Happy Monday. We’ve got a good week lined up, including a new Modest Mouse EP. Today, though, we’ve got guest columnist Carl Leitch reviewing A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders. Visit SadSteve and get some songs for free. Let’s get it on.
Midnight Marauders was released in 1993 and is A Tribe Called Quest’s third studio album. Once again, Q-Tip, Phife, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad are credited with the lion’s share of the writing and production on the album, which, considering the quality of the album, speaks to the talent and originality of the group.
Musically this album is very different from their two previous albums, People’s Instinctive Travels and Paths of Rhythm (1990) and The Low End Theory (1991), which have prominent jazz influences. If anything, Midnight Marauders is rooted in funk and bop music styles. Tribe’s sampling on this project is much more limited than on earlier songs, allowing their creativity to shine through and demonstrating their evolution as a group. Here’s what I think of the tracks:
Steve Biko (Stir It Up): A killer opening track and probably my favorite song on the album. Q-tip and Phife never miss a beat between their hard-hitting verses. The beat on this track is awesome; It has a pretty funky seventies vibe – I recommend checking out the song they sample, “Ekim” by Michal Urbaniak Group. 5
Award Tour: I consider this to be their most popular song. They pick up the tempo on this track and depart from their traditional jazz influences and instead produce a modified R&B sound. Overall, the beat they use is more intricate with a couple interwoven instrumental tracks. 4½
8 Million Stories: A solo performance from Phife Dog. The lyrics in this song have a serious and somber tone and the melody reflects that tone. Phife is pretty straightforward and to the point in his delivery and has two solid verses. 3
Sucka Nigga: Q-tip’s simple, but profound treatise on the use of “nigger” in pop culture. One of my all-time favorite Tribe beats – they use this one superchill bebop sample, listen for the bass line and the part at the end of the song when they let Ali Shaheed Muhammad loose on the turntables. 5
[Midnight: I can’t speak for Carl, but this is one of my favorite tracks on this album. The hook is mad catchy, and the verses are intelligent as always. Perfect placement, too. The night is on my mind. Again, I don’t know how Carl would’ve rated it, but I love this track.] 5
We Can Get Down: A light-hearted song with intelligent and positive rhymes that’s reminiscent of earlier Tribe projects. Another sick showcase of Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s DJ skills. 4½
Electric Relaxation: FIVE OUT OF FIVE… easily. Major props for the call-and-response delivery Q-tip and Phife use on this track. This song is a turning point on the album; the second half has a noticeably slower tempo. 5
Clap Your Hands: Both MCs make a point of building and releasing tension in their verses to match the progression of the beat, which is a fundamental technique in jazz music. You are probably going to want to rewind your shit and listen to Q-tip’s verse again. 4
Oh My God: I really like the melody, but I don’t find much depth in the lyrics, then again there are a couple bars from both MCs that I can’t decipher. It’s another funk-inspired beat with cool horn accents and a sick bass line that drives the song (listen out for it). 3
Keep It Rollin’: An A+ example of Tribe’s punchline emphasis rhyming. Major props to Large Professor for the beat (especially the woodwind and vibraslap work) and to Phife Dog for his verse. 4½
The Chase Pt. 2: This song has a sweet futuristic-sounding beat. The verses on this track are replete with flow and both MCs show that they can go into a Caribbean rhyming mode [Editor’s note: This is my favorite track on the album. Awesome sample, and “Caribbean rhyming mode” is the banger]. 4
Lyrics To Go: They use some more funk samples for this beat (this time James Brown) and really change up their delivery with a pretty cool effect. Phife and Q-tip – especially Phife – slow their pace and make their vocals sound more like normal speech. 3
God Lives Through: I’m not a fan of this track. The beat just sounds recycled by this point in the album and Phife’s verse sounds forced for the beat he’s rapping over. 2
[Carl decided not to write a wrap-up paragraph, so I got a few quotes from him on how he feels about the album.]
Carl: This album shows some serious musicianship… like, they have evolved a lot since Low End Theory.
Alexei: I’m surprised you didn’t give it 5/5.
Carl: I thought I would keep that sacred… like Hotel California is 5/5… and Sgt Pepper’s.
[After a bit of debating, Carl decided that he’d probably also give Low End Theory a 5. So Midnight Marauders is definitely respectable, but I think the weak ending kept Carl from giving at a 5.]