These days it's almost embarrassing to admit you like hip hop, one needs only to listen to this album to realize the amazing potential for hip-hop as high artistic expression in music.
Breakdown of the album: Start with the beat. Something jazzy, not too complicated, throw in a synth if you must. Don't put too many layers on top. You don't need high pitched samples. Then get an intelligent MC who can rhyme about something other than their wealth, women, and criminal background. The more skillful they are at feeling and flowing to the beat, the less production you need. Appropriate social commentary and lessons in life will push it into classic territory. Sure Illmatic and Ready to Die are classics, but you don't need an album full of violence and tales from the hood to make good hip hop.
All through the album the beats are deep and the bass is funky without being overbearing. There are a few tracks that are less than superb, but the album is still a classic. "Buggin' Out," "Butter," "Rap Promoter," "Rhymes and Stuff," "Jazz," and "Scenario" are all perfect. All the tracks on this album either have your head nodding, hips shaking, or mind working. The way the music matches Q-tips rhymes flawlessly always astounds me and Phife's lyrics keep the beat going. Busta Rhymes' verse on "Scenario" is a welcome addition to the laid back feel of this album (anyone else think Busta sounded like ODB back in the day?).
All in all, this is a classic album. What De La Soul started, A Tribe Called Quest perfected. The Low End Theory ranked #154 in Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, ranked #32 in Spin Magazine's "90 Greatest Albums of the '90s", and was the album of the year for Spex magazine (also #10 on the 100 Albums of the Century). It also made it onto the 100 Essential Albums of the 20th Century (Vibe magazine) and Essential Recordings of the 90s (Rolling Stone). I can't say enough about this album or about this group. This is a must have not for rap lovers but for music lovers.
Public Enemy is very overrated, never thought much of It Takes A Nation... but A Tribe Called Quest lives up to the hype. Both groups are fairly similar, but like Livewire already said Public Enemy are much more aggressive.
The reason people think so highly of Public Enemy and A Tribe Called Quest isn't because they were revolutionary but because they stood out during a time when gangsta rap was taking over and rap had lost its substance. So yes, they are very overrated as a whole but I still love Tribe.
How can you like 50 Cent and Jedi Mind Tricks, and at the same time talk smack about ATCQ? 50 is the epitame of everything wrong with hip-hop today, and even though Jedi have great beats their voices are impossible to listen to for more than three tracks. Not to mention they have some of the most violent, homophobic, and misogynistic lyrics I have ever heard in my life. (This is not meant to attack you so please do not take this the wrong way. I just love heated discussions.)
"Vibes and Stuff" is a pretty sweet song, and "Buggin Out" has some of my favorite Phife and Tip verses. I have to say, though, the 5 Foot Assassin aka Phife Dawg is completely and totally underrated. Although his rapping isn't as unique as Q-Tip, in some of places Phife is actually better than Tip.