Right now we are sandwiched between two very auspicious dates for devotees of A Tribe Called Quest; the 20th Anniversary of their classic LP The Low End Theory (released September 24th, 1991) and the release of the new Michael Rapaport documentary on the group Beats, Rhymes & Life (hits shelves in DVD form next Tuesday, October 18th and is already available on iTunes). Which seems like a good moment to rewind on the album that really started it all.
Yes, People’s Instinctive Travels & The Paths of Rhythm introduced Tribe to the world. No one is saying the Native Tongue rhyme style or the vibes and sitar bed of “Bonita Applebum” is not groundbreaking. But it staked out Tribe’s um, path by pulling away from the mainstream of rap in a particular direction. The genius of Low End Theory is that it pulled the mainstream with it; it was simultaneously more abstract (and original) than any other rap album prior, floating like gravity above the competition with erudite jazz conceits and stream of consciousness wordplay– and yet sparer, meaner and more jeep-ready. Without getting sidetracked by a discussion of the organ-disturbing bass frequencies (there’s a reason it says ‘low end’ in the title) that anchored the music, it is safe to say that the formula Tip, Ali Shaheed, Phife and yes, Jarobi put down on LET became the blueprint for the entire ethos of golden age hip-hop that we now think of as “the 90s.”
Everyone has their favorites when it comes to Tribe LPs. You can get the argument for People’s Instinctive Travels here, for instance. And we found out in our twitterview with Michael Rapaport out last night that even though he named the movie Beats Rhymes & Life, his fav is actually Midnight Marauders. But it would not be crazy, putting on our old-man Cazals and looking back over the history of hip-hop, to divide rap into the pre-Low End era and the post. It is that much of a watershed in music..and that’s bugged. Get more info on the documentary release by following @ATCQmovie on twitter and facebook.