A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory

July 17, 2014

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This is what makes these An Album A Day posts so much fun for me. This, right here, today’s post. Because what’s better than an obscure reference to our national pastime on an album as important as Low End Theory, and who among you would think that a) I listen to Tribe or b) that I know their oeuvre well enough to cite a particular rhyme that connects it to these week’s theme? Well, the answer to those questions are a) sometimes and b) I totally glossed over it for a very long time but thanks to the Internet I made an awesome discovery yesterday.

As is my wont during this 365-day stroll through my record collection, I’m not going to attempt to reinvent the wheel and describe the album for you. That’s what, you know, the luminaries like Robert Christgau and Lester Bangs and Amanda Petrusich are for. Also, what, I’m going to totally have some revelation about Low End Theory that no one else has had before? By applying someNeo-Aristotelian Criticism techniques? I don’t think so. I’d rather just talk about my favorite baseball team, the New York Mets, and how they are cited in the second verse of “Skypager” by Phife. Ironically, that track doesn’t appear on the original vinyl issue of LET, but it’s on the CD (which, obviously, I was introduced to first because I wasn’t collecting records as a ten year old) and the 2xLP reissue(s).

The year was 1991, and I was eight years old. The Mets were experiencing their first post-80s comedown after several years of steady contention in the National League East. After their NCLS loss to the Dodgers in ’88 the team finished second in their division the following two years before dropping below .500 for the first time since 1983. Eight winning seasons, then 1991. I guess if you’re going to make a reference to keeping bases loaded, citing a winning franchise like the Mets was a solid choice…but after that losing season in 1991 it took a while to gain back respect. Being a Mets fan in the ’90s was rough. We had to suffer through Generation K (Wilson, Isringhausen, Pulsipher) and that abysmal 103-loss season in ’93. I remember my father sending me box scores at summer camp and feeling embarrassed. Bobby Bonilla. Fucking Bobby Bonilla was the epitome of the ’90s Mets. His contract is still a source of amusement for haters. If it wasn’t for that Al Leiter two-hit shutout of the Reds to boost the Mets into the playoffs in ’99 (and that Todd Pratt homer! I can still see Steve Finley coming up short after he leapt to try and catch the ball at the wall) you could say that the Mets spent almost an entire decade making Phife’s statement about loading bases sound ironic, or laughable. Or both.

While at summer camp in the ’90s, I learned a lot about music. I also learned a lot about shitty music. During my first summer my counselor (his name was Dan) offered a prize to whichever kid could memorize all the words to the Phish song “Fluff’s Travels,” while a couple years later another counselor named Seth taught us about the virtues of the 311 album Grassroots. There was a lot of Dave Matthews Band and moe. and hippy jamband shit sprinkled through the years by college-aged counselors who were just trying to pass their tastes off to the younger kids. There was one counselor, Josh, who had better taste than most of the other early ’90s staff. He taught my bunkmates and I the tenets of hip hop, and played records like The Low End Theory, Bel Biv Devoe’s Poison, Arrested Development, De La Soul, Digital Underground, Wu-Tang Clan…it was a welcome relief from Phish. Suddenly the language of R&B/hip hop made its way into our lexicon. “It’s like butter baby” became a common refrain on the basketball courts that summer. When I came home from camp knowing all the rhymes on Doggystyle I think my mom might have had a mini stroke.

Alas, I don’t listen to The Low End Theory as much as I should these days, because I don’t listen to hip hop in general these days. I’ll make time for King Geedorah or Dr. Octagonecologyst,but beyond that I can’t count too many records in my collection. Maybe a dozen or so? Just the ones that are significant to me. Just the ones I can spin and feel nostalgic about, tying to a specific place and time. Like The Low End Theory, and summer camp in the early ’90s, and how fucking terrible the Mets were. That’s a time I really enjoy reliving…probably because the Mets are still fucking terrible. Maybe in 2019 or 2020 the Mets will make another run at a World Series championship.

A boy can dream.

A Tribe Called Quest
The Low End Theory
(Jive – HIP 117, 1991)

A1. Excursions
A2. Buggin’ Out
A3.Rap Promoter
A3. Butter
B1. Versus From The Abstract
B2. Show Business
B3. Vibes And Stuff
C1. The Infamous Date Rape
C2. Check The Rhyme
C3. Everything Is Fair
D1. Jazz (We’ve Got)
D2. Skypager [MP3]
D3. What?
D4. Scenario


  1. |

    My choice hip-hop/baseball cuts below about the negro league/police brutality respectfully:

    Ultramagnetic MCs Saga Of Dandy, The Devil & Day

    Main Source Just A Friendly Game Of Baseball


    After years of being passed over on my CD collection. I’ve taken a major shine to ‘Frigid Stars’. Which is the vinyl pressing to own? My OCD tendencies are vying towards the OG. As great as ‘Pea’ & ‘3 angels’ are; ‘Old things’ as the closer resonates for one reason or another. I’ve heard that the Glitterhouse/Sub Pop pressing ain’t the best quality wise, can you shine any light on this? FYI the OG and the Numero reissue are the same price point at my local store.


    Yeti magazine 13 has a expansive article on Codeine, I suspect that some of the material is culled from the liner notes of the reissue. Great read nevertheless.

  2. |

    I have the Glitterhouse (I think that’s how it is spelled) German original, and the Numero beheamoth that came out a few years ago. I got the big box set even though I owned all the records because I wanted to hear how they sounded with all the bonus material. Now that I’ve heard it, I don’t really think it was a worthwhile purchase. And it was criminally expensive for what it was.

    I’d say try to find an OG. Unless it’s something like the self-titled Rex album that was recorded horribly and pressed even worse…you can’t go wrong with the OG. Same with the Slint record. To my ears, I can’t hear a difference between the newly remastered box and the original vinyl.

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