A Tribe Called Quest’s magnum opus The Low End Theory celebrated its 25th anniversary on September 24. Besides its reverence within the Queens collective’s discography, the 14-track masterpiece easily ranks as one of the greatest rap albums ever created.
Trading with the late great Phife Dawg’s lyrical excellence, and supplementing DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s impeccable scratch techniques, the group’s de facto leader Q-Tip laced the album with his superb production. The supple jazz basslines and highbrow 1970s R&B and funk record sampling, industrial snare drum kicks, bottom-heavy 808 knocks, and an approximate average song tempo of 90 to 95 BPM became a template for the underground Hip Hop subgenre for the ’90s and beyond. But much of the album’s oeuvre still resonates to this day, and traces of its presence are felt in much of today’s rap scene.
To commemorate this classic album, HipHopDX dug deep to detail the connection between songs on The Low End Theory and rap songs from today.
“Really Doe” By Danny Brown f. Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, & Earl Sweatshirt Is The 2016 Version Of “Scenario”
The intensity of the bass drum and competitive nature between the four MCs in the cipher-like setting of “Really Doe” makes you feel like real Hip Hop is far from dead. “Scenario” had five MCs that included Phife, Q-Tip, and Leaders of the New School’s Charlie Brown, Dinco D, and Busta Rhymes that made listeners bounce and dance while gritting their teeth.
“Really Doe” does the same. Danny Brown channels Charlie Brown’s nasal-to-low register vocal style on the track. Although Kendrick Lamar doesn’t roar like Busta Rhymes’ “dungeon dragon” to garner the most attention, his quiet entrance and syncopated cadence steal the scene on the track. Like Busta’s, Kendrick’s verse will inspire the most rewinds as listeners memorize it and follow along.
“Childs Play” By Drake Is “Butter”
Girls, girls, girls. What would a Drake track be without his sentimental nature exposed? Phife Dawg did exactly the same thing to begin his classic solo outing “Butter” — telling his story as a former casanova during his high school days. Also, Phife gives many details in the song about one of the girls being too fake with her appearance. That’s until he claims that he met the female version of himself that “plays him,” leaving him in the end, and that he’d find another soon after to get over the anguish of being dumped.
Drake’s lamentations on “Childs Play” are about his romantic relationship gone wrong due to mutual suspicion over his reputation for bedding prowess (“I knew a couple of your friends way before/How many girls have slept in this bed?/Say a different number than the one that’s in my head”). Drake shows he cares about the high-maintenance girlfriend by taking her to the mall to help get over their frequent tiffs. But only to the extent that he’s able to keep his single mentality in check rather than giving her all his heart.
“30 Hours” By Kanye West Is The “Everything Is Fair” Of 2016
Kanye West, who surprisingly showed up at the Phife Dawg memorial tribute at the Apollo Theater in April, stated to the mourning attendees, “Anything I ever did wrong, blame Tip and Phife cause y’all raised me.” That quote was proliferated on his latest album The Life of Pablo in one of its few ’90s-era boom-bap laden tracks. “30 Hours” is a direct extension of his Tribe influence, and the beat was courtesy of Andre 3000, who has also publicly knelt at the virtual altar of A Tribe Called Quest’s music.
On “Everything Is Fair,” Q-Tip has his own solo version similar to “Butter” detailing his relationship with an ex-girlfriend who was formerly the talk of the town. He explains that he was willing to do anything to keep her during their time together. Kanye sends direct messages to his ex about how he would literally go the distance for her no matter where she was (“You had me driving far enough to switch the time zone/You was the best of all-time at the time, though”). Lastly, both Q-Tip and Kanye share similar stories at the end of these comparable songs about their ex-girlfriends, who had the upperhand in their relationship before parting ways.
“No Problem” By Chance The Rapper Is “Show Business”
On ATCQ’s “Show Business,” the first posse cut on TLET, Brand Nubian’s Lord Jamar and Sadat X, along with the track’s producer Diamond D, join Q-Tip and Phife to discuss the underbelly of being in the rap industry and copyright the Industry Rule #4080. Chance, Weezy, and 2 Chainz make a concerted effort on “No Problem” to showcase their distrust from dealing with industry shenanigans (“If one more label try to stop me, there gon’ be some dreadheaded niggas in the lobby”).
They declare the value of their independence (or aspire to it at the very least) while being mobbed by fans and groupies but still being at the mercy of their record label (Wayne states in his verse “Lord, free the Carter, niggas need the Carter/Sacrificing everything, I feel like Jesus Carter). It’s the pros and cons of being a rap superstar that makes you wonder if they still want to be in the business.
“Alright” by Kendrick Lamar is “Excursions”
Pharrell Williams stated that when produced the beat for “Alright” that he had his “A Tribe Called Quest hat on that day.” But one of his personal assistants is a big fan of trap music that advised him to give the track an updated feel for today’s rap audience. Like “Excursions” had set the tone as the opening track on TLET, it was the Afrocentric feel and Last Poets vocal sample in the chorus and Q-Tip’s lyrics of atonement that gave the listener an alluring feeling of grandeur for what was to come (“Get in the zone of positivity, not negativity, because we have to strive for longevity’). Kendrick Lamar’s anthemic “Alright” gathers rap lovers en masse to embrace each other’s similarities for one common righteous cause and rock to the beat. Black Lives Matter, and love is the message for all on both cuts.
“B-Boy” by Meek Mill f. Big Sean & A$AP Ferg is “Check The Rhime”
Although they weren’t standing on top of a local cleaners shop in an urban neighborhood, Meek Mill, Big Sean, and A$AP Ferg brought the party to the mansion on a mountain steep to showcase their rhyme skills over a bombastic 808-thumping beat. “Check The Rhime” has a brass-tinged beat that carries musical notes throughout New York City’s five boroughs and the world over, with Q-Tip and Phife trading off verses from their rhyme routine detailing their days coming up as youth living along Linden Boulevard in their native Queens. But Milly, Sean, and Fergivicious connect their respective Philadelphia, Detroit, and Harlem, New York origins that make them sound like they’ve been rhyming together for years to infectiously draw you in on their fun together. “B-Boy” and “Check the Rhime” make you snap your neck with a smile like you’re witnessing an old school park jam in full effect.
“Run Up On Ya” by Joey Bada$$ feat. Action Bronson and Elle Varner is “Verses From The Abstract”
On his first official solo album B4da$$, Joey showcased his lyrical gymnastics over beats that many judged as a breath of fresh air to resurrect the art of lyricism in today’s trap music era in Hip Hop. On the album’s sixteenth track, producer Statik Selektah offers the young rapper and Action Bronson a relaxed beat with a jazz bassline that echoes that of Ron Carter’s live bass instrumentation on “Verses From The Abstract.” Q-Tip’s random references to women, fans, beatmaking, his battle rap supremacy and songwriting ability worthy of making you dance is in the same vein as Joey and Action’s flows. Plus, it reflects their underground roots the same way Q-Tip declares that “the Quest is led through the underground.” The chorus of both songs ascends with the serenations of Vinia Mojica and Elle Varner giving it an R&B feel.
“Smuckers” by Tyler, The Creator f. Kanye West and Lil Wayne is “Buggin’ Out”
Tyler, The Creator is the quintessential oddball in rap today. On “Smuckers” from his formidable 2015 solo album Cherry Bomb, he is joined by Kanye West and Lil Wayne to bring their subconscious thoughts to the forefront that is akin to Q-Tip and Phife on “Buggin’ Out.” The production on “Buggin’ Out” has a four-bar frumpy jazz bassline sampled loop accompanied Power of Zeus snare kicks that sound like gavel bangs in court. Tyler’s beat on “Smuckers” is a bit slower than the breakneck speed, yet the track’s psychedelic appeal makes you want to hear more about the day in the life in the mind of these three rap juggernauts.
“The Ends” by Travis $cott feat. Andre 3000 is “Vibes and Stuff”
Travis $cott may seem like a far cry from the aesthetics of A Tribe Called Quest’s music. But his collaboration with Andre 3000 “The Ends” from his chart-topping Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight is the 2016 version of ATCQ’s “Vibes and Stuff.” The reverb and dub-style bass darkens the latter’s production with echoed vocals from Phife and Q-Tip. On “The Ends,” La Flare’s signature autotuned flow that rides the beat bragging about his newfound glory and 3 Stacks’ ATLiens era rhyme style with his incisive wit and typical one-liners (“I gave up on the Bible a long time ago/I hope it ain’t gave up on me, I don’t know). Andre channels Phife’s contribution with a blunt delivery of his own nihilism (“All I do is writer rhymes, eat, drink, shit, and bone). The airy feel of both songs are paralleled, and perfect for driving at midnight. Travis steps in again to bat clean-up on the duet like Q-Tip did with grace on “Vibes and Stuff.”
GTA f. Vince Staples “A Little Bit of This” is “What?”
The eccentric beat and subwoofer-knocking bassline to “What?”sounds raw and campy simultaneously. The same can be said for GTA and Vince Staples’ song “A Little Bit of This.” Vince sounds like a bottomless pit filled with raps with a wide range of material about his lifestyle, including stealing other guy’s girlfriends to playing basketball. The Long Beach Crip brings endless bars, barely taking a breather over an innocuous bass drum that sounds like the Energizer Bunny banging its way through a crowd to make them stop, listen, and watch it pass by. He even admits in his rap that he knows he’s going to contradict himself. Q-Tip’s subject matter seems a bit weird, but that is the attraction per his juxtapositions on “What?” He sets out for the listener to keep all eyes and ears on himself discussing everything from war generals to spiked punch at parties. The main draw on both these songs is that Q-Tip and Vince are timing their flows to a high-paced metronome tick.
Kendrick Lamar feat. Jay Rock “untitled 5” is “Jazz (We Got)”
Just one day after Phife’s untimely death in March this year, Kendrick Lamar led 18,000 concert attendees in a call-response chant of “Phife Dawg” during his tour stop in Sydney, Australia. Kendrick stated to the crowd that he considered to Phife to be highly influential on his career, as well as a trailblazer for many others in rap today. Earlier that same month, K. Dot dropped his chart-topping untitled. unmastered. compilation album that that had 8 tracks of jazz fusion, funk, spoken word, and boom-bap that reflected his SoCalunderground Hip Hop roots. On his track “untitled 5,” the King of the West rhymes with bravado and smooth flow with a brassy jazz ensemble that reflected A Tribe Called Quest’s “Jazz (We Got).” The track’s chorus has a gorgeous melody sung by Anna Wise that is comparable to the sultry tenor sax sampled on the second single from Tribe’s TLET. The quadruple meter time signature consisting of tightened percussion, cymbals, and hi-hats on “untitled 5” is similar to that “Jazz (We Got),” plus the guest appearances of TDE co-horts Jay Rock and Punch rhyming in a laid-back fashion sounds like Phife’s flow. The late great MC detailing how he gives thanks to God while “refusing to come wack” with his friends Ali and Q-Tip is in the same vein as Jay Rock’s “carpe diem” mantra stated on the track.