20 Years Later: A Look Back At An Album That Defined An Era

November 9, 2013 -


Twenty years ago today was an important date in the history of hip-hop. On the same day, two of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) by the Wu-Tang Clan and Midnight Marauders by A Tribe Called Quest, were released. While both titles each deserve their own spotlight, I’m gonna focus my attention on the latter for only one reason: it’s my favorite hip-hop record of all time. Midnight Marauders was the third in a string of three classic albums released by A Tribe Called Quest. In 1990 they released one of the greatest hip-hop debut albums with People’s Instinctive Travels & Paths Of Rhythm and followed that up with The Low End Theory a year later. The Low End Theory is consistently ranked as a top 10 hip-hop album of all time, so Tribe really needed to bring it with their next effort. And boy did they…

For me Midnight Marauders is the blueprint for the perfect hip-hop record, both lyrically and sonically. Q-Tip is often the name most closely associated with A Tribe Called Quest and often rapped alone on some tracks. If given time to put pen to paper, the Tipster could give you some truly cerebral rhymes. But if I had to pick a member of ATCQ in a rap battle, I'm going with Phife Dawg any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Even though his verses weren’t quite as intellectual as Q-Tip’s, he brought a raw attitude and an intensity that was a perfect foil to The Abstract’s smooth and calm demeanor. Any time the 5-Foot Assassin stepped to the mic, he was ready to get vicious and drop bombs. And while they were both bomb MC’s on their own, together they were a formidable pair. The lyrical themes of Midnight Marauders are consistent with those of Tribe’s first two records. However, Midnight Marauders was able to balance the afro-centricity Tribe’s earlier work with subjects that were common in everyday life. This allowed listeners to better digest what Tip and Phife were talking about.

Now I can sit here and wax poetic all day along about the lyricism of Midnight Marauders. But what makes this record an all time classic is Q-Tip’s production. In my most humble opinion, Midnight Marauders is the most well produced hip-hop album of all time. And I'm including The Chronic and College Dropout in that discussion. The Low End Theory had a pretty uniform sound. It featured jazzy and bass-heavy beats (hence the album title) and established Q-Tip as one of the premier producers in hip-hop. Midnight Marauders allowed him to spread his wings and create a more diverse sound. The jazz was still there in full force, but it was joined this time by a little more soul, funk, and rock. The result was some of the most beautiful beats you'll ever hear. Now, the word “beautiful” is somewhat of a clichéd word and has been watered down because it’s been way too overused. But whenever I hear “Lyrics To Go” and “God Lives Through,” it’s the only word that comes to mind because those beats are beautiful. The way Q-Tip uses samples still blows my mind every time I play this record. The fact that he took a random-ass song by Bill Cosby of all people, and turned it into an ill beat is nothing short of genius. And that’s what Q-Tip is, a genius.

In order to truly appreciate the greatness of Midnight Marauders, you have to understand the era in which it was released. I stated earlier that 36 Chambers was released on the same day. That same year Black Moon released Enter Da Stage, Snoop Dogg debuted with Doggystyle, Souls of Mischief released 93 ‘Til Infinity, and Cypress Hill released Black Sunday. A year earlier Dr. Dre put out The Chronic, The Beastie Boys released Check Your Head, The Pharcyde debuted with Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde, and Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth released Mecca & The Soul Brother. The year after, Biggie released Ready To Die and Nas gave us Illmatic. These aren’t just great albums, they're classics that have withstood the test of time. They represent an era when success in hip-hop could only be achieved with skill. It’s a clichéd sentiment, but that doesn’t make it any less true. And while The Low End Theory is typically considered to be A Tribe Called Quest’s magnum opus, I still believe that Midnight Marauders is the record that showcases Tribe at their artistic peak.

Recommended Tracks: the whole damn album is good.

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