September 15, 2008

A Tribe Called Quest - Midnight Marauders (November 9, 1993)


A Tribe Called Quest's third album, Midnight Marauders, remains their biggest selling effort. It takes the jazz fusion influences that was prevalent on The Low End Theory and turns it on its ear, as Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad elected to also incorporate more traditional hip hop sounds into their work. The result may have been the most commercially successful release in their catalog, and the most accessible, but my two readers shouldn't take that to mean that Midnight Marauders is their sell-out album.

Lyrically, Tip and Phife expand upon their wordplay from The Low End Theory, while the music, which is mostly provided by Ali Shaheed Muhammad (with guest assists from Skeff Anslem and Main Source's Large Professor), sounds much more in your face that on their last two discs: the beats are presented with much more immediacy than anything else they had done to this point, with the exception of maybe "Scenario" and its remix.

The album cover alone exemplifies the overtly hip hop sound that appears on the disc. In the background, behind the usual character that appeared on all of Tribe's album covers thus far, are the head shots of other rappers in the game, stretching all over the genre. There are three different versions of the cover, each with different head shots, but the one with the red border is the most widely available one, and, unsurprisingly, is the version that I have.

I could fill up several more paragraphs about Midnight Marauders, but I have a feeling that observant followers of the blog may already have a clue about how I feel about the disc, so I'll just let the write-up speak for itself.

1. MIDNIGHT MARAUDERS TOUR GUIDE
One of the few rap album intros that I find tolerable, if only because the theme introduced here is consistent throughout most of the album.

2. STEVE BIKO (STIR IT UP)
Right from the beginning of this song, you realize that this isn't The Low End Theory 2: Even Lowerer. While the jazzy production is still present, it isn't as overt as before, taking a backseat to a more orthodox hip hop sound, albeit on Tribe's terms. You may find the effect of echoing the last word in nearly every bar annoying, and if you do, you obviously need to listen again.

3. AWARD TOUR (FEAT TRUGOY THE DOVE FROM DE LA SOUL)
Trugoy may only provide the hook, but that hook is the fancy bow on this Christmas present of a rap song, one that still sounds fucking great today, and one that is actually fun to listen to. (Regardless of how you feel about the shit released today (if you didn't know how I felt about it, I'm sure you just figured it out by reading that last sentence), you have to admit that a lot of songs, even the "best" ones, aren't necessarily fun to listen to.)

4. 8 MILLION STORIES
Producer Skeff Anslem provides Phife Dawg with a solo outing, which proves that he is still capable of captivating an audience on his own. The beat does a good job of remaining in the background, instead of tripping all over the verses.

5. SUCKA N---A
Q-Tip attempts to explain the appeal of the N-word in the African-American community, and even though he claims to cringe whenever he actually uses the term, he still says it multiple times. Because the song is an effort to rationalize one of the most polarizing words in the history of the world, some of you two may find this song to be even more offensive than your average misogynistic and violent rap song. Then again, you may simply accept it for what it is.

6. MIDNIGHT
This song rocks. Q-Tip's solo rhymes ride the beat smoothly, and the instrumental puts you in the right frame of mind to just enjoy life in general, regardless of the time of day. You are left wondering how Phife would have sounded over this beat, though.

7. WE CAN GET DOWN
Not as good as "Midnight" (really, how could it be?), but great in its own way. Then again, including both Tip and Phife on the same track (after three songs in a row featuring one or the other) tends to have that effect on music in general.

8. ELECTRIC RELAXATION
One of my favorite songs of all time. Period. Next!

9. CLAP YOUR HANDS
After the smoothed-out "Electric Relaxation", your ears are assaulted by the hard beats that make up "Clap Your Hands". Thoroughly enjoyable to listen to, from start to finish, although I'm left wondering if (a) Phife's favorite rap group in the world is still EPMD, and (b) if he still considers himself to be his favorite rapper, considering he did go solo, but hasn't done much since. I also understand that Phife has gone through some troubling health issues as of late, so my best wishes go out to him and his family.

10. OH MY GOD (FEAT BUSTA RHYMES)
Busta may appear on the hook, but it's a far cry from his scene-stealing, dragon-slaying cameo on The Low End Theory's "Scenario": he repeats the title phrase over and over again. The song itself is good, but its remix is even better, and is well worth the effort to track it down on the Interweb. I'm still trying to figure out what Phife said that was so offensive that it had to be censored, though.

11. KEEP IT ROLLIN' (FEAT LARGE PROFESSOR)
Beat-wise, this is not what you're expecting to hear after listening to the first ten tracks, but it still sounds alright. This song has become infamous for guest producer and rapper Large Professor's command that his fans "buy [his] album when [he] drop[s] it", a command that nobody could ever obey, as the album in question, The LP, was never actually released. Sure, eventually Extra P provided HipHopSite.com with a remastered version of his lost opus to be sent as a freebie with orders of what would actually become his debut album, 1st Class, but that's hardly the same thing.

12. THE CHASE, PART II
Getting back on track, Q-Tip and Phife split mic duties on the sequel to a song that was never officially released. Not as great as its preceding songs, but still pretty good. The B-Side to the "Oh My God" single was a slightly retooled version of this song, which is notable for featuring Q-Tip's cousin (and Kanye West's current apprentice) Consequence on his first ever recorded verse.

13. LYRICS TO GO
Dan "The Automator" Nakamura, one of my favorite music producers ever, recently released a remix to this song for the soundtrack to NBA 2K7, a soundtrack that he fully produced, and in a fashion inconsistent with the rest of his catalog, his version sounded terrible. However, I chalk up that misfire to the fact that the original song is just so damn good already, it would have been hard for anybody to improve upon. Curiously, the Automator edited out Phife's reference to Space Jam's Michael Jordan and his gambling problem in his remix: pressure from the league, maybe? His unedited commentary appears in its full glory on Midnight Marauders.

14. GOD LIVES THROUGH
Ali Shaheed Muhammad swipes Busta's "Oh My God" hook and incorporates it into the beat for this track, which sounds completely different that everything else on Midnight Marauders. By far, this is the disc's weakest song, but when your worst song also happens to be the final song on the album, how can that possibly be a bad thing? It's also cool that Phife references the album cover in his lyrics.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Midnight Marauders may be the most straightforward hip hop album in their catalog thus far, but A Tribe Called Quest haven't abandoned their mission: they just found a way to get more people to pay attention. The result was two of their biggest singles in their entire career, the most consistent album that they would ever record, and a lifelong fan in Max, thanks primarily to "Electric Relaxation". The Low End Theory takes bigger risks and is ultimately more rewarding, but as far as I'm concerned, Midnight Marauders is Tribe's best album, as it proves that you don't have to dilute your message in order to reach the masses, and also because it sounds really fucking good.

BUY OR BURN? Buy this album. Enough said. Right-click on the link and purchase the album right now. It's okay. I can wait.

BEST TRACKS: "Electric Relaxation"; "Midnight"; "Award Tour"; "Clap Your Hands"; "Lyrics To Go"; "We Can Get Down"; "Oh My God"; "8 Million Stories"

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
Read the other A Tribe Called Quest write-ups by clicking here.

16 comments:

  1. "The Low End Theory" is still their best album but this is definitely a must have for any hip-hop head. Also, read "Check the Technique" when you have time. Q-Tip did the production for the first 3 albums without Ali Shaheed.

    Vincent
    thimk.wordpress.com

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    1. Yeah, that's true. From what I know, only "Push It Along" was done by Ali Shaheed.

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  2. Amazing how long it took for u to review this since MM is easily one of the best albums ever. Then again, everyone should already know (and love) it and have it in their collections.

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  3. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessSeptember 15, 2008

    Careful, Max. You're damn near stunt blogging again. Can't wait to read the Tribe review. As I've previously said on your blog, The Low End Theory/Midnight Marauders are right up there with Illmatic/It Was Written and The Infamous/Hell On Earth as the greatest consecutive albums ever. Add a certain Mr. McKay to the equation and I should probably pack up and move to Queens right now.

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  4. Phil Watts, Jr.September 15, 2008

    "ANTI-BATTY BOY"

    Yup...that's the line that got edited. Probably because of pressure from gay rights groups, especially after the Bojo Bantan "Boom Bye Bye" shit. Phife still says the line in concerts, though.

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  5. BUJU BANTON...get it right bredren

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  6. Max, You didn't think You was going to review this album and not have a commen from Q (If you did, my blogin' confidence just went down a few notches)Were do I start with this album:

    1. Look at the title of me blog to see how I feel about this album.

    2. There is no bad song on this album. Can you say that about even the best hip hop album (yeah probably, but let me try to make my point, damnit).

    3. Tip and Phife reach their pinnacle on this gem. They could not really sustain this type of creative output afterwards (and I dig BRL).

    4. Max, I hope you know that Tip did all the beats for the first three albums (he saying it more and more (Red Bull does it to ya), go ask Tip to see). Ali was involved, but Tip was the chief beat cat in the crew (and yet, who be the DJ???!!!)

    5. I actually have something lined up for Tribe coming up soon. I will e-mail you and Vincent the details fo the Tribe Project (evil (but I'm really not) laughter as he says this). Hope you cats will join up into the project.

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  7. Midnight Marauders was Tribe's last good effort. I still think that The low end theory is their best album, but Midnight Marauders was the album that sounded that big and decent.

    The lyrics are okay, no nonsense was talked in there and the music is fully packed with bass...

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  8. I never could really dig the MIDNIGHT track. I never got the music to it.

    Also, Electric Relaxation always blew my mind that it was 7/8 loop, and thats some crazy ass shit, ask any musician who knows hiphop is 99.99% 4/4 or 8/8, and for the more elite group of producers, even 16/16.

    As a producer myself, I gotta admit to the simpleness to all the beats, yet I have to admire the complexity of the sandiwching so many samples into one album...

    I loved how Q Tip fucked up Phifes verse on Keep It Rollin...

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  9. "God lives through" is "by far the weakest song".... dude, what the hell are you talkin about? i think that would have to be "we can get down". yeah, i know they use the same hook again but dude, that beat fuckin rocks and phife smashes on his verse. tip with that sing, songy hook and adlibs works perfectly with the track. that is one of the best ending songs to a cd i can remember. btw, "lyrics to go" is my fav song on the album and is my fav tribe song EVER. and yeah, "midnight" is the shiot! i would've loved to seen a video to that.

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  10. This was released the same day as Enter the Wu-Tang, which is an awesome fact because 1) The Wu is the greatest hip-hop group of all time 2) ATCQ is the second greatest hip-hop group of all time.

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  11. Labcabin KiDDecember 07, 2011

    GOD LIVES THOUGH.

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  12. Boy whatchyousayn bout God Lives Through???

    That's Busta Rhymes favorite track ever. Possibly mine.

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  13. From ParisApril 26, 2012

    I have to agree with the other comments... Q-Tip's lyric on God Lives Through is the best thing on that album - its so smooth it oozes out of the speakers like hip hop personnified.

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  14. Just noticed this album came out the same day as 36 Chambers.

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  15. Electric Relaxation is my second favorite song ever (after The Pharcyde - She Said). That is all.

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