A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘Low End Theory’ Turns 30| RIP Phife Dawg, Hip-Hop’s No. 1 Sports Fan

The Low End Theory Album cover

September 24th, 1991, is a day that has gone down in hip-hop history.

The jazzy poetic ensemble of Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Jarobi, better known as A Tribe Called Quest, dropped their second LP, “The Low End Theory” upon the world.

If you are counting, that’s a full three decades ago, and the project still feels as needed as it was then. A year earlier, the group dropped a bomb on the hip-hop universe with their seminal debut, “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm.”

The Pioneers

After pioneering the use of eclectic sampling and jazz-influenced production, A Tribe Called Quest set the music world on fire. Add the collective of the Native Tongues, and the movement was complete.

Hip-hop had transitioned into the hippy renaissance, and its unofficial creative leader was Kaamal the Abstract, aka Q-Tip. But not even the budding genius of Tip could stop the speculation of a sophomore jinx.

After all, their first album was the first to receive “5 Mics” from The Source magazine. But A Tribe Called Quest was different. Q-Tip, ever the band leader, Phife, around the way homie that was crazy nice with sports opinions, and the introverted brilliance of Ali Shaheed Muhammad was insatiable.

No Bad Energy, Please

So when “The Low End Theory” dropped, the fact that it met the bar many didn’t think Tribe could achieve set them up for life.

Let’s start with the last song on the album, “Scenario.” The posse cut redefined the feature as an all-out lyrical barrage of culture on wax. From Leaders of the New School to Tribe, the song is now a time capsule. Plus you can’t forget the numerous cameos in the music video.

Phife opines, “We’ve been known to do the impossible like Broadway Joe so …” paying homage to quintessential Jets quarterback, Joe Namath.

Even his crass verses became folklore on the song.

“I’m too hot to handle / short, dark and handsome / bust a nut inside your eye to show you where I come from”

The verse became an attitude to don like a protection suit when you are outside, and Tribe made you want to go out.

The words are even more special since Phife’s passing in 2016 at the age of 45.

The album was an ode to jazz and a glimpse into its hip-hop’s future. However, the fact that the stripped-down sound of drums, bass, and vocals received its inspiration from N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton” is almost inconceivable.

The Inspiration

“It was Dre; it was when I heard ‘Straight Outta Compton,’” said Q-Tip during an interview with Red Bull Music Academy. “I was just like, ‘Wow!’ And I remember driving with Ali; I was like, “’o, we gotta make some sh*t like this.’

“We were kind of like one of the few people riding around New York listening to that, like loud,” he continued. “It was just like, the energy of it, and they were dealing with dynamics as well, and it was frenetic, but Dre is such a master the way that it was laid out.

“He took what Public Enemy was kind of doing — what resonated was just that bottom, that bass and the drive of it.”

With an A-side, B-side, C-side, and D-side, gems like “Check The Rime,” “Buggin’ Out,” and “Jazz (We’ve Got)” laid a foundation that birthed Kanye West, J. Cole, Drake, and many more.

Sony Music Entertainment, Legacy, and Certified are commemorating the thirty years with a new digital edition.

Five brand-new digital EPs will accompany the original, including ‘Check the Rhime,’ digital bundle “Hot Sex,” digital bundle “Jazz (We’ve Got),” digital bundle “Luck of Lucien,” and digital bundle “Scenario.”

All five of these EPs contain various dubs and remixes.

Salute to 30 years of “The Low End Theory,” a state that is as much about the bottom of the music bed as it is about society’s treatment of the underprivileged.

Rhett Butler is a Boxing Writer Association of America Journalist, Play-By-Play Commentator, Combat Sports Insider, and Former Mixed Martial Arts and Boxing Promoter. The New York City native honed his skills at various news outlets including but not limited to: TIME Magazine, Money Magazine, CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, and more. Rhett hosts the PRITTY Left Hook podcast, a polarizing combat sports insider's take featuring the world's biggest names.