Do you know what today is? Yes, smartass, it’s Sept. 24 and a relatively chilly day down here in Raleigh, N.C.—and most spots in the States, I’m sure. But beyond that, today serves as the 21st anniversary of the release A Tribe Called Quest‘s classic sophomore album, The Low End Theory.
That’s right: 21 years ago today, the world got the chance to hear Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad not only overcome the so-called “sophomore slump.” These guys fucking destroyed it. Beyond that, they cemented themselves as one of hip-hop’s most formidable, innovative, and important acts of all time particularly in finding a middle ground between hip-hop and jazz.
While hip-hop and jazz already shared a close kinship—mostly by way of sampling—The Low End Theory made that bond between the two genres stronger and more fully realized. This is especially evident on cuts like “Verses From The Abstract”, which features living jazz legend Ron Carter on upright bass, and be-bop ode-of-sorts “Excursions”, which stands as one of the illest opening tracks of all time. There are, of course, samples upon samples of jazz music heard on here with all of them re-appropriated and revitalized in a way that makes them sound like this was the way they were meant to be heard.
The Low End Theory also served as a means of introducing a special talent: Busta Rhymes. The always-animated MC might have fallen off in recent years—save his elementary-but-riveting “Look at Me Now” guest verse—but he ripped it and then some with his RAWR-RAWR guest verse on “Scenario”. Back in 1991, it wasn’t easy to overshadow the Abstract, who has had one of the most consistent careers in rap music. But Busa Busss mad “Scenario” his track while further proving that the posse cut is one of the best and most entertaining occurrences in hip-hop.
It’s with all of this in mind that we at Potholes could not be happier to celebrate The Low End Theory‘s 21st birthday. The album can officially have its first legal drink today, which leads me to thinking about what exactly one should imbibe while enjoying the album’s jazzy grooves. A tumbler full of brandy perhaps? Or how about a nice Manhattan? Personally, I’m going with the latter, because nothing say jazz to me more than a fine whiskey drink.
You can sip it in with a laid-back demeanor and catch a steady buzz, much like how Phife and Tip keep it reasonably chill across the LP’s 14 tracks. Sure there are moments like “Buggin’ Out”—yet another classic Tribe joint—the aforementioned “Scenario”, and portions of “Check The Rhime” that find the rappin’ duo getting slightly amped, but this is primarily an album made for head-noddin’ and smooth rap-along verses.
So go on, hit up your local liquor store, get your drink of choice, and raise a glass for The Low End Theory. It’s well deserved. And hey, here’s to 21 more years.