Ali Shaheed Muhammad Reveals The Hidden Meaning Of Low End Theory

A Tribe Called Quest co-founder Ali Shaheed Muhammad recently released Katalyst JID013 on his Jazz Is Dead imprint. It’s Ali’s latest partnership with Jazz band Katalyst and producer/musician Adrian Younge. Shaheed spoke about the new LP while on The People’s Party With Talib Kweli. The two Hip-Hop artists spoke about ATCQ’s sophomore LP, The Low End Theory.

“With The Low End Theory, we just wanted to make People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm [seem] like a nice introduction, but [this is a] we’re here to stay-sort of an album,” Ali shares near the 36:00 mark. The group followed up their 1990 album-length introduction with a more conceptual LP in ’91. “And so, with that, we had a bigger budget—a little bit; not too much. The record company had a recording studio—Battery Studios. We went from Calliope, where it was more of [an] economic-style-based environment to something really [nice and had] that Neve board that you spoke about.” Shaheed spoke about engineer/producer Bob Power, who entered the Tribe fold and helped the trio of Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, and Ali elevate their sound. The album’s title draws from low-end bass that sounded exceptional on the heralded platinum-certified Jive/Zomba Records LP. Ali says that years after release, Tribe still contacts Bob Power to give him props on the engineering.

The Making Of ATCQ’s The Low End Theory, Told By People Who Were There

Ali also explained some deeper meanings to the title. “Where [Q-Tip] and I are alike is we don’t like the conventional. We don’t like the predictable. We like the mystique of music, but in life. And we strive to just dig a little bit deeper. So with Tip, he definitely wanted to dig way deeper, to put forth this message that yeah, it’s about the bass. So The Low End Theory–and we talked about this in the press in the past–so people might be familiar with the definition of The Low End Theory—it’s obviously about the frequency and the triple-entendre. Certain lows.” However, beyond the frequencies, the title was socially-minded.

“But the other is the fact that people of color were on the lower end of the totem pole of America,” Ali details. “And disgraceful as it is for a country that has come so far, and for us, specifically, our parents are the Civil Rights Movement. And to see their sacrifices and what they’ve done to attain a balance of equality, and to know that we’re still goin’ through it, it really upset us. And we’re students of Public Enemy, students of [Boogie Down Productions], and so far as musically, we wanted to make sure that we put that message into the music the best way that we could.”

Ali Shaheed Muhammad Details Native Tongues’ Split and Much More (Audio)

Songs like “Everything Is Fair” and “Excursions” packed socially-conscious punches alongside records like “Jazz (We’ve Got)” and “Vibes And Stuff” that tapped into the Jazz and bass concepts.

A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory was named among the Top 10 Hip-Hop albums of all-time by Ambrosia For Heads readers, who ranked another ATCQ title even higher. That 2016 poll was recently discussed in an episode of the What’s The Headline podcast (also embedded below):