Thursday, January 29, 2004

#88) A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory (released in 1991, I bought a copy on used CD at Arboria my senior year of high school)

Most of the reviews of this I’ve read focus heavily on the idea that The Low End Theory is the best “jazz-rap” album of all time. Personally, I think this angle is a bit overbaked. Tribe doesn’t really treat jazz samples any different than Rick Rubin did heavy metal samples or Puff Daddy did pop hits – they’re swiping hooks to create a standard hip-hop backdrop for the raps. There’s nothing particularly jazz-like about the structures here, it’s simply the timbres and some lyrical self-hype that give the jazz “vibe” (which Tribe wholly admits that they’ve got). That said, the sounds do give the album an effortless flow that pulses with energy and authority without coming off as overly aggressive. Even “Scenario,” the hardest track here (and an early commercial highlight of Busta Rhymes’ career), comes off more playful than angry. Rappers Phife and especially Q-Tip are more like comedy/drama male leads rather than anti-heroes or action movie stars, they don’t inspire macho idolization so much as endearment and attraction. Avoiding obvious attention grabs while never succumbing to boring we-don’t-do-bad-things-love-us-for-it “positivity,” The Low End Theory is one of the most consistently engaging rap albums I’ve ever heard.

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