In the closing quarter of 1991, A Tribe Called Quest released a game-changing LP in The Low End Theory. After garnering acclaim the year prior with the Queens, New York group’s debut, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths Of Rhythm, the trio (Jarobi had left) looked to stand apart sonically from their Native Tongue siblings De La Soul and the Jungle Brothers.
While A.T.C.Q’s first LP demonstrated deep crates (from Roy Ayers to The Young Rascals), Low End Theory was a benchmark release in Hip-Hop’s tight early ‘90s embrace and celebration of Jazz.
To kick things off in style, the Tribe’s “Excursions” employed a bass-line from Art Blakey And The Jazz Messengers’ 1973 cut “A Chant For Bu.” Unmistakably a smoky riff from the storied genre, Q-Tip the Abstract opened up his seminal LP with a verse talking about Bee-Bop cycling into Hip-Hop. The tone was clearly set that The Low End Theory had a greater method to its madness than simply looking for the perfect beat.
However, unlike US3 or even Digable Planets (whom would both garner mainstream popularity in the years the followed), the brothers from the Quest embraced all of Jazz, with a keen appreciation for the genre’s electric, experimental and psychedelic turns of the ‘70s. Lonnie Liston Smith’s “Spinning Wheel” was a groovy cover of Blood, Sweat & Tears’ ’69 gold hit, used as the breakdown to “Buggin’ Out.”, while Jack Dejohnette’s Directions’ bass playing on “Minya’s The Mooch” was flipped ever so carefully.
Moreover, in a trailblazing move, A Tribe Called Quest and Jive Records brought Down Beat Hall Of Fame inductee double bassist Ron Carter in to work on the sessions. Carter, whose music would later be sampled on works by Aesop Rock and Organized Konfusion, played on “Verses From The Abstract.” Just years after voices from Hip-Hop and Jazz communities were sparring over sampling and royalties (see Stetsasonic’s “All That Jazz”), Tribe, was cutting checks to, and records with, the very cats that inspired them.
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Photo: Jive Records