I’ve never heard of A Tribe Called Quest before, not until a friend recommended that I check it out for the blog. So going into “The Low End Theory” (1991) I had no idea what to expect. I’ve ever heard anything that sounded quite like this album; there are perhaps some similarities to Warren G’s “Regulate… G Funk Era” (1994) in regards to the themes and positive vibes, but A Tribe Called Quest lays their relaxed lyrics over bass guitars and old-school drum beats instead of the funky synths of G-Funk.
Wikipedia throws this album in a genre called “Jazz Rap”, and while I’m no expert on musical classification I would agree that “Jazz Rap” accurately describes what I heard on “The Low End Theory.” It’s really easy to lose yourself in the rhythms of each song; the drums, the bass, and especially the vocals act like a force of current bringing you down an incredibly relaxed, down-tempo state of mind. The album also has a tight aesthetic, as all of the songs deal with down to earth themes and tend to play with the same musical elements. The occasional scratch of the turntable is perhaps a little out of place, and breaks this mental image I have that I can only describe as coffee house rap. The old-school drums are simple and just sound right, and the bass, touch of keyboard, brass, guitar – they all sound part of this beautiful aesthetic, and the presence of turn tables is a little weird – like a hint of cubism in an impressionist painting.
I loved “The Low End Theory” and I experienced this incredible worlds-meeting moment listening to “Jazz (We’ve Got)” and realizing that it was the basis for the chorus of the Beastie Boy’s “Sure Shot” (1994). I suppose that’s who A Tribe Called Quest reminds me of the most, the Beastie Boys. Regardless, A Tribe Called Quest seems an important piece of musical knowledge to have while trying to assemble the 1990’s musical landscape.