Styles Upon Styles Upon Styles Is What I Have

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.


Filed under music

4 responses to “Styles Upon Styles Upon Styles Is What I Have

  1. Aaaaah yes. I remember these days.

    What exactly prompted you to pay about TLET? I think I had just stopped skating around this time and was also digging de la soul. The kind of hippyesque “let’s all get all get along” that was the antithesis of groups like NWA. BDP and PE were a staple for me as well.

  2. Ulysses

    I’m pretty sure a Tribe Called Quest is on the SWPL list, but I don’t care because many SWPLs appreciate quality. Tribe is one such example of quality. Saw them live in 96 on the Smokin’ Grooves tour. It was awesome.

  3. Monica

    I classify A Tribe Called Quest’s music as hip hop. The songs you posted were good but I much prefer Award Tour, Electric Relaxation, Check the Rhyme, Can I Kick It, and the classic – Bonita Applebum.

  4. Ulysses,

    I saw the Roots (clearly a Tribe-influenced troupe) in 2000 and it was the bomb. They are like hip hop jam bands.

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