A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory vs. Eric B. & Rakim’s Follow The Leader. Which Is Better?

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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.

Album number two can often be what separates the legends from the time capsules. Especially in the first 15 years of the Hip-Hop album (1980-1995), this juncture was critical when following lauded debuts. Two of the best to ever do it are A Tribe Called Quest and Eric B. & Rakim. The Low End Theory went even deeper than A.T.C.Q’s jump-off in showing the trio’s connection to Jazz, social commentary, and a courageous sense of self. Follow The Leader more overtly found DJ Eric B. and Rakim taking Hip-Hop to a technical frontier. Rakim acted the part of the best rapper alive, and carried the torch with more admiration than contest. The pair kidnapped the hard boom-bap drums and held them hostage in a futuristic sonic terrain. Released three years apart, these are two of Rap’s most innovative albums to date—and the very works that proved their makers were no flashes in the pan, but active volcanoes. As Round 3 closes out in this very battle, which of these great works belongs in “the Sweet 16”? Only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click (Click one then click “vote”).

A Tribe Called Quest Low End Theory

The Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest

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

follow the leader

Follow The Leader by Eric B. & Rakim

Eric B. & Rakim bulldozed the Hip-Hop landscape care of their 1987 debut, Paid In Full. Advanced e-m-c-e-e‘ing, and quintessential boom-bap scratching and production made a kick-in-the-door introduction. Living up to the anticipation of a sequel was no easy task, but 1988’s Follow The Leader faked no jacks in attempting to raise the bar—for themselves, as well as a culture taking notes.

In the midst of one of Hip-Hop’s benchmark years, this pair of New Yorkers (Queens and Long Island, respectively) produced a statement album, from title to content. Rakim’s elevated rhyme structure reached new ground on “Microphone Fiend,” a song about the craft of rapping that breaks the role down to a scientific level. Follow-up “Lyrics Of Fury” did the same, as Rakim commanded audience far beyond those seeking rap-about-Rap. Rakim’s ability to conversationally deliver complex rhymes with tremendous depth advanced the whole art-form. The group additionally stepped forward in their song arrangement and sound. The title song made the sonic leap with an eruptive charge of low-end bass, as “No Competition” assembled a detailed rhythm to show that Rakim essentially spit at simple 4-4 beats. Rakim exuded an enhanced confidence. No longer concerned with mere getting-to-know-you pleasantries, his raps owned a sense of dominance, as Eric B.’s scratches were malicious, and in-your-face. Eleven tracks deep in its original format, Follow The Leader—like so many follow-up’s, shows a group in the midst of a creative growth spurt. Two sure-handed Rap leaders made an album that snarled at its peers—without naming names. The fact that F.T.L.‘s title remains uncontested in the annals of time and perception speaks to its everlasting impact.

Album Number: 2
Released: July 25, 1988
Label: Uni/MCA Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #22 (certified gold, September 1988)
Song Guests: Stevie “Blass” Griffin (instruments)
Song Producers: (self), Patrick Adams, 45 King (uncredited)

So what’s the better album? Make sure you vote above.

Related: Ambrosia For Heads’ Finding The GOAT: The Albums