A Look Back at A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario”
In the spring of 1991, two of the biggest groups in hip-hop at the time, A Tribe Called Quest and Leaders of the New School, were sequestered in New York City’s Battery Studios. The bond between Tribe and Leaders had been tight since the late 1980s when they met at a concert, but on this night, the tension in the room was heavy. All MCs in both respective groups (including Tribe’s often forgotten quiet member Jarobi) were in separate corners, heads down, pen on paper, oblivious to everything and everyone except for the beat that played continuously on loop in the room. The thump of the track that would eventually become the soundscape for “Scenario” was so thunderous that it only fueled the competitive spirit among the artists.
By the end of the night, everyone had written verses and laid vocals but it wouldn’t be the end of that song. “Scenario” was undoubtedly a hit in the making that Tribe had in their chamber for their career-turning effort, The Low End Theory. However, as Tribe continued to record the rest of the LP, word of mouth about “Scenario” began to circulate to their peers, and Tribe’s friends wanted in on the track, but Tip decided to go with plan A. That summer, Tribe and Leaders went back in the lab and revised their verses.
This time Tip had an epiphany. Busta Rhymes’ new verse was so ferocious, that Tip felt Bus needed his own intro the song. So he penned a few bars for Busta to recite before Tip would come back in and throw an alley to his homie; “I heard you rushed and rush then attack…” the exchange became legendary. It was no denying that Busta should close the song.
“Scenario,” Low End’s third single, immediately became one of the DJs’ favorites to spin in clubs and in the radio and the group’s label, Jive, were anxious to invest big bucks into a video. There was however, heavy apprehension within Tribe to go with the label’s decision of choosing director Jim Swaffield to helm the project because he had little experience working with rappers. Tribe remained extremely nervous about working with Swaffield all the way up until they saw the final version of the video. No one understood the green screen or the director’s special effects vision.
You could never tell by watching the video. The set, which was in New York City, was extremely jovial and filled with high energy from rhyme ciphers on the side to the majority of men making advances to the model in the video who has the highlighted costume change during Dinco D’s verse. In the end, the consensus was that that Q-Tip would win over her affections. Although you only see guests such Spike Lee, Fab Five Freddy, De La Soul and Redman in the actual video, plenty more hip-hop luminaries came down to support Tribe.
Ironically, although the video and song would eventually turn into a catapulting vehicle for Leaders’ Busta Rhymes, many on the set felt that Charlie Brown had just as big as presence as Bus and kept regaling about Brown’s performance in the video and his signature “Broooowwwwwwn” line on the record. Leaders broke up shortly after the track’s release and Bus lived off guest appearances for three years before dropping his solo LP.
Low End Theory was released on September, 24 1991 and instantly became dubbed a classic. It’s grown to be an uber-classic over the past two decades and has been dubbed one of the greatest musical accomplishments ever by the likes of magazines such as Rolling Stone and Spin. The opus transformed Tribe’s image from oddball hip-hop flower children to universally embraced rap world icons.
“’91, that was a good time in hip-hop,” Tip told MTV News in 1998. “ That’s when we really saw hip-hop’s promise. There was a lot of good stuff going on artistically, ‘89 to like’ 92. It was that time when hip-hop really blossomed. You had N.W.A., putting their joint out. Ice Cube put out Amerikkka’s Most Wanted. P.E. put out their joint. You had Digital Underground, the Geto Boys. When we came out with our piece, everybody was listening to each other. I remember seeing Dr. Dre’s reaction when we was feeling them and they was feeling us…. It really became a phenomenon and we were blessed to be there.” —Shaheem Reid