Producers Speak on the Influence of A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory
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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I remember that album. Oh my goodness. As a producer, it was something I listened to and referenced to. I know a lot of producers other big name producers can relate to what I'm saying. It was a reference point. It was a guide. You heard the sound in the production, it made you go, "Alright, let me go home and make some shit." The production, the songs were so intricate. Nowadays, producers use one sample and use it through the whole song. But Tribe’s beats were a work of art. They were taking different samples and meshing them together and making them coordinate. Then the engineering, the clarity of the engineering on the album that was a well thought out album. Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad were those niggas. It changed music. I remember being in high school when that joint came out. They had definitely stepped the production up from the first album. Whatever engineer they had, Bob Powers, he acoustically murdered that album. Then “Check the Rhime,” that song is never going nowhere. It’s like “Eric B. for President,” one of those ill songs.
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It was the body of work. The samples they chose. Everything was meshed together so perfectly. All of Tribe’s stuff was just, always ahead of its time. But when that record came out, it had so many records on there that were back to back classics. From the artwork, the sequencing of the records, it was timeless man. That album had "Scenario." It was responsible for too much shit. Busta Rhymes! The music was so ahead of its time. There are certain albums you need on your playlist, that’s one of them. I was DJing when that came out and Tribe was so left, but it was down the middle where everybody could relate. The whole creative packaging behind it, it was Tribe.
The way that it stood out back then, was the way it’s standing out now. Now, they call it hipster rap right now. In the age of all the trap music when you have people like Big Sean, back then… If we talking about '91, you had a lot of niggas talking about gold chains. These cats were talking about life. You had so many different extremes. You had what was going on in the West with the gangsta rap, then you had New York with the flashy rap, battle rap. Tribe, was just about life. Just that whole movement with them, De La Soul and Leaders of the New School, they we talking about shit the average kid could feel.
It was dope. A lot of dudes are sampling break beats. Even what Dre was doing on the West Coast, it was a lot of break beat samples going on. Tribe was doing jazz. Tribe, just separated their music. No one was thinking about doing that. It gave them their own sound. It put them in their own lane. It created their own lane. Tribe Called Quest, this is the group that’s responsible for Kanye West to do what he does, or come out how he came out. It’s always that one artist or group that sets a trend when everybody else is going one way. The jazz samples definitely separated them from everybody else.
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My mom bough a six-disc CD changer for me for Christmas in the winter of 1991. And she bought me six CDs. One of the six CDs was Low End Theory—those were my first six CDs I ever had, and one of those CDs was Low End Theory. I played it every morning going to school. Every morning. That was like the soundtrack to my winter of '91, spring of '92. That was my personal soundtrack. It's safe to say, for me, as well as Phonte, as well as Slum Village, Mos Def, Kweli, The Roots, Pharrell, you name it, OutKast, we could go on forever to say if you you look at the A Tribe Called Quest family tree, they got a lot of offspring. They have a ton of offspring of people that they have affected and that they have [helped] form and shape the sound and lives and careers. Pharrell said it in the [Tribe] documentary: You know, I loved hip-hop. I loved hip-hop music. But Tribe was one of the first groups, if not the first group, that made you say, you feel like you are actually a part of it. And that's what Tribe was, man. Tribe, to me, is my favorite hip-hop group of all-time. Period. No holds barred. Hands down. Hats off to them dudes. They changed my life and I love 'em all. They deserve everything they get.