The Low End Theory
Jive Records, 1991
REVIEW BY: Shane M. Liebler
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/06/2006
If The Chronic personified the dark reality in the shadows cast by California sunshine, The Low End Theory exposed the more laid0back interpretation of street life on the East Coast.
The Tribe had already introduced themselves proper on People’s Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm with instant underground classics like “Can I Kick It?,” but Theory put their jazz-based creativity into overdrive. As almost the acoustic alternative to the emerging West Coast gangsta rap scene, The Low End Theory starts off with a stand-up bass riff instead of an 808. The mesmerizing power only grows with Q-Tip’s opening verse “Back in the days when I was a teenager / Before I had status and before I had a pager” on “Excursions.”
It seems as though the skillfully blended groove never ends once the first drum loop drops and Phife Dawg joins the party on “Buggin’ Out,” another album standout driven by a deep and dark plucked bass pattern. Lovable lyrics like “I never half-step because I’m not a half-stepper / Drink a lot of soda so they call me Dr. Pepper” from Phife instantly stick against Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s adventurous arrangements.
Tip and Phife trade verses effortlessly throughout Theory and establish themselves as two the of the best MCs of the era and genre. With its smooth body, chunky horn chorus and perfectly executed vocal teamwork, “Check The Rhime” serves as a fitting climax to the record.
Though most of the self-promoting lyrics wax poetic on city amenities from subways to sandwiches to hot girls, the Tribe exercises some social consciousness on “The Infamous Date Rape” and “Everything Is Fair.” The clever, rambling ditty “What?” closes the album better than guest-laden ryhmefest “Scenario” that follows and feels somewhat out of place with its “Here we go, yo” chant, but both are excellent tracks. From start to finish Theory rarely drags, a true accomplishment for any hip-hop album.
The key element is its sonic simplicity and b-boy directness: no skits, no vicious threats to the competition, just hip-hop. “I don’t really mind if it’s over your head / Because the job of resurrectors is to wake up the dead / So pay attention, it’s not hard to decipher / And after the horns you can check out the Phifer,” Tip offers on “Jazz (We Got).” Theory gave the underground heroes their first mic-passing masterpiece and set up their growing audience for party/headphone classic Midnight Marauders.