A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory vs. Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth’s Mecca And The Soul Brother. Which Is Better?
One year ago, Ambrosia For Heads launched a debate among its readers seeking to answer one of Hip-Hop’s most hotly-contested questions: who is the greatest MC of all time? “Finding The GOAT MC” lasted between September 2014 and May 2015, engaging millions of readers and ultimately producing its winner, as determined by hundreds of thousands of voters. Now, “Finding The GOAT” returns to ask a new question: what is the greatest of all time Hip-Hop album?
“Finding The GOAT Album” will consider 120 albums from three individual eras (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. You and your vote will decide which album goes forward, and which one leaves the conversation. While there will no doubt be conversation between family and friends (virtual and real), only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click.
Released less than one year apart, A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory and Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth’s Mecca And The Soul Brother have likely shared real estate and rotation in millions of music libraries. Pete and C.L. toppled Dr. Dre’s 2001 by the narrowest of margins, showing that plaques may mean less in “Finding The GOAT” than they do in the industry. Meanwhile, Tribe steamrolled over The Roots’ Grammy-grabbing LP, with the album that Questlove and others hold on the highest. This showdown reaches back more than 23 years to determine a winner between masterful productions, introspective verses, and timeless Hip-Hop flavor in your ear (click one then click “vote”).
The Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest
– First Round Winner (against The Roots’ Things Fall Apart, 75% to 25%)
While 1990’s People’s Instinctive Travels & Paths Of Rhythm is a stellar album, A Tribe Called Quest hit their stride on 1991’s The Low End Theory. The Jazz-inspired LP would pocket a sound that A.T.C.Q. (now a trio, less Jarobi and with a significantly increased role for Phife) completely brewed up themselves—big on samples, wisdom, and an overall feel that melted just like “Butter.” The strong qualities of the group’s debut dispersed into beautiful arrangements, both vocal and musical—as heard immediately in single “Check The Rhime.” With one of the many featured Tip-and-Phife routines at center, the group casually waxed their history into a game-changing horn, bass, and drum conconction. That bass would be a defining feature of The Low End Theory—but not in the same way of the group’s Rap peers. With the acclaimed Ron Carter involved with the album, songs like “Buggin’ Out,” “Skypager,” and “Jazz (We’ve Got)” were as inspired by Charles Mingus as they were Afrika Bambaataa. However, in an era where many Hip-Hop acts were drawing on the glory days of Jazz, Quest was intent on never softening or stylizing their rhyme style. Album closer “Scenario” may be the group’s most aggressive mic display, with Phife aiming for the eyes, quite literally.
For a group who would record together for less than a decade, The Low End Theory is a burden of proof as to why Tribe may be Hip-Hop’s greatest. This album is almost entirely self-contained, in terms of production, and lyrics. There are guests, but Phife, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and The Abstract found their synergy on this effort. This album demonstrated how A.T.C.Q. could organically shape Hip-Hop, seemingly in their own vacuum. As De La Soul, Queen Latifah, and Black Sheep made leaps and bounds, the Native Tongues movement was at full throttle, at least publicly. The Low End Theory is an album that stretched to reach many generations, and non-Rap fans, all with a message, style, and skill-set that Hip-Hop purists could certify. At a time when the Hip-Hop generation was showing itself to the mainstream as a legitimate, culture-driven force of thought, creativity, and humanity, The Low End Theory was a brilliant illustration. Songs like “Excursions,” “Check The Rhime,” and “Butter” are proof the great albums can age beautifully. The Low End Theory is high-brow music, and another hallmark effort that so many artists dream of replicating in their own catalogs.
Album Number: 2
Released: September 24, 1991
Label: Jive/RCA Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #45 (certified gold, February 1992; certified platinum, February 1995)
Song Guests: Leaders Of The New School (Busta Rhymes, Charlie Brown & Dinco D) Diamond D, Lord Jamar, Sadat X, Ron Carter, Vinia Mojica
Song Producers: (self), Skeff Anslem
Mecca And The Soul Brother by Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth
– First Round Winner (against Dr. Dre’s 2001, 50.6% to 49.4%)
After one stellar EP (All Souled Out) for those in the know, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth proved their place among the masters in Mecca And The Soul Brother. At a time when Rap was basking in its “hardcore” era, Pete and C.L. presented a soulful, insightful, and incredibly satisfying album that fit in headphones, the car, and block party barbecues. The two delegates from Mount Vernon and New Rochelle, New York, respectively, found a seamless synergy together. Songs like “Straighten It Out” captured a gleeful era in music, and synthesized it to knocking Hip-Hop sounds. Pete knew the hard-to-reach samples, and arranged drums as well as any producer in the genre. For his part, C.L.’s buttery voice and conversational flow made the presentation seem natural. “Soul Brother #1” and “Act Like You Know” were songs that focused on what Blackness meant in 1992. The two artists encouraged Heads to avoid the “Ghettos Of The Mind,” and focus on “Lots Of Lovin’.” Like Kendrick Lamar 20 years later, Pete and C.L. knew how to gain access to any listener’s ear, and they made sure to always say something. However, unlike some of their peers, the group was never preachy in verse or theme. They loved sex, coolin’ out, and making music in “The Basement” while on a higher path.
Mecca And The Soul Brother has a sound that showed a great intersection of music’s past and future. The album was heavily informed by Jazz and Soul, while arranged in a way that was a clear break from the likes of Pete’s Future Flavors radio partner, DJ Marley Marl. New York, sample-driven Hip-Hop was headed in a new direction, and extracting different moods than just B-Boy certified Funk. Perhaps the album’s tenderloin, in lyric and sound is “They Reminisce Over You.” A dedication to Trouble T-Roy of brethren Heavy D & The Boyz, C.L. Smooth takes Pete’s blanket of Jazz Soul and rhymes meditatively. The song, in title and message, salutes a friend. In doing so, the record becomes a tribute all can use, and a song of reflection on family—especially Black Family, and sticking together. Somehow, with its horns, heaviness, and hurt, “T.R.O.Y.” is a club song that inevitably moves bodies then, now, and 20 years from now. This is what Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth did so masterfully, especially on their most heralded work. Mecca And The Soul Brother is the kind of album that feels like a book, given to loved ones to steer the course of their thinking.
Album Number: 1
Released: June 9, 1992
Label: Elektra Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #43
Song Guests: Heavy D, Grand Puba, I.n.I. (Rob-O, Deda & Grap Luva), Adofo Abdullah Muhammad, Terri & Monica (Terri Robinson & Tabitha Brace)
Song Producers: (self), Large Professor, Nevelle Hodge
So which album belongs in the 1990s Top 10? Make sure you vote above.