for longevity
The world is kinda cold and the rhythm is my blanketWrap yourself up in it, if you love it, then you'll thank it
- "Verses From The Abstract"
- Album Title Drop: "Jazz We've Got"But the Low End's Theory's here, it's time to wreck shopI got Tip and Shah, so whom shall I fear?Stop look and listen, but please don't stareSo jet to the store, and buy the LPOn Jive/RCA, cassettes and CD'sProduced and arranged by the four-man crewAnd oh shit, Skeff Anselm, he gets props too
- As the Good Book Says...:
Stick out the left, then I'll ask for the other handThat's the right hand, black man
- "Excursions" makes reference to the Islamic practice of shaking hands with the right hand, not the left one.
All of a sudden, her sugarwalls tumble down like JerichoShe's hotter than Meshach, Shadrach and Abendego
- "The Infamous Date Rape" compares a girls resistance to the fall of the wall of Jericho and her readiness to three Jews whom were thrown in a fiery furnace due to their religious practices.
- Badass Boast: Seeing this is a rap song, it's all over the album. The best line occurs during "Verses Of The Abstract"If you want to battle, I suggest you check your clockYour demise is coming up and I want your man to watch
- Break Up Song: "Butter"But little did I know she was playing with my mindThe only thing I learned is good girls are hard to find
- Celebrity Cameo: The music video of "Scenario" has cameo appearances by Spike Lee, De La Soul, Brand Nubian, Fab 5 Freddy and Redman.
- Continuity Nod: In "Excursions" and "Buggin' Out" Phife references Nike's twice. In "Check the Rhime" Phife Dawg raps "I slayed that body in El Segundo, then push along", a reference to "I Left My Wallet In El Segundo" and "Push Along" from their first album.
- Date Rape: Criticized in "The Infamous Date Rape".Listen to the rhyme, it's a black date factPercentile rate of date rape is fatThis is all due to the reason of the skeezinYou got the right pickin but you're in the wrong seasonIf you're in the wrong season, that means you gotta breakEspecially if a squaw tries to cry out rapeYou be all vexed cuz she got it goin onYou don't wanna fight cuz you know that you're wrongSo instead you rest your head on the arm of the couchEnvision in your head of a great sex bout
- Design Student's Orgasm: The album cover, which shows a stylized black woman painted green and red.
- Heavy Meta: "Excursions"You kind find the Abstract listening to hiphopMy pops used to say, it reminded him of bebopI said: "Well, daddy, don't you know that things go in cycles
- Hurricane of Puns: "Buggin' Out" puns on the word "decipher".You wanna diss the Phifer, but you still don't know the half
- List Song:
- In "Butter" Phife lists several girls by name he used to be with.
- "What?" asks several questions about "what is ... without ...?"
- Lyric Swap: In "Check the Rhyme" the first two lines of each verse are the same (albeit with Q-tip rapping the first and Phife the second) but afterwords the lyrics are different.
- Money Song:
If you got the money, Quest is for the booking
My motto in the 90's is: "Be happy making bucks
- "Verses From The Abstract"
- The Migration: "Excursions"If it moves your booty, then shake, shake it babyAll the way to Africa, aka "The Motherland"
- Misogyny Song: "Butter", where the band boasts about their sex life, admits they made mistakes themselves, but also takes the time to diss certain women back.
- Music Is Politics: "Show Business", a song aimed at the rap industry.
- My Name Is Not Durwood: "Butter"I remember when girls were goodie two-shoes, but now they turning freaks''All of a sudden ("We love you, Phife")Ease off, ho', my name's Malik
- Ode to Intoxication: "Show Business" praises marihuana. The Supreme Alphabet's term "cipher master" is a synonym for "boom", as in "weed".Although I hit a pound of herbs, I'm still nice with the verbsSo fuck what you heardThe born cipher cipher master makes me think much faster
- One-Word Title: "Excursions", "Butter", "Skypager", "What?", "Scenario".
- Precision F-Strike: "Buggin' Out"And occasionally I curse to get my point across
- Product Placement:
If you botch up, what's in that...A pair of Nikes size ten-and-a-half
Drink a lot of soda, so they call me Dr. Pepper(...) once again a case of your feet in my Nike's
- "Buggin' Out"
So take your roly poly fat promoter to the Chemical Bank, and get my cashI want chicken and orange juice, that's what's on my riderAnd my occasional potato by Ore-Ida
- "Rap Promoter"
Use the Coast in the morning to avoid the funky odor
- "Verses From The Abstract"
That we used to make spiffy like Mr. Clean?(...)I'm like an energizer cause, you see, I last long
- "Check the Rhime"
- "Everything Is Fair"She just got a Benz, she rides with her friends(...) She's not a big kahuna
- "Jazz We've Got"Just like the Ringling Brothers, I'll daze and astound(...)Or your Honda or your Beemer or your Legend or your Benz
The batteries I use are called Duracell
What's United Parcels, without the deliverer?
Sleep if you want, Ny Quil will help you get your Z's, troop
- Questioning Title?: "What?"
- The Reason You Suck Speech: "Butter" is basically a Take That! aimed at a certain type of girls.
- Repurposed Pop Song: In one of the few examples of executive meddling where the studio interference was for the better the blatantly homophobic song "Georgie Porgie", where the band sang about someone who came out of the closet and whom they lost respect for, was rejected by their label. As a result the band changed the lyrics and it became the song "Show Business" instead. Interestingly enough a Take That! aimed at... the music industry. Hmm...
- Rooftop Concert: The band performs on top of a roof in the music video of "Check the Rhime".
- "Excursions" samples "Time" from This Is Madness (1971) and "Tribute to Obabi" by The Last Poets, "The Soil I Tilled for You" by Shades of Brown and "A Chant For Bu" by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.
- "Buggin' Out" contains samples by Jack DeJohnette's "Minya's the Mooch", Lonnie Liston Smith's "Spinning Wheel" and Michal Urbaniak's "Ekim".
- "Rap Promoter" has samples lifted from "Long Way Down" by Eric Mercury, "Keep On Doin' It" by New Birth and "Stand" from Stand! by Sly and the Family Stone.
- "Butter" has samples from "Turned On To You" by Eighties Ladies, "I Live Everything About You" by Chuck Jackson, "Gentle Smiles" by Gary Bartz and "Young and Fine" by Weather Report.
- "Verses from the Abstract" has samples from "Star of the Story" by Heatwave and "Upon This Rock" by Joe Farrell.
- "Show Business samples "Funky President" by James Brown, "Wicky-Wacky" by The Fatback Band, "Midnight Cowboy by Martin Denny and the song of the same title by Ferrante & Teicher, "Mandamentos Black" by Gerson King Combo and "Rock Steady" by Aretha Franklin.
- "Vibes and Stuff" samples "Down Here on the Ground" by Grant Green.
- "The Infamous Date Rape" samples "Is It Him or Me?" by Jackie Jackson, "The Steam Drill" by Cannonball Adderley and "North Carolina" by Les McCann.
- "Check the Rhime" has a truckload of samples, from "Love Your Life" by The Average White Band, "Baby, This Love I Have" by Minnie Riperton, "Hydra" by Grover Washington, Jr., "Fly Like An Eagle by Steve Miller Band, "Nobody Beats the Biz by Biz Markie, "I'm Just A Rock 'N' Roller" by Dalton and Dubarri and "Hihache" by Lafayette Afro Rock Band.
- "Everything Is Fair" lends it sound from "Hot Pants" by Bobby Byrd, "Let's Take It To The People" from Funkadelic's album Tales Of Kidd Funkadelic, "Ain't No Sunshine" in the version of Harlem Underground Band and the one by Willis Jackson.
- "Jazz (We've Got)" samples "Don't Change Your Love" by Five Stairsteps, "Sing a Simple Song" from Stand! by Sly and the Family Stone, "Red Clay" by Freddie Hubbard, "Green Dolphin Street" by Lucky Thompson and "Long Red" by Mountain.
- "Skypager" has a sample from "17 West" by Eric Dolphy and "Advice" by Sly and the Family Stone.
- "What?" samples "Uncle Wilie's Dream" by Paul Humphrey and the Cool Aid Chemists.
- "Scenario" samples "So What?" from Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, "Blind Alley" by the Emotions, "Ecstasy" by The Ohio Players, "Oblighetto" by Jack McDuff, "Little Miss Lover" from Axis: Bold as Love (1967) by Jimi Hendrix and "Give It Up", "Funky Granny" and "Soul Vibrations" by Kool And The Gang.
Got more rhymes than the Winans got familyNo need to sweat Arsenio to gain some type of fame(...) I never half step cause I'm not a half stepper(...) You ain't no Special Ed, so won't you seckle with the mission
- "Buggin' Out" namedrops the gospel group the Winans Family, Arsenio Hall, "Ain't No Half Steppin'" by Big Daddy Kane, "Taxing" and "The Mission" by rapper Special Ed.
(...) Used to watch the show on Channel 4 called Riptide''(...)So what? You got a crew? I got one too, they're called the Brooklyn Zoo.Diggy dang diggy dang gi-dang gi-dang diggy diggy
- "Rap Promoter" namedrops the detective series Riptide and the rap group Brooklyn Zoo, of whom Tip was a member. The final scatting lines are a reference to "Making Cash Money" by Busy Bee.
Cause I thought it was me like Bell Biv Devoe(...) I feel like Heavy D. I need somebody for me(...) And I'm all true man, like Alexander O' NealIs this really love, then again how would I knowAfter all this time trying to be a Super HoThese girls, don't know me from jack, yet I feel like The Mack.(...) And take the contact from your eye, you're far from looking flyYou get an "E" for effort, and "T" for nice try noteBut I can't stand no bionic ladyTrying hard to look fly, but you, you're looking dumberIf I wanted someone like you I would've swung with Jaime Sommers(...) Or check Ralph Tresvant, for sensitivityCause I'm not the one, I got more game than Parker Brothers note
- "Butter" references "I Thought It Was Me", a rap song by Bell Biv Devoe. It also namedrops "Somebody For Me" by Heavy D., "I'm All True Man" by Alexander O' Neal, "Super Ho" by KRS-One, the blaxploitation classic The Mack, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and The Bionic Woman, "Sensitivy" by Ralph Tresvant and The Parker Brothers' board games.
Play like Bobby Byrd on your back and you're coming to the house of the jazz, of the funk of the rhythm
- "Verses From The Abstract" provides a shout-out to jazz musician Bobby Byrd
Like Chuck D. I got so much trouble on my mind
- "Show Business" references Public Enemy's "Welcome To The Terror Dome".
Go ahead and try, that's a different storySimilar to Grimm, I could tell a better one(...) Giving nuff respects to Afrika Bambaataa(...)Bob, you'll get your dough, Mase is my witness note
- "Vibes And Stuff"
Hit the road, Jack, and all of thatRunnin' mad games as if your name was Scott SkilesYou listen to After 7, break fool after 10Or better yet Magic or even Karl Malone(...) Now tell me what the (fuck) are you supposed to do?
- (...)Hair is crazy, curly, flip like Mr. Furley
- (...)I get more props than Arsenio
- Yo, I'm out like Buster Douglas note I say "Peace to MC Trouble" note
- "The Infamous Date Rape" references Ray Charles' "Hit the Road, Jack", basketball players Scott Skiles, "Magic" Johnson and Karl Malone, the group After 7, "Love's Gonna Getcha" by Boogie Down Productions
Got the scrawny legs, but I move just like Lou Brock(...)Proper. What you say, Hammer? Proper.Rap is not pop, if you call it that then stop
- "Check the Rhime" references baseball player Lou Brock and provides a Take That! to MC Hammer, who had a Pepsi Commercial where he used the word "proper" in 1991.
We have no time to wallow in the mire(...)Try to make hits, like Kid Capri makes tapesCollect my banks, listen to Shabba Ranks.Back and forth, just like a Cameo song
- "Jazz We've Got" references The Doors' "Light My Fire" from The Doors, Kid Capri, Shabba Ranks, Cameo's "Back And Forth". The final verses also tell Ramelle, Ladies First (Queen Latifah), The Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, Brand Nubian, Leaders of the New School, Large Professor and Pete Rock "not to stop".
Beepers goin' off like Don Trump gets checks
- "Skypager" references Donald Trump.
Heyo, Bo knows this ("What?"), and Bo knows that ("What?")But we've been known to do the impossible like Broadway Joe, so(...)The word is the herb and I'm deep like Bob MarleyFrom radio, to the video, to ArsenioTrue blue, Scooby doo, whoopie dooEating Ital Stew, like the one Peter Tosh
- "What?" namedrops Arsenio Hall, Daniel-San, Doug E. Doug, Duke Ellington, Alex Haley's Roots, Clark Kent, Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton and Shirley Temple ("what's a lollipop without the good ship?").
- "Scenario" namedrops athelete Bo Jackson's advertising campaigns for Nike ("Bo Knows") and Joe Namath's rap album "On Broadway". It also mentions Bob Marley, Arsenio Hall (for the fourth time on this album) and Scooby-Doo, Peter Tosh
- Shout-Out to Shakespeare:The Abstract poet, prominent like Shakespeare
- Special Guest: Busta Rhymes, Charlie Brown and Dinco D. (Leaders of the New School) can be heard on "Scenario".
- Stock Sound Effects: "Skypager" makes use of a skypager message.
- Stop and Go: "What?" has a brief interruption of four seconds in the middle of the song.Chill for a minute, Doug E. Fresh said silence
- Take That!: "Show Business", aimed at the rap industry.
- "Jazz (We've Got)" took a jab at the New Jack Swing sub-genre. New Jack rap group Wreckx-N-Effect, who also had a song titled after the sub-genre, took the diss personally and jumped Q-Tip outside of a New York nightclub, giving him a nasty eye injury in the process.note Tip had to resort to wearing a gimp mask during the filming of the "Hot Sex" music video to cover the bruising.
- Time Marches On: Seriously, 1990s references are everywhere! Did they really expect this decade would never end?
It's the '90s, time to makes movesNot the '80s, do away witcha womb
- "Rap Promoter"
My motto in the '90's is: "Be happy making bucks(...) Some women in the '90s want more than satisfaction(...) And check it out, going into the '91 decade, up in until the 2000 decade
- "Verses From The Abstract"
Seems in '91 everybody wants a rhyme
- "Show Business"
It's 1991 and I refuse to come wack
- "Jazz We've Got"