Picks and Pans Review: The Low End Theory

updated 12/16/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/16/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

A Tribe Called Quest

A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

Black Sheep

Wait! Don't give up on rap! Open your ears to these two fun, innovative albums.

With a jumpy solo by jazz bassmaster Ron Carter, the second disc by Quest kicks off on an original note and then stays fresh. Instead of basing their music on the same old tired funk, this New York City trio stitches together unpredictable sounds, especially jazz. One of the more conventional songs, "Check the Rhime," draws on pop music, combining a catchy bass line from a Minnie Riperton song with a distinctive horn melody by Average White Band.

Quest's free-form lyrics don't require careful study. It's the delivery that matters. Good friends Q-Tip and Phife generate a rare chemistry as they trade raps over deejay Ali's offbeat beats. Q-Tip, with a slightly husky voice, exudes confidence and charm, while Phife comes across as a completely unpretentious regular guy.

Clearly influenced by Quest, Black Sheep's Dres and Mista Lawnge (pronounced Long) are childhood friends who rap in a gentle style, backed by some infectious jazz. When it comes to lyrics and vocal delivery, they outdo their mentors. Dres and Lawnge have a knack for crystal-clear articulation that can put a sardonic spin both on straightforward and pun-packed phrases. "U Mean I'm Not," a hilarious sendup of the N.W.A. gangsta style, parodies the voice of a thug who pummels and shoots his own mother because she breaks the yolk in his breakfast egg. "Black with N.V. (no vision)" effectively describes the alienation of a young black man who tries to succeed in business.

A few of the Sheep's songs get mired in sexism, obscenity and adolescent fantasies. Dres and Lawnge have the skills to avoid such easy attention-grabbers. Deftly merging rap and pop, the Black Sheep count not as outcasts but as leaders of the rap pack. (Quest: Jive; Sheep: Mercury)

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