Jive Records, 1993
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/06/2006
The near-monolithic influence of gangsta rap forced even lightweight rap and hip-hop contemporaries to adjust their marketability in the early 90s. For the most mainstream acts, the results were laughable (see M.C. Hammer’s metamorphosis into ‘Hammer’ or New Kids On The Block’s “hardened” image).
For the more experimental, groundbreaking artists, such as De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, this meant upping the vulgarity and using some airtime on their albums to boast about their ass-kicking abilities. This happened for De La Soul in De La Soul is Dead and A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders. The new gangsta environment may not have been the most receptive toward a band best known for their effortless jazz fusion in The Low End Theory, but it challenged A Tribe Called Quest to seek out new territories and resulted in their most commercially successful album.
If The Low End Theory was A Tribe Called Quest’s love letter to the bebop and jazz heroes of their elders, Midnight Mauraders was ATCQ’s love letter to radio and the founding fathers of hip-hop. The album cover was decorated with hip-hop heroes like Chuck D, The Beastie Boys and Ice-T. The basic premise of the album (generously devoid of excessive skits) is a radio program, narrated by a HAL computer-like female announcer.
Midnight Marauders was packed with hits, but kept ATCQ’s satin-smooth flow and jazzy experimentation intact. “Award Tour” and “Oh My God” were artistic and commercial high points. Topically, ATCQ didn’t touch on as many social issues as on The Low End Theory, but they managed to push some buttons on “Sucka Nigga,” a song that put the n-word right up in the ears of sensitive listeners as the word became commonplace for some and still a taboo word for many others. It’s a tight line, but ATCQ manages to make the song an uncomfortable but utterly engaging listening experience. Q-Tip’s easygoing flow are all over some of Midnight Marauders’ best moments, such as “Lyrics to Go” and the call-and-response “We Can Get Down.” Pfife Dawg and Ali Shaheed Muhammad deserve as much credit as Q-Tip for keeping the music on Midnight Marauders focused and the lyrics inventive.
If it wasn’t for The Low End Theory’s instant classic status, Midnight Marauders would be hailed as a benchmark hip-hop album instead of a mere classic hip-hop album.