The Low End Theory

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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.
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."


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]

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.[6]


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 are credited with showcasing how rap was done before commercial success influenced many rappers' creativity.[7] The album's minimalist sound is "stripped to the essentials: vocals, drums, and bass."[8] The bass drum and vocals emphasize the downbeat on every track.[9] 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[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[10]
Christgau's Consumer Guide (3-star Honorable Mention)[11]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 4/5 stars[12]
Entertainment Weekly B[13]
The Great Rock Discography 7/10[14]
MusicHound R&B 5/5[15]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 5/5 stars[16]
The Source 5/5[17]
Spin 5/5 stars[18]
Spin Alternative Record Guide 10/10[19]

The Low End Theory helped shape alternative hip hop in the 1990s.[20][21] It established the musical, cultural, and historical link between hip hop and jazz.[22] The album was considered an instant classic with a 5 mics rating in The Source. Reviewer Reef lauded their "progressive sound" and "streetwise edge".[17] 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."[23] The group's "mellow innovations" helped jazz rap gain significant exposure from 1992 to 1993.[24] 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."[25]

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."[26]The Low End Theory was voted at number thirty-two in The Village Voice's 1991 Pazz & Jop critics poll.[27] AllMusic writer John Bush, who declared it "the most consistent and flowing hip-hop album ever recorded",[28] summed up the record as "an unqualified success, the perfect marriage of intelligent, flowing raps to nuanced, groove-centered productions."[10] On February 1, 1995, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certified the album platinum. In 2005, comedian Chris Rock ranked it ninth on his Top 25 Hip-Hop Albums.[29] Electronica artist James Lavelle cited The Low End Theory as one of his favorite albums.[30]

In a less enthusiastic review, James Bernard from Entertainment Weekly was critical of the music's intellectual brand of hip hop, finding "little passion at the core" and calling it "the greatest hip-hop album that will never quicken my pulse".[13] Village Voice critic Robert Christgau was also reserved in his praise, believing the group delivered "goofball rhymes" from a "well-meaning middle class" perspective while writing that "like so many 'beats,' Low End Theory's Ron Carter bass was really a glorified sound effect—what excited its admirers wasn't its thrust, or even the thrill of the sound itself, so much as the classiness it signified." He named "Check the Rhime" and "Buggin' Out" as highlights while giving the album a three-star honorable mention, indicating "an enjoyable effort consumers attuned to its overriding aesthetic or individual vision may well treasure".[11]

The Australian hip hop group Hilltop Hoods sampled the words "Back in the days when I was a teenager" from "Excursions" in their song "Circuit Breaker", from that group's 2006 album The Hard Road.

Track listing[edit]

  • All songs produced by A Tribe Called Quest, except tracks 6 and 10 produced by Skeff Anselm and co-produced by A Tribe Called Quest.[31]
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Excursions" Jonathan Davis 3:55
2. "Buggin' Out" Davis, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Malik Taylor 3:37
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 3:37
10. "Everything Is Fair" Anselm, Davis, Muhammad, Taylor 2:58
11. "Jazz (We've Got)" Davis, Muhammad, Taylor 4:10
12. "Skypager" Davis, Muhammad, Taylor 2:12
13. "What?" Davis 2:29
14. "Scenario" (featuring Leaders of the New School) Davis, Bryan Higgins, James Jackson, Muhammad, Trevor Smith, Taylor 4:10



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 [1] 2005 9
Rolling Stone U.S. 100 Best Albums of the 90s[32] 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 is taken from Allmusic.[33]

Performance credits
Technical credits


Chart (1991) Peak
UK Albums (OCC)[34] 58
US Billboard 200[35] 45
US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums (Billboard)[36] 13


Region Certification Certified units/Sales
United States (RIAA)[37] Platinum 1,000,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone


  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. ^ "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. 
  7. ^ ya Salaam, Mtume (1995). "The Aesthetics of Rap". African American Review (Indiana State University) 29 (2): 313–314. ISSN 1062-4783.
  8. ^ Heaton, Dave (July 8, 2003). "A Tribe Called Quest: The Low End Theory". PopMatters. Retrieved June 27, 2009. 
  9. ^ 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 0276-3605.
  10. ^ a b Bush, John. "The Low End Theory – A Tribe Called Quest". AllMusic. Retrieved November 14, 2015. 
  11. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (2000). Christgau's Consumer Guide: Albums of the '90s. Macmillan. pp. xvi, 314. ISBN 0-312-24560-2. 
  12. ^ Larkin, Colin (2011). "A Tribe Called Quest". Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-85712-595-8. 
  13. ^ a b Bernard, James (December 6, 1991). "The Low End Theory". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved November 14, 2015. 
  14. ^ Strong, Martin C. (2004). "A Tribe Called Quest". The Great Rock Discography (7th ed.). Canongate U.S. ISBN 1-84195-615-5. 
  15. ^ Graff, Gary; du Lac, Josh Freedom; McFarlin, Jim, eds. (1998). "A Tribe Called Quest". MusicHound R&B: The Essential Album Guide. Visible Ink Press. ISBN 1-57859-026-4. 
  16. ^ Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian, eds. (2004). "A Tribe Called Quest". The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. p. 822. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8. 
  17. ^ a b Reef (November 1991). "A Tribe Called Quest: The Low End Theory". The Source (26). Retrieved November 14, 2015. 
  18. ^ Golianopoulos, Thomas (August 2008). "Discography: Q-Tip". Spin. 24 (8): 92. Retrieved November 14, 2015. 
  19. ^ Weisbard, Eric; Marks, Craig, eds. (1995). "A Tribe Called Quest". Spin Alternative Record Guide. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 0-679-75574-8. 
  20. ^ Chinen, Nate (October 17, 2007). "CMJ Music Marathon: Q-Tip Catches the Fever". The New York Times. Accessed December 29, 2008.
  21. ^ Daley, Dan (November 2007). "New York Grooves". EQ. Accessed December 28, 2008.
  22. ^ Price, Emmett George (2006). Hip Hop Culture. ABC-CLIO. p. 296. ISBN 1-85109-867-4.
  23. ^ Wang, Oliver (2003). Classic Material: The Hip-Hop Album Guide. Entertainment, Culture, Writing Press. p. 102. ISBN 1-55022-561-8.
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ "154) The Low End Theory". Rolling Stone (November 1, 2003). Accessed December 29, 2008.
  26. ^ Tyrangiel, Josh (November 13, 2006). "The All-TIME 100 Albums". Time magazine. Accessed October 30, 2008.
  27. ^ "The 1991 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll" (March 3, 1992). Accessed January 15, 2009.
  28. ^ Bush, John. "allmusic ((( A Tribe Called Quest > Biography )))". Allmusic. Accessed January 15, 2009.
  29. ^ "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".
  30. ^ 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.
  31. ^ A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory Discogs. Accessed on January 1, 2017.
  32. ^ 100 Best Albums of the Nineties: A Tribe Called Quest, 'The Low End Theory' | Rolling Stone at the Wayback Machine (archived July 12, 2012)
  33. ^ "allmusic ((( The Low End Theory > Credits )))". Allmusic. Accessed December 28, 2008.
  34. ^ "A Tribe Called Quest | Artist | Official Charts". UK Albums Chart Retrieved November 4, 2016.
  35. ^ "A Tribe Called Quest – Chart history" Billboard 200 for A Tribe Called Quest. Retrieved November 4, 2016.
  36. ^ "A Tribe Called Quest – Chart history" Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums for A Tribe Called Quest. Retrieved November 4, 2016.
  37. ^ "American album certifications – A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory". Recording Industry Association of America.  If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH