Dare I proclaim Midnight Marauders to surpass The Low End Theory as A Tribe Called Quest’s best work? Yes, I dare!

It all started a few weeks ago, when I was chatting with Akira, and without provocation declared A Tribe Called Quest to be the official music of the fall. Akira did not debate that, because IT IS UNDEBATABLE! However he did impart…

Akira

“I was part of a conversation last night where Midnight Marauders was said to be better than Low End Theory. What?!”

That’s just crazy. Or is it?

Akira

“Whaa-phst…whaa-phst phst!”

Yes! This deserves further analysis. Insightful, in-depth, and lengthy analysis…

Akira

“Oh no…”

Too late! You know me, and you know what I’m capable of. You’ve brought this upon yourself.

Akira

“Fine. Do an article. Prove me right!”

And so I shall. But don’t be too jubilant, for I may very well prove you wrong!

And that’s just how these things get started. Now let us all agree that music tastes are subjective, and just because I prefer one album, it doesn’t mean that the other is without merit. It just means the only opinion people should be subjected to are mine, and that the album I prefer is superior, for mine is the superior judgement!

Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan

Why thank you, faithful minion. See folks, he gets it!

SOME BACKGROUND PERSPECTIVE

People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm was a masterpiece, weaving a mellow ’n melodic tapestry which the likes our ears had never heard up to that moment, providing but a purview of how deep into the crates the sampling efforts of Q-tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s production could and would go. But a many rap group could never follow up a sensational debut with the same aplomb. Could ATCQ deliver another solid LP?

Let’s call it what it was — Peoples Travels for the most part was a Q-Tip solo joint, or at least it sure felt that way. A year later, The Low End Theory hit the racks and started off well enough, but it was especially the second track that showed ATCQ could indeed take the proverbial IT to the next level and squashed any fears of a sophomore slump, as “Buggin’ Out” showed the full emergence of Phife as an MC. In addition, the selection of singles “Check the Rhyme,” “Jazz,” and “Scenario” were much stronger than “El Segundo”, “Can I Kick It” and “Bonita Applebum” from Peoples Travels, and alone surpassed everything ATCQ had done before.

A Tribe Called Quest

You can’t get more bug than that.

Midnight. Marauder. Monster. The year was 1993, and hip-hop’s golden age was coming to a close. On one end of the spectrum you had a bevy of pop tripe that, caught-up and discarded by MTVs fickle catering to an even fickler audience. On the other end, an emergence of studio tuffs, who just a few years previous worried how a parental advisory sticker might damper their prospects for radio play, had now gone full-on with profanity and villainous pretenses as they experienced skyrocketing record sales. In between all this was A Tribe Called Quest, just steady delivering intricate rhymes for the true hip-hop heads like me, Akira, and our boy Jelani. We were A Tribe Called Williamsburg — A, B, J, and sometimes G. We got to have an early taste of Midnight Marauders by catching a show during the album’s pre-release promotional tour.

Akira

“Good times…”

Yes they were. But I won’t let fond memories sway my opinion! It’s time for the tale of the tape. Heh heh get it? Cuz back in those days, you had to actually head on down to a record store, dig in your pocket, mull on how to extend your dollar, and choose whether to buy an album on CD or tape. You see, cassettes were a format that used a reel of plastic tape to send the audio signal to ohhhhh never mind… read a book, you damn millennials!

 

The Low End Theory (1991)

Excursions

Clean. Crisp. More direct than “Push It Along” as an album opener. It gets an up, but…

Buggin’ Out

“Yo, Microphone check 1 – 2 what is this…” Yes, Phife. THIS indeed. THIS is where the album and the group go up a level, as the 5-footer comes out like a shot from a canon, firmly takes his place next to Q-tip, and this is the moment the Tribe we all came to love was fully realized. And THIS is what set ATCQ apart from contemporaries Naughty by Nature and Cypress Hill, as Vinnie and Sen Dog never achieved to the same mic level as Treach and B-Real respectively.

Rap Promoter

Meh. Valuable lessons for all who want to get into the music biz, but this is just some filler.

Butter

Phife flies solo for the first time. Not bad.

Verses from the Abstract

Filler.

Show Business

If pro-black consciousness was your thing, then this track was an utter let down. You’d think the collaboration between ATQB and Brand Nubian in 1991 would result in something more epic than MORE gripes about the recording industry, but you’d be wrong.

Vibes and Stuff

The ship is back on course…

The Infamous Date Rape

The course remains steady…

Check the Rhyme

Land ho! The first single from the album, gave the world the first taste of the fully-fleshed Tribe vibe, and is the track that all the others were measured by. “Rap Promoter” and “Verses from the Abstract” never stood a chance.

Everything is Fair

Has the pep the previous filler is missing, but is filler nevertheless.

Jazz (We’ve Got)

It’s was cliche to expect a “jazzy” song from a group like ATCQ in this era, but this is far above the sort of sanctimonious affair we’d received from other groups who made a connection to jazz their repertoire.

Skypager

Like a beta version of “Hot Sex”, and even those pagers may no longer be a thing, that bass strum just works!

What?

A nice ditty for what it is, but what it is is filler. If this album was a boxing event, “What?” is the undercard…

Scenario

…and “Scenario” is the main event that closes the night, with celebrities in $1000 ringside seats! ATCQ meets Leaders of the New School, and everyone gets their moment to shine, but the song will be forever lamented as the moment Busta Rhymes separated himself from the pack with a nonsensical outburst that made even the most ardent in wallflower jump up. Along with Black Sheep’s “The Choice of Yours”, no final verse in the history of hip-hop was more responsible for knee injuries and bumped heads.

 

Midnight Marauders (1993)

Midnight Marauders Tour Guide

If you’re going to have an album intro, why not make it pleasantly obscure?

Steve Biko (Stir It Up)

By now we’ve known what to expect from ATCQ. Up!

Award Tour

“Some said Quest was whack, but is that now the case?” Hell no, and whoever said that was a fool! Don’t hold back, Phife—name some names! Now break out your chisel and etch it in stone, because I’m calling it right here—”Award Tour” is the signature Quest song!

8 Million Stories

Filler, but if Q-Tip is gonna throw Phife a bone, might as well get it out of the way early.

Sucka Nigga

The beginning to a long, unbroken streak of bangers, and perhaps the longest such stretch in their entire discography.

Midnight

That’s two…

We Can Get Down

Here’s another…. Just, just, just…. just pure Tribe. And if you don’t know what that means, I don’t see how your ears have progressed beyond anything since UTFO.

Electric Relaxation

More direct than “Bonita Applebum”, and jazzier than contemporary tracks like “Around the Way Girl” and “Black Coffee No Cream.” You’ll be surprised by how many folk think this song to be soft and mellow, but that’s because they mistakenly underestimate ATCQ. Listen to the lyrics. This is some aggressive verbal wizardry!

Clap Your Hands

-SIGH- I guess all good things must come to an end. “Clap Your Hands” is fine for the what it is, but it’s quite the step down after the A murderer’s row of cuts proceeded it.

Oh My God

And it gets worse. “Oh My God” is an appropriate title, because all I can think is “Oh My God this beat sucks!” Here’s where the albums completely falls off the rails. Large Professor’s production is wanting, and the remix is so superior it shames it even more. The beat just doesn’t fit.

Keep It Rollin’

Oh, I’m just about to eject this album! Another square peg just so Large Professor could air his beef against Main Source? Someone please get him away from the soundboard and send him walking through the front door!

The Chase, Part II

Oh thank goodness. My palette is cleansed and faith in all that is good and decent is restored!

Lyrics to Go

A unheralded killer cut that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, and you all should be ashamed for it! It offends me to the marrow that “Oh My God” is on their anthology and this is not. Listen to the mix of Minnie Ripertons “Inside My Love” and tell me you couldn’t get lost in that for an hour. I dare you tell me that to my face!

God Lives Through

ATCQ always knew how to close and album, and this is no different.

THE FINAL VERDICT

9 WHOA 5 WACK

10 WHOA 4 WACK

It’s close, but the numbers don’t lie. Midnight Marauder takes the crown by a hair!

The highs on The Low End Theory are MAD high, but the gaps are more frequent, and the fondness for “Check the Rhyme” and especially “Scenario” make people forget the frequency at which these lulls occurred, whereas Midnight Marauders enjoyed longer streaks of interrupted musical goodness.

Do you question my assessment? If you doubt by findings, then go back and play both albums, which frankly you should have already been doing! If you need to be told to listen ATCQ then you’re beyond help. Do you need me to tell you to tell you to brush your teeth too? You nasty basta—Begone! Y’all sicken me…

Braniff

Author Braniff

Braniff believes there isn’t a problem that watching a lil’ Godzilla or a bit of impulse shopping can’t fix.

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