Within every musical genre, there are a few select albums that are both definitive and transcendent. Upon their release, these albums often are deemed masterpieces, and over the course of time, prove to have seismic impact in pushing music forward. In hip-hop, A Tribe Called Quest’s sophomore album, The Low End Theory, is among the most cited, in that regard.
Released on September 24, 1991, The Low End Theory followed Tribe’s 1990 debut, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, which is regarded as a classic in its own right. It spawned timeless singles like “Can I Kick It” and “Bonita Applebum.” But while their first outing is a praiseworthy effort, The Low End Theory would prove to be a tour de force of groundbreaking rap tunes and is considered a signature record in the group’s superior discography.
After only appearing on four songs on A Tribe Called Quest’s debut, Phife Dawg would have an increased presence on this outing, letting off a barrage of battle-ready verses littered with quotables galore. His performances on key selections like “Scenario,” “Check The Rhime,” “Buggin’ Out,” and “We’ve Got The Jazz” soldified his standing as more than a glorified stand-in, but a formidable MC in his own right.
The Low End Theory would also see Q-Tip’s evolution, both as an MC and a boardsman, continue to become evident to any one peeping the sage-like verses or reading the production credits. Ali Shaheed Muhammed, A Tribe Called Quest’s oft unsung third member, continued to be a catalyst on the production and conceptual on the project as well. He served as the glue that helped keep the unit as one.
Since it’s release, The Low End Theory has been lauded as one of the greatest albums of all-time, regardless of genre, and has influenced many of the biggest artists in rap, including Pharrell and Kanye West.
In celebration of this landmark release, we’ve dug up 20 facts about The Low End Theory that may catch you by surprise.
1. Famed Jazz musician Ron Carter, who played double bass on “Verses From The Abstract,” only agreed to appear on the song under the condition that no profanity be used. The Low End Theory would be the only rap album that Ron Carter appeared on during his illustrious career.
2. A song titled “Georgie Porgie” was originally intended to be on The Low End Theory,” but was re-written as “Show Business” after Jive Records deemed the song too homophobic.
3. “Scenario” originally featured both De La Soul and Black Sheep, but their verses were left off of the final version included on the album. While an official posse cut including all three groups would never occur, members of all three groups would collaborate individually over the years and are seen as the flag bearers for the Native Tongues extended run into the ’90s.
4. Leaders of the New School recorded two songs with A Tribe Called Quest for The Low End Theory, but only “Scenario” would appear on the album — with the second song remaining unreleased for more than two decades.
5. MC Kid Hood made his rap debut on “Scenario (Remix),” but was killed two days after the song’s recording. Born Troy Anthony Hall, Kid Hood was a friend of Q-Tip’s, was beaten and shot in the head days after taping the music video for the “Scenario” remix, leaving his vast potential unfulfilled.
6. Legend has it that Busta Rhymes earned his solo deal with Elektra Records after impressing label executives with his stage presence and charisma during A Tribe Called Quest’s performance of “Scenario” on The Arsenio Halll Show. Busta Rhymes would go on to have a successful solo career, releasing nine studio albums and selling millions of records in the 25 years since stealing the show on “Scenario.”
7. Phife Dawg’s lone solo song on The Low End Theory, “Butter,” was intended to include a verse from Q-Tip, but Phife insisted on having his own solo track on the album for himself. Phife’s persistence can be attributed to him only appearing on four songs on A Tribe Called Quest’s previous album, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, and his desire for more air-time as a group member.
8. Pete Rock laid down the foundation of the beat for “We’ve got the Jazz,” before giving it to Q-Tip and Ali to rework.
9. Engineer Bob Power refers to The Low End Theory as “The Sgt Peppers of hip-hop,” in reference to the Beatles’ landmark 1967 album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
10. Q-Tip originally intended for model Naomi Campbell to appear on the album cover for the album in body-paint, but was unable to secure her services for the photo shoot.
11. The first song recorded for The Low End Theory was the Leaders of the New School collaboration, “Silent,” which was not included on the album.
12. The Low End Theory was the group’s first album following Jarobi’s departure from the group, to pursue a career in culinary art.
13. Grand Puba was originally supposed to appear on the song “Show Business,” but was replaced by Diamond D after not showing up to the studio session.
14. Q-Tip’s opening verse on “Excursions” was inspired by his relationship with his father, who he used to listen to Treacherous Three with during his youth.
15. The song “Rap Promoter” was sampled by Jay Z for his Black Album cut, “Encore.”
16. 192nd & Linden Boulevard in Queens is where the music video for “Check The Rhime” was filmed, and it was renamed Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor Way, in August of 2016, following his untimely passing. RIP.
17. Q-Tip has admitted that The Low End Theory was inspired in large part by N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton album, which he and Ali Shaheed Muhammad would listen to frequently while riding around New York City prior to the making of The Low End Theory.
18. The majority of The Low End Theory was recorded at Battery Studios, in Manhattan, New York, where artists such as Aaliyah, Alicia Keys, Big Daddy Kane, Big L, and a host of other legends crafted classic bodies of work.
19. Engineer Bob Power, who worked extensively with A Tribe Called Quest throughout their career, used a Neve 8068 recording console to mix the album, which was considered state-of-the-art, by rap standards at the time.
20. The Low End Theory was released the same day as rockers Nirvana’s breakthrough sophomore album Nevermind. The Low End Theory would peak at No. 45 on the Billboard 200 and would take over three years to surpass the million copies sold mark, while Nevermind, though debuting at No. 144, would eventually top the chart, and be certified platinum within mere months of its release. Both albums are considered among the most influential of all-time in their respective genres and helped dictate the direction of music in the ’90s.