A Tribe Called Quest: Hidden Meaning Behind ‘Low End Theory’ Revealed

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A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad has revealed the hidden meaning behind the title of the group’s classic sophomore album, The Low End Theory.

Hailed for its experimentation with bass frequencies, it’s long been thought this was the only inspiration behind the title. But according to its co-producer, there’s a much deeper meaning behind it.

Stopping by Talib Kweli’s People’s Party podcast to promote his new Katalyst JID013  album with Adrian Younge, Shaheed shared some background on the making of The Low End Theory.

“We just wanted to make [A Tribe Called Quest’s 1990 debut] People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm [seem] like a nice introduction, but [this is a] we’re here to staysort of an album,” he explained. “And so, with that, we had a bigger budget — a little bit; not too much.

Shaheed continued: “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.”

He then went into the deeper meanings behind the album’s 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,” he told Kweli. “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, there was a hidden, more socially-conscious meaning, explained Shaheed. The other is the fact that people of color were on the lower end of the totem pole of America,” he revealed. “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.

“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.”

Shaheed also spoke about Bob Power, the pioneering engineer and producer who helped A Tribe Called Quest elevate their sound. Even after all these years since the release of The Low End Theory, Shaheed said Tribe still contacts him to give him props for his work on the album.

Watch Shaheed talk about The Low End Theory around the 36:00 mark below: