A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory
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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 some Neo-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)
A2. Buggin’ Out
A3. Rap Promoter
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]
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