After releasing two back to back classic albums in the span of only two short years, many wondered what would be in store for A Tribe Called Quest’s future. Was there any room for improvement after their last two albums were certified Hip-Hop masterpieces? Could ATCQ release yet another classic album? Many believed they couldn’t possibly top their previous efforts. All these questions were answered when ATCQ released their third album “Midnight Marauders” in 1993. Unbelievably, A Tribe Called Quest did the unthinkable, release yet another classic album that was better than their previous albums.
3 classic albums in a row! The thought of any artist achieving this is astonishing. While most Emcees get lost in the swing of success, ATCQ defied the odds and continued to make great music. To simply put it, ATCQ pulled off the impossible. “Midnight Marauders” not only satisfied Tribe fans; it became the group’s masterpiece album in their collection.
Every aspect of “Midnight Marauders” is phenomenal. From the lyrics, to the production, it all comes together to form a vibe that few groups can pull off. Some albums just capture that perfect feel that cannot be described by words but is transparent throughout every aspect of the music. “Midnight Marauders” is one of those few albums that embodies everything that is good with Hip-Hop. The album personifies a time when Hip-Hop was flourishing before our eyes and turning into something nobody could imagine. Simply, the album personified A Tribe Called Quest and more importantly Hip-Hop.
Production wise ATCQ continued to display their beautiful, laid back, yet hard, jazz filled production. However, this time around they incorporated a couple of new aspects. These aspects proved that Ali Muhammed and Q-Tip knew how to keep their production varied yet still remaining true to their roots. Lyrically Q-Tip and Phife Dawg continued to progress into legendary emcees, as “Midnight Marauders” features the best lyricism of any of the Tribe albums. Whether it was Q-Tip slicing through tracks with his socially uplifting messages or Phife Dawg humoring use with his witty punch lines and numerous “5 Foot Freak” tales, it was classical.
They say if you can remember the first time you hear a song, it’s a classic. If you can look back 5 years later and remember the exact period or moment when you heard a song, then that song or album has done a lot more than entertain you. It has captured a period of time that was memorable to you and translated it into musical form. This statement definitely applies to the material throughout “Midnight Marauders”, as most Tribe fans can remember their first time hearing such classic joints like “Award Tour”, “Electric Relaxation”, “Oh My God” and ”Lyrics To Go”. These classic tracks bring about a feeling of excitement upon listening. The feeling of Hip-Hop is almost transparent through these tracks. Ask any true Tribe fan and they will tell you the moments they remember with any of the Tribe albums. As many have experience, fans grew up on A Tribe Called Quest, and can relate their early life images to the songs A Tribe Called Quest depict.
But besides the influence, aura and nostalgia, “Midnight Marauders” is filled with nothing but classic Hip-Hop joints. “Award Tour” is the beautifully produced track, which has almost become a theme for the Hip-Hop culture. The infectious production combined with a mesmerizing hook by Trugoy of De La Soul combined to make “Award Tour” not only one of ATCQ’s finest material but one of the great Hip Hop songs ever made. However, not to be overlooked is Tip & Phifes lyricism on the track. Both Tip and Phife rip the track with tenacious lyricism that was never seen before from the duo. Tip especially puts out a stellar performance with his verse. “See, lyrically I'm Mario Andretti on the mo-mo. Ludicrously speedy, or infectious with the slow-mo”. Of course, Phife would not be outdone, and the 5-foot freak also gives us one of his best performances on the Mic. “A lot of kids was busting rhymes but they had no taste. Some said Quest was wack, but now is that the case. I have a quest to have the mic in my hand. Without that, it's like Kryptonite and Superman”.
Staying on the classic vibe tip, “Electric Relaxation” is the stunning track that follows in the footsteps of legendary love inspired Tribe material. Production wise the track is truly one of ATCQ’s finest works. Once the enthralling baseline comes in you know you are in for a different experience, one that most artists cannot manufacture. Consisting of a brilliant sample of Ronnie Foster’s “Mystic Love” for the loop and bassline, and “Inside Love” by Brethren for the drums; “Electric Relaxation” shows Tip & Sha’s commitment to digging in the crates. Besides the technicality, the song is just down right catchy and gripping to the point where it says in your head for days. A big part of that was always the catchy hook, which was always had to decipher, “Relax yourself girl, please settle down”, to Q-Tip and Phife Dawgs smooth lyricism.
While minimal, “Midnight Marauders” does feature some legendary guest appearances by Busta Rhymes and Large Professor. After the classic collabo on “Scenario”, you knew Busta had to come back and bless the Tribe once again. This time spitting the hook on the energy filled “Oh My God”. The track delivers that raw energy that only Busta can provide, and the smooth laid back feel that only the Tribe can offer. “Keep It Rollin’” features guest production and an appearance by the legendary Large Professor. Acting as one of the few outside produced tracks on a Tribe album, “Keep It Rollin” still manages to portray the Tribe sound while keeping that vintage Large Pro feel.
However, it’s “Midnight Marauders” variety in topics and diversity that truly make it the classic that it is. While most Emcees today rap about the same tired old topics, ATCQ shows the broader side of Hip-Hop. “8 Million Stories” is the simple tale of Phife’s everyday struggles. Even though the track may come off as simple, it offers something different than what we are accustomed to. It offers a more realistic view on life and its problems. Phife vividly describes his stories about getting dissed by a girl, having his car broken into, and even having trouble controlling his little brother. On “Sucka Nigga” Q-Tip address the ever-present racial problem. Never afraid to stray away from controversial issues and social problems, Tip tells the critics that he and the Hip-Hop community embrace the controversial “N” word. “Other niggas in the community think it's crummy. But I don't, neither does the youth cause we em-brace adversity, it goes right with the race. And being that we use it as a term of endearment”.
Other classic tracks that unfortunately never get the attention they deserve, which is hard since almost every track on the album could very well be labeled as a classic, include “Steve Biko”, the street tales of “Midnight”, “Clap Your Hands”, and “Lyrics To Go”.
Throughout the years, many groups come and go. However, most leave little that makes them withstand the test of time. It takes more than a hit song or a platinum record to gain longevity and respect in the game. It takes an undeniable love for the art and the culture you represent. Every time you get on the mic or drop a verse, you have to have a sense that the music you are making is representing you. And A Tribe Called Quest epitomizes this statement to the fullest. The reason ATCQ is able to make three consecutive classic albums is because; they first and foremost put out music that they like. They don’t go by any formula to have a big hit, or try to scatter guest appearances throughout their albums in order to attract fans. They are just themselves, and this is never more evident than on “Midnight Marauders”. Its been said before on their previous work, but it has to be said again. “Midnight Marauders” is truly a masterpiece, and is light years ahead of its time. ATCQ once again released a record that changed the tide in music. As Q-Tip says no “The Chase Pt 2”, I wont say the year, cause its for eternity. And that’s exactly what “Midnight Marauders” is, an album for eternity.