A Tribe Called Quest returned with their sophomore album The Low End Theory in 1996. The album offers a minimalist sound that combines bass, drum breaks and jazz samples. Lyrically, the album features social commentary, word play, humor and interplay between group members Q-Tip and Phife Dawg.
The Low End Theory took Tribe to that fabled "next level" hip hop acts always bang on about by performing the trick every authenticity-obsessed artist most dearly wants to execute. They crossed over without selling out - in fact, they crossed over while retrenching. Contrary to what Weiss and colleagues thought at the time, the record is harder-edged, darker, and, in terms of its adherence to established hip hop codes, actually a little bit conservative.
The record became beloved of fundamentalist b-boys because it rooted itself firmly in the music's core sonic, conceptual, lyrical and artistic values, yet managed to increase the band's appeal to listeners who generally shunned rap for sonic or ideological reasons. Here was a group from a still outsider genre, uniting hardcore fans and curious outsiders by making music that worried more about integrity, commitment, creativity and resolve than it did appealing to the mainstream.