From Q-Tip’s opening lines, “back in the day when I was a teenager,” over a funky bassline on “Excursions,” to Busta Rhymes’ rambunctious roar in “Scenario,” A Tribe Called Quest’s Low End Theory was excellence exemplified. Note for note, rhyme for rhyme and concept for concept, Tip, Phife Dawg and Ali Shaheed Muhammed released a groundbreaking opus 20 years ago today September 24).
In a time where hip-hop was at one its most diverse points, with groups ranging from N.W.A to Nice and Smooth, Tribe redefined themselves from sandal-wearing hipsters, to down to earth around the way kids who resonated with everywhere. The LP was a coming out party for Phife, who stepped up to the mic with laid back ferocity and also introduced Busta as possibly the best go-to cameo guy in history. Meanwhile, Tip stepped up his penetrating poetry while he and Ali Shaheed Muhammad fused jazz with hip-hop and set blueprints for MCs such as Kanye West.
XXL spoke to a few producers about Tribe’s timeless concoction.—Shaheem Reid with additional reporting by Adam Fleischer
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