Low End Theory: How One Tribe Changed a Nation

Written by Barbie Bardot. Posted in Hip-Hop 101


Published on September 24, 2010 with No Comments

In the early 1990’s, hip-hop was becoming experimental. Emerging artists were less about fitting in and more about embracing one’s essence. Yes, there were “commercial” acts, such as MC Hammer, but there were also Gang Starr, De La Soul and Public Enemy — groups that brought a fresh perspective to hip-hop music and its consumers.

When A Tribe Called Quest released their second album, The Low End Theory, on September 24, 1991, they continued in the path of the aforementioned groups by bridging the gap between hip-hop and jazz. They challenged the status quo simply by being themselves. In doing all of these things, Tribe changed the landscape and ushered in a new era of hip-hop.  

A Tribe Called Quest – Jazz (We’ve Got) / Buggin’ Out


The Low End Theory is nothing short of experimental. While De La Soul and Gang Starr had successfully married hip-hop and jazz, Tribe elevated that pairing with their selection of jazz and James Brown samples and made it their own. What was most interesting about the group, and what contributed to their success, was that they were not content to do just that. They kept striving for more. The group, its message and its music became an alternative to the gangsta rap that prevailed at that time (Dr. Dre’sThe Chronic was released in 1992).

Tribe’s music had more of a message – tackling the use of the word “nigger”, the everyday life of the typical black man, and confronting the hypocrisy of the music industry. The group embraced their “everyman” stance and made it cool to question and to think outside the box. There was no faking, no posturing with Tribe. Their music was simply about innovation, risk-taking and authenticity.  

A Tribe Called Quest – “Check the Rhime”


A Tribe Called Quest did all of this, while releasing music (“Check the Rhime” and the forever loved posse cut “Scenario” remix) on The Low End Theory that has stood the test of time. Their accomplishments, accolades and contributions to hip-hop can never be denied or taken away from them. As a group, Tribe was neither commercial nor hardcore gangsters. They were themselves. By merging hip-hop and jazz and adding a fresh element, quality music, and diversity, they changed hip-hop music. And in doing so, they managed to indelibly leave their mark on hip-hop and its fans forever.


Barbie Bardot

Barbie Bardot is a writer of, and lover of, hip hop music & its culture, fashion, food and football. She currently resides in Brooklyn, NY, where for fun, she routinely walks in front of annoying tourists pictures, becoming the brown blur they can never identify. She runs www.itsbarbiebitch.com and is currently plotting ways to take over the world, a la Pinky and the Brain.

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