Jazz Café, Saturday 24th March 2018
The Low End Theory is without doubt one of hip-hop’s finest albums with an influence that is impossible to quantify. It is arguably the apex of the Native Tongues sound which dominated hip-hop in the late 80s through to the mid-90s and spawned a limitless amount of jazz-influenced, experimental and avant-garde artists in the 25+ years that have followed. A Tribe Called Quest have given so much to hip-hop culture but the 48 minutes of The Low End Theory are probably their most welcome contribution.
Fans young and old packed into the intimate Jazz Café to pay their respects to such a groundbreaking, iconic album by watching a selection of London’s finest jazz musicians take on the unenviable challenge of doing justice to some of the greatest music the genre has heard.
Fronted by UK hip-hop legend Yungun aka Essa who was assuming the role of Q‑Tip for the night, the nine-piece outfit’s interpolation of The Low End Theory and other crucial Tribe works was admirable. Drifting effortlessly between high-energy tracks such as Scenario and then being able to capture the melodic soul of smooth, slow-tempo tracks like Bonita Applebum required seamless skill. Thankfully the artists on show were more than up to the task, each demonstrating an innermost appreciation for the subtleties that made Tribe such an incredible group. The improvisational looseness of the extended instrumentation on some tracks was a welcome interlude to the relentless shower of classic hits, giving the crowd a chance to draw breath. The aforementioned Yungun, and his partner in rhyme who played Phife Dawg equally brilliantly, were constantly engaged with the crowd as they encouraged them to join in with every classic hook, bar and adlib.
For the older fans in the crowd this show was a nostalgic trip to an era when hip-hop’s innovation and diversity finally had the naysayers unable to deny the musical merits of the genre. For the younger fans it was a further reminder of the importance and influence of A Tribe Called Quest on music as a whole. And for the entire crowd it was a well-executed exploration of the sheer brilliance of the group and this classic sophomore album which will continue to be immortalised for generations to come.
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