Posted by: vincentlopez | September 8, 2008

My “Low End Theory” Theory

I think this all started for me back in ’91.  When De La Soul is Dead and The Low End Theory were released, I hailed them as great sonic achievements for their ‘back to basics- eff the world-stripped down-harder edge’ approach.  It didn’t occur to me at the time that maybe other groups would catch on and try to make themselves slightly less commercialized but then Outkast and The Roots both did it in ’96, too.  This led to my “Low End Theory” theory, which is basically when a group eschews the glamour, glitz, and hype that may have been caused by their first album, goes back to basics with the second album, becomes highly successful with their third album, and then isn’t quite sure what to do on the fourth album.


To sum this up:

1st album = happy to be signed to a label, experimenting, having fun, not sure what to do in the studio, searching for their voice/niche

2nd album = focused, angrier, upset with the label/industry, darker approach and feel

3rd album = more accepting of their plight with the label, appeals to a broader group of listeners, having fun and experimenting but still angry, commercially and critically acclaimed

4th album = still riding high off the last album but not as focused, experimenting further, group may be having internal problems


It’s not perfect but it’s weird how I’ve always compared these groups in this way.  The only group that didn’t fit the mold, so to speak, is the group that has never fit the mold: De La Soul.  Their third album, Buhloone Mindstate, didn’t fit the whole “combining your first two albums and updating your formulas for the more commercial third album” approach.  Their fourth album didn’t fit my theory either.  They hated their label from day one and basically said “eff you” to Tommy Boy on every album.  Anyway, with the exception of De La Soul, it appears that I consider the sophomore albums from these groups to be their absolute best.  What do you think?


1. People’s Instinctive Travel’s… = 3 Feet High and Rising = Do You Want More* = Southernplayalisticadillacmuzic

2. The Low End Theory = De La Soul is Dead = Illadelph Halflife = Atliens

3. Midnight Marauders = Buhloone Mindstate = Things Fall Apart = Aquemini

4. Beats, Rhymes, and Life = Stakes is High = Phrenology = Stankonia


* – Even though The Roots released Organix in ’93 as their first ‘album’, it was nothing but a demo.





  1. pretty good post, but i dont know about things fall apart and phrenology being good albums.

    all the roots have that classic in my opinion is there 1st 2 albums and thats it. do u want more & illadelph halflife. after that, i dont wanna say its been downhill but things wernt just the same.

    they should have stayed with that same formula.

    but only a certain number groups or solo artists have stayed consistant by puttin out good albums in a row. only a few has done that, i cant name em all. but consistancy nowadays in hip-hop is long lost.

    now in the 90’s it seems like everyone was consistant. but ever since ’99, its been a downward spiral.

  2. @Brandan – I don’t consider Phrenology to be a good album. It’s just average.

  3. Good post. I still believe Midnight Marauders is a pinch better than Low End. Don’t get me wrong I LOVE Low End, but Phife got nicer on the Mic, Q-Tip perfected his skills, the production was a thing of beauty, and the Chemistry on Marauders made it a masterpiece (even the cover artwork was dope!). In my opinion Tribe peaked on Marauders (even though BR&L was a solid follow-up). I still can’t believe Marauders didn’t get 5 in the Source – 1 of the top 10 albums of all time.


  4. and on that Tribe subject, in my opinion they never put out a wack album. all they albums are on point. yeah, some is better than others but every album from People’ Instinctive Travels to Love Movement is on point.

    so im gonna say it, Tribe has never put out a wack album, they are all jammin.

    if u think they put out a wack album, then u just wanna start a argument when there is none to be made!

  5. uhm wasn’t Organix a full length effort? Especially since they’ve talked about doing another Organix?
    I saw the asterix btw…

    Common slightly fits this theory one could argue.

    All of the groups mentioned fall into many peoples GOAT lists, even though formulaic…

  6. Great post, I love it when the ‘math’ gets dropped like this. I’d like to contribute one more group that can be placed in this formula: Gangstarr

    First album: dope, but the didn’t put the puzzle together well enough yet.
    Second album: straight up classic, blueprint stuff.
    Third album: Maybe their best effort, hardcore and abstract
    Fourth LP: straight dopeness but… I don’t know, it just didn’t have the same impact as album 2 and 3

  7. @Booyabase – I did think of Gangstarr but they were extremely consistent in the 90’s. There weren’t many ups and downs with them. And they never consciously tried to become more popular/commercial. They just stuck with a great formula and sound. Also, I’m not considering “No More Mr. Nice Guy” because both Primo and Gangstarr referred to it as a demo that they made in two weeks.

  8. Vince:

    Your formula is so on point that it’s scary!

    It also applies to Wu, though Forever wasn’t as dark on the whole as 36 chambers. Then again, RZA’s never strictly followed ANY formula.

  9. Yep, true indeed… they never tried to become more popular. Gangstarr ruled the 90’s, still my most favourite groep ever.

  10. in many cases this might be true, Onyx would be another example with the dark All We Got Iz Us being their best album, but you also have first albums that remain the artist’s best, where you can feel how the artist put their whole life in it.
    Like Illmatic, Word… Life, The Natural (Mic Geronimo)..

  11. I have always thought about the theory of how the 1st album is a “celebration of life” then the 2nd album is a little more jaded, a little more “Yea, I am successful, now what?” type of feel. I mean as musician’s in general not just hip-hop.

  12. Disregard the grammatical errors please.

  13. […] haven’t forgiven them for that. Of course, then came The Love Movement… And lest you forget, My “Low End Theory” Theory discussed the pain of that dreaded 4th album for some of my favorite groups.  Also, don’t […]

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