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Music / The Low End Theory

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"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. Phife has got a weird midget-DMC energy. And as much as I love Q-Tip, nobody's bigger than the group. He and Phife together are just incredible."
Chris Rock, who placed The Low End Theory on nr. 9 in his personal list of the best 25 Hip-Hop albums, published by Rolling Stone in 2004.

The Low End Theory is the second album by A Tribe Called Quest, released in 1991. Critically acclaimed upon release, it went on to be considered a groundbreaking release in the then-burgeoning styles of Jazz Rap and Alternative Hip Hop.

Producers Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad employed a minimalist style to their beats on the album, 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 Tribe’s most well-known songs.

In 1992, several tracks from the album were remixed, and compiled into the Remix Album Revised Quest For The Seasoned Traveler, which also featured the remixes from their 1991 Europe and Asia-exclusive remix EP People's Instictive Remixes, and a couple B-sides.


  1. "Excursions" (3:53)
  2. "Buggin' Out" (3:38)
  3. "Rap Promoter" (2:13)
  4. "Butter" (3:39)
  5. "Verses from the Abstract" (3:59)
  6. "Show Business" (3:53)
  7. "Vibes and Stuff" (4:18)
  8. "The Infamous Date Rape" (2:54)
  9. "Check the Rhime" (3:36)
  10. "Everything Is Fair" (2:58)
  11. "Jazz (We've Got)" (4:09)
  12. "Skypager" (2:13)
  13. "What?" (2:29)
  14. "Scenario" (4:10)

Tropes from the Abstract:

  • Accentuate the Negative: Subverted with these two examples:
    • "Excursions"
    Get in the zone of positivity, not negativity
    Cause we gotta strive for longevity
    • "Verses From The Abstract"
    The world is kinda cold and the rhythm is my blanket
    Wrap yourself up in it, if you love it, then you'll thank it
  • Accidental Misnaming: Discussed in "Butter", where the narrator, named Malik is called Phife.
    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
  • Album Title Drop: "Jazz We've Got"
    But the Low End's Theory's here, it's time to wreck shop
    I got Tip and Shah, so whom shall I fear?
    Stop look and listen, but please don't stare
    So jet to the store, and buy the LP
    On Jive/RCA, cassettes and CD's
    Produced and arranged by the four-man crew
    And oh shit, Skeff Anselm, he gets props too
  • As the Good Book Says...:
    • "Excursions" makes reference to the Islamic practice of shaking hands with the right hand, not the left one.
    Stick out the left, then I'll ask for the other hand
    That's the right hand, black man
    • "The Infamous Date Rape" compares a girl’s 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.
    All of a sudden, her sugarwalls tumble down like Jericho
    She's hotter than Meshach, Shadrach and Abendego
  • 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 clock
    Your 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 mind
    The 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 fact
    Percentile rate of date rape is fat
    This is all due to the reason of the skeezin
    You got the right pickin but you're in the wrong season
    If you're in the wrong season, that means you gotta break
    Especially if a squaw tries to cry out rape
    You be all vexed cuz she got it goin on
    You don't wanna fight cuz you know that you're wrong
    So instead you rest your head on the arm of the couch
    Envision 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 hiphop
    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
  • Hurricane of Puns: "Buggin' Out" puns on the word "decipher".
    You wanna diss the Phifer, but you still don't know the half
  • Jazz Rap: The Trope Codifier of the genre, and still widely considered the gold standard of jazz rap among fans and critics alike.
  • 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:
    • "Excursions"
    If you got the money, Quest is for the booking
    • "Verses From The Abstract"
    My motto in the 90's is: "Be happy making bucks
  • The Migration: "Excursions"
    If it moves your booty, then shake, shake it baby
    All 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.
  • 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 verbs
    So fuck what you heard
    The born cipher cipher master makes me think much faster
  • One-Word Title: "Excursions", "Butter", "Skypager", "What?", "Scenario".
  • Posthumous Collaboration: A tragic example. Up-and-coming emcee Kid Hood, who was featured on the remix of "Scenario", was murdered a mere two days after recording his verse for the remix. Tribe and the LONS dedicated the remix to his memory, and made his verse the opener.
    Busta Rhymes: ...Whereas there are seven MCs,
    Six which are in physical form, one which is in spiritual essence.
    And he goes by the name of, uh... HOOD!
  • Precision F-Strike: "Buggin' Out"
    And occasionally I curse to get my point across
  • Product Placement:
    • "Excursions"
    If you botch up, what's in that...
    A pair of Nikes size ten-and-a-half
    • "Buggin' Out"
    Drink a lot of soda, so they call me Dr. Pepper
    (...) once again a case of your feet in my Nike's
    • "Rap Promoter"
    So take your roly poly fat promoter to the Chemical Bank, and get my cash
    I want chicken and orange juice, that's what's on my rider
    And my occasional potato by Ore-Ida
    • "Verses From The Abstract"
    Use the Coast in the morning to avoid the funky odor
    • "Check the Rhime"
    That we used to make spiffy like Mr. Clean?
    (...)I'm like an energizer cause, you see, I last long
  • "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
    • "Skypager"
    The batteries I use are called Duracell
    • "What?"
    What's United Parcels, without the deliverer?
    • "Scenario"
    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".
  • Sampling:
    • "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 & the Gang.
  • Shout-Out:
    • "Excursions"
    Way that Bobby Brown is just amping like Michael
    (...) The abstract poet, prominent like Shakespeare or Edgar Allan Poe or Langston Hughes.
    • "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.
    Got more rhymes than the Winans got family
    No 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
    • "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.
    (...) 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
    • "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, "Sensitivity" by Ralph Tresvant and The Parker Brothers' board games.
    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' Neal
    Is this really love, then again how would I know
    After all this time trying to be a Super Ho
    These 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 fly
    You get an "E" for effort, and "T" for nice try note 
    But I can't stand no bionic lady
    Trying hard to look fly, but you, you're looking dumber
    If I wanted someone like you I would've swung with Jaime Sommers
    (...) Or check Ralph Tresvant, for sensitivity
    Cause I'm not the one, I got more game than Parker Brothers note 
    • "Verses From The Abstract" provides a shout-out to jazz musician Bobby Byrd
    Play like Bobby Byrd on your back and you're coming to the house of the jazz, of the funk of the rhythm
    • "Show Business" references Public Enemy's "Welcome To The Terror Dome".
    Like Chuck D. I got so much trouble on my mind
    • "Vibes And Stuff"
    Go ahead and try, that's a different story
    Similar 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 
    • (...)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
    Hit the road, Jack, and all of that
    Runnin' mad games as if your name was Scott Skiles
    You listen to After 7, break fool after 10
    Or better yet Magic or even Karl Malone
    (...) Now tell me what the (fuck) are you supposed to do?
    • "Check the Rhime" references baseball player Lou Brock and provides a reference to MC Hammer, who had a Pepsi Commercial where he used the word "proper" in 1991. Though Q-Tip insisted the line wasn't a diss, Hammer took it personally, and later recorded several disses towards the Tribe.
    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
    We have no time to wallow in the mire
    (...)Try to make hits, like Kid Capri makes tapes
    Collect my banks, listen to Shabba Ranks.
    Back and forth, just like a Cameo song
    • "Skypager" references Donald Trump.
    Beepers goin' off like Don Trump gets checks
    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 Marley
    From radio, to the video, to Arsenio
    True blue, Scooby doo, whoopie doo
    Eating Ital Stew, like the one Peter Tosh
    • Busta Rhymes recycled the line "Uh Uh Uh/All over the track, man/ As I come back" from "Scenario" this album in the chorus of his single "As I Come Back" (2001). Parts of the song are sampled and lyrically referenced in "Who's That? Broooown!" by Das Racist.
  • 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?
    • "Rap Promoter"
    It's the '90s, time to makes moves
    Not the '80s, do away witcha womb
    • "Verses From The Abstract"
    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
    • "Show Business"
    Seems in '91 everybody wants a rhyme
    • "Jazz We've Got"
    It's 1991 and I refuse to come wack