This goes out to all my readers in the Hudson Valley.
A Tribe Called Quest’s 1991 album “The Low End Theory” has been cited as the defining marker between old- and new-school hip hop, although I think it’s more a work of sui generis quality than a transition point. Drawing heavily from jazz in both samples and style, and sometimes backing the vocals with only a trap kit and a string bass, the sound intentionally strips down in favor of a spontaneous edge that brings the personable MCs to the forefront. This differentiates it from the pop-style production of the parallel new jack swing and R+B genres (new jack swing is referenced in one of the tracks).
The style avoids the shock-jock punch of gangsta rap that would go mainstream a couple of years later, although it’s interesting to note that NWA’s in-your-face “Straight Outta Compton” was credited as an influence on Tribe – one that can be heard in the album’s sludgy tone. If John Bonham were to produce a rap record, this would be it.
Although Tribe was well-known and the album a success, The Low End Theory has an anonymous quality to it, as if the group had showed up to an open-mic night, done the material on stage and gone home without waiting for the groupies.
“Buggin’ Out” showcases dizzying rhythmic and verbal syncopation.
I especially like “Butter,” which juxtaposes Phife Dawg’s high-school player days against his annoyance with superficial attention whores after he made it big.