How Its Samples Made ATCQ’s The Low End Theory A Classic | Jazz Appreciation Month
The ‘70s fusion movement brought A Tribe Called Quest much inspiration on The Low End Theory. Weather Report’s ’78 deep cut “Young And Fine” was the wavy basis for “Butter,” while Grover Washington, Jr’s crate-diggers’ staple “Hydra” from ’75 was reconsidered on “Check The Rhime.” Records of Freddie Hubbard, Minnie Riperton, and Jack McDuff were seamlessly employed into the five-mic-certified compositions.
However, while many early ‘90s Hip-Hop albums drew extensively (and exclusively) from one of Jazz’s funkiest periods, A Tribe Called Quest also fearlessly stitched the music of Miles Davis’ A Kind Of Blue into their patchwork. “So What” was gentle brush-strokes in “Scenario,” released to album less than two weeks before Miles’ death. Eric Dolphy’s 1960 cut “17 West” helped forge the bridge after Phife Dawg’s verse on “Skypager.” Grant Green’s jarring opening to “Down Here On The Ground” was cut and pasted into “Vibes And Stuff.” With dusty fingers, Quest was dusting off the patina on a sound in the genre seemingly too complex and chaotic for much of the sampling prior.
Although The Low End Theory would subsequently raise the value and awareness on a litany of Jazz albums and artists, the album’s intention and approach was inspired by the culture. The LP accentuated the downbeat as much as possible, and although it was based on a mosaic of samples, it distinctively took a backseat to the vocal presentation of Phife and Tip, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s cutting. As the album suggested on its opening, much of the lyrical content of The Low End Theory championed Jazz. “Vibes And Stuff” was a nod to both the vernacular and the vibraphone, while second single “Jazz (We’ve Got)” was straightforward fusion, without pandering into gimmickry.
Like Gang Starr (who was in tandem with the movement, channeling a different sound), A Tribe Called Quest bridged the gap. The records in Q-Tip’s fathers’ crates and those of the Roosevelt Hotel record conventions in Manhattan were studied and then spliced and the trio was out to show their generation, and the ones previous, that Hip-Hop is a stylish, sensual, and improvisational art. Charles Mingus firing a rifle inside his apartment facing eviction was just as much Hip-Hop as Phife & Tip’s Mr. Clean-spiffy routine was Jazz.