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Released: Sept. 24, 1991

Rating: 4.625 (average of 4 ratings)

Genre: rap

Quotable: “One of the closest and most brilliant fusions of jazz atmosphere and hip-hop attitude ever recorded.” – John Bush, All Music Guide

Album Tracks:

  1. Excursions
  2. Buggin’ Out
  3. Rap Promoter
  4. Butter
  5. Verses from the Abstract
  6. Show Business
  7. Vibes and Stuff
  8. The Infamous Date Rape
  9. Check the Rhime
  10. Everything Is Fair
  11. Jazz (We’ve Got)
  12. Skypager
  13. What?
  14. Scenario

Sales (in millions):

sales in U.S. only 1 million
sales in U.K. only - estimated --
sales in all of Europe as determined by IFPI – click here to go to their site. --
sales worldwide - estimated 1 million


peak on U.S. Billboard album chart 45
peak on U.K. album chart 58

Singles/Hit Songs:

  • Check the Rhime (10/12/91) #59 RB
  • Scenario (5/9/92) #57 US, #42 RB


Rated one of the top 1000 albums of all time by Dave’s Music Database. Click to learn more. One of Blender’s 100 Greatest American Albums Spin Magazine’s 100 Greatest Albums One of Time Magazine’s All-TIME 100 Albums.

The Low End Theory
A Tribe Called Quest
“The discerning fan’s hip-hop. A Tribe Called Quest rose above the murky waters of gangsta rap to hold aloft a beacon of hip-hop positivity. The Low End Theory was their second album, an undisputed masterpiece with warm jazz samples, plus relaxed, thoughtful rhymes by Q-Tip and Phife Dawg.” BL “The link between rap and jazz has always been more wishful thinking on the part of critics than anything actual, with one grand exception: The Low End Theory.” TL “While most of the players in the jazz-rap movement never quite escaped the pasted-on qualities of their vintage samples, with The Low End Theory, A Tribe Called Quest created one of the closest and most brilliant fusions of jazz atmosphere and hip-hop attitude ever recorded.” JB

“The connection was more atmospheric than specific.” TL “Tribe’s DJ, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, used lots of jazz bass samples (and one notable live contribution from upright master Ron Carter)” TL while “the rapping by Q-Tip and Phife Dawg could be the smoothest of any rap record ever heard; the pair are so in tune with each other, they sound like flip sides of the same personality, fluidly trading off on rhymes, with the former earning his nickname (the Abstract) and Phife concerning himself with the more concrete issues of being young, gifted, and black.” JB

“The trio also takes on the rap game with a pair of hard-hitting tracks: Rap Promoter and Show Business, the latter a lyrical soundclash with Q-Tip and Phife plus Brand Nubian's Diamond D, Lord Jamar, and Sadat X.” JB

Buggin’ Out and Check the Rhime are studies in minimalism that feel like smoky rooms where cool guys, like rappers Phife Dawg and Q-Tip, say cool things. (Phife: ‘I float like gravity, never had a cavity/Got more rhymes than the Winans got family.’ Q-Tip: ‘If knowledge is the key then just show me the lock/ Got the scrawny legs but move just like Lou Brock’).” TL

“The woman problem gets investigated as well, on two realistic yet sensitive tracks, Butter and The Infamous Date Rape.” JB

The Tribe was also “socially conscious without being dull and closed with Scenario, a group free-for-all every bit as hip and improvised as bebop.” TL

“The productions behind these tracks aren’t quite skeletal, but they’re certainly not complex. Instead, Tribe weaves little more than a stand-up bass…and crisp, live-sounding drum programs with a few deftly placed samples or electric keyboards. It’s a tribute to their unerring production sense that, with just those few tools, Tribe produced one of the best hip-hop albums in history, a record that sounds better with each listen. The Low End Theory is an unqualified success, the perfect marriage of intelligent, flowing raps to nuanced, groove-centered productions.” JB

Review Source(s):
  • BL Blender Magazine’s 100 Greatest American Albums (10/08)
  • JB John Bush, All Music Guide
  • TL Josh Tyrangiel and Alan Light, Time Magazine’s “All-TIME 100 Albums” (11/13/06)

Last updated March 24, 2010.