Back in the days when I was a teenager.
Before I had status and before I had a pager
You could find the Abstract listening to hip hop.
My pops used to say, it reminded him of be-bop.
That intro is the Hip Hop version of the call in the beginning scene of The Lion King. Ears, thoughts, and people gravitate towards the song, where they are drawn in, they listen as if they’re teacher is speaking, hanging on to Q-Tip‘s every last syllable… then the beat drops.
The combination of the drums and bass. The upright bass. The same bass that has been the backbone of America’s greatest art form. Jazz music, mixed with the Hip Hop rhythms that we are just becoming accustomed to. This was September 24, 1991, when the world first heard A Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest. No, it wasn’t leaked. No, we didn’t hear teaser tracks, nor did we get to see the album art before it dropped…as if we would have even understood it. We didn’t see the features. In fact, the features weren’t even listed. This was a different time in Hip Hop, one that belonged to A Low End Theory.
The Low End Theory was the birth of Phife Dawg. Yes, he was on the first album, but this was the voice that Q-Tip needed to anchor him. It was the true emcee duo that made the Tribe, Tribe. It was the undeniable balance and chemistry that made A Tribe Called Quest a favorite amongst so many.
The Low End Theory was a lesson plan in Hip Hop and Jazz. There were beats that sampled (and included) some of the biggest, most esteemed names in Jazz, that Hip Hop fans have never heard of.
“Ron Carter on the bass, yes my man Ron Carter is on the bass.”
‘Ron Carter? Who is Ron Carter? Oh, That’s Ron Carter.’
A legendary bassist who according to wikipedia has recorded on over 2500 albums to date.
‘And I’m just now hearing about him.’
‘Lou Donaldson, Cannonball Adderly, Grant Green, Gary Bartz, Weather Report, Art Blakey… who are these people?’
If memorizing the lyrics and songs were the home work, learning about the jazz artists that contributed to the Low End Theory was the extra credit…An ongoing assignment that can never be completed, but and assignment that will connect other lessons in Hip Hop and beyond. It opened a door that exposed a world of music that was to be unearthed by the Hip Hop generation, music that wasn’t Hip Hop, but still Hip Hop was at the same time. It just wasn’t called Hip Hop yet. Imagine a Hip Hop caravan in 1991, that was moving forward with the progression of the music. When Low End Theory was heard, understood, and dissected, there were ones who had to hop off the caravan and walk the other direction to discover the greatness that was Jazz, Funk, and Soul. This is what Low End Theory did for so many. It still does this today. Superstar producer Pharrell Williams has blatantly stated that they were the inspiration for people like himself and Kanye West. This is the world that based the Roy Ayers Project. This album made me who I am, and made you who you are. It paved a road for Hip Hop to travel.
It also made us all want to get pagers.