Saturday, November 10, 2012

154 The Low End Theory.

Album: The Low End Theory
Artist: A Tribe Called Quest
Genre: Hip Hop
Year: 1991


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

There's such a thing as Jazz rap! Who knew? I had no idea there were people who were listening to hip hop and thinking "this is all very well but it needs more of a jazz feel". I've heard Rock Rap and while most of it just doesn't work there are moments that actually achieve the heights they're aiming for but I've never heard anyone try to fuse hip hop with rapping before I listened to A Tribe Called Quest.

The Low End Theory is held up as pinnacle of jazz rap and the pioneer album that effectively created a genre. It's a trick the creators managed by aiming for high end Jazz. No Kenny G or other jazz-lite posers for these guys. They're sampling Miles Davis. Jack DeJohnette, Cannonball Adderly, Weather Report and Grover Washington Jr along with traditional sample staples like James Brown, Funkadelic and Sly and the Family Stone. They even got Jazz bass legend Ron Carter to come in and play on a track to give it an extra air of jazz-cred. 

So is Jazz Rap any good? Do the two genres play well together or is it up there with Disco Metal, Baroque Punk and Electro Folk as doomed experiments? It definitely appeals to me more than straight hip hop. If I'm going to listen to rap then I'd rather it came with a twist of jazz but if I'm going to listen to jazz I don't really need an infusion to rap to make me like it. Like all Hip Hop I found it got repetitive fairly quickly and became dull a few tracks in. The thing that saved Low End Theory for me was the odd decision to include the three singles in the later half of the album instead of the first. Most artists throw the best tracks in early and ladle in some filler towards the end. Low End Theory is like an album in reverse that starts off with the duller tracks and throws in the best stuff after half an hour of listening. The final track, Scenario with its anthemic chorus is a welcome relief from the steady laid back theme that props up the rest of the album and could have shaken things up a bit if it cropped up earlier in the album rather than appearing at the end. 

I certainly didn't hate The Low End Theory the way I've hated a lot of rap albums I've been forced to endure while doing this countdown. If I was forced to listen to a rap album for a while this would be the one I'd be pulling off the shelf. But I personally don't see the need to listen to jazz rap when there's pure jazz to be listening to. I like my Miles Davis in album sized doses rather than in microscopic, repetitive samples behind a rapper.

Influenced by: Grand Master Flash and Miles Davis
Influenced: All of Jazz Rap

Highlight: Scenario
Lowlight: Date Rape

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I love hip hop and I love jazz, but a tribe called quest has roots in neither. Just because you have some vibes and flutes in the music doesn't make it "jazz influenced".

-Ouch. Harsh

So is this the low end of the hip hop spectrum or not? Let me know below.

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