Tracklist A Tribe Called Quest – Midnight Marauders
1. Midnight Marauders Tour Guide
2. Steve Biko (Stir It Up)
3. Award Tour
4. 8 Million Stories
5. Sucka Nigga
7. We Can Get Down
8. Electric Relaxation
9. Clap Your Hands
10. Oh My God
11. Keep It Rollin’
12. The Chase Part II
13. Lyrics To Go
14. God Lives Through
By the time 1993 arrived, Hip Hop nation had a solid understanding and profound appreciation for A Tribe Called Quest. They had come in with a fresh new take on the “typical” rap approach and with the release of their debut “People’s Instinctive Travels…” and sophomore project “The Low End Theory”, they managed to successfully introduce and master the “alternative Hip Hop” sub-genre. In addition, fans knew that Tribe came with intelligence and an entire array of meanings laced throughout each album, and the same held true to their 3rd release “Midnight Marauders”. What they started and cultivated in the first and second release, they truly perfected on this one. As we go through the tracklist, it will become evident that Q-Tip and Phife’s chemistry, flows and delivery remained not only consistent but became surprisingly better. Ali Shaheed perfected the beats, while staying true to Tribe’s signature sound, he still manages to incorporate a new element. If that wasn’t enough, Tribe gives us their first “banger” and their largest commercially successful track. Let’s get to it.
Since it’s Tribe we’re talking about, and everything they do has meaning and ties together, I must start with the album name and cover art because ATCQ truly outdid themselves with it. Tribe hits us with some insightful stats somewhere in the album (we’ll get to it) saying that “7 times out of 10, we listen to our music at night” hence the reference to midnight. The definition of “Maraud” means to “invade, attack or raid”, so essentially we’re about to experience “midnight marauding of the ears”, which seems a little aggressive for these Hip Hop nice guys, but it works because they deliver on that claim. The album cover art, their way of recognizing and acknowledging approximately 70 critical, amazing and talented artists of the culture, is magnificent. While a few varying covers are in circulation, each manages to stay true to Tribe and highlight the legends (before), NOW let’s get to the track list.
ATCQ starts this album off with the introductory track that is done in a unique, Tribe-like way: with a robotic voice that first introduces herself and begins preparing the listeners for what is to come and ties in the album title as well, suddenly, the artistic image of the woman on their album covers comes to life (albeit in robot form). “Hello, this is your Midnight Marauder program. I am on the front of your cover.” And then she does something a little clever, as she sums up the production in simple terms with “the average bounce meter for your Midnight Marauder program will be in the area of 95 bpm. We hope that you will find our presentation precise, bass-heavy, and just right.” The best part about this is, she appears throughout the album, at the end of tracks and in the outro creating a cohesion that is unlike any other album. And if that wasn’t impressive enough, this “tour guide” always drops some gem-like insight and moral upliftment.
The first track and the most significant title in Tribe’s catalogue is “Steve Biko (Stir It Up)” as Phife and Tip use the reference to Steve Biko who was amongst the very first black activists in South Africa and spearheaded an entire movement and was (obviously) socially conscious himself. While his legacy is remarkable, it is for this reason (I believe) Tribe references him here. This entire album is about those who left their mark on the culture so this fits. On the production side, the jazz we loved so much in “The Low End Theory” is very much present, the samples are kept to a minimum and the funk beats are highlighted. Production is just about perfect, but takes a slight backseat to Phife and Tip’s chemistry. Their rapping is absolutely flawless and the switch between the verses is (as always) seamless. They use this track and the fun beat to introduce themselves and name drop a couple legends and highlight that chemistry, here’s what I mean:
“Tribe Called Quest represent, represent
When the mic is in my hand, I’m never hesitant
My favorite jam back in the day was Eric B. for President”
And probably my favorite part of the song is the second to last verse, Tip and Phife go at the verse together and where one stops and the other starts is almost unnoticeable. They truly sound like one person as the fluidity is exceptional and an example to other duos.
Next up, we get to the most highly acclaimed track and the first single from the album. “Award Tour” still has the production quality we expect from Tribe and we’re treated with a featured Trugoy from De La Soul. Since Tribe was at the height of their career, it only makes sense that they would devote a song to their success. “Award Tour” gives us entertaining, engaging and perfect flows. The theme and content are simple and the lyrics follow suit. Production is amazing, with a few samples from Sly & The Family Stone, Milt Jackson, Jade, Charles Earland and a couple others, as Ali Shaheed meshes them together to give us that incredibly fun beat. The chorus is my favorite part because it is so fun, but the lyrics in the verses help too, here’s what I mean:
“We on Award Tour with Muhammad my man
Going each and every place with the mic in their hand
New York, NJ, N.C., VA….
We on Award Tour with Muhammad my man
Going each and every place with the mic in their hand
Oaktown, L.A., San Fran, St. John”
“See, lyrically I’m Mario Andretti on the mo-mo
Ludicrously speedy, or infectious with the slow-mo”
“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
So Shaheed come in with the sugar cuts
Phife Dawg’s my name, but on stage, call me Dynomutt”
The reference to “Dynomutt” is interesting and of course the fact that they are so confident in their success is always good. Also, this is where we hear the robotic voice dropping some knowledge about the significance of the album title is heard on the outro as she leaves us with “in this case we, we maraud for ears”.
Next track is “8 Million Stories”, which is one of the only non-Tribe produced tracks, but is dope nevertheless. This is for those who appreciate the “solo Phife” joints because it’s primarily Phife rapping. The track starts off with the exact line the previous song left off on and goes right into rhymes. The bass and “95 bpm” structure that was mentioned in the intro is also heard here, so this ties everything we’ve heard up until this point together. As for lyrics, this is a more serious topic. Phife takes us through his run of bad luck and does it with some fantastic word play. This is what I mean:
“But I’m goin to stay strong cause I ain’t buying it
Tonight I’m taking Sherry out
I don’t have jack to wear
You know I’ve got to look dipped in the freshest gear”
“Will someone tell me what did I do to deserve this?
I think I’ll pull out my suit for Sunday service”
I really like the play on Sherry and Jack (obviously alcohol references but also the alternative) and then verse two gives us some more:
“Just last week my girl was stressing me
Now her best friend be underssing me
Well I was lovin her by the moon lit
Now I’m tricking on her like Kinte’
Bought a bag of izm from the smoke shop
Walking towards the car, here come the damn cops”
“Some niggas cross-town was trying to stick me
All I had was shorts, a dollar fifty
Picked up this girl in the hoopty
Just because of her rhymes, she tried to soup me
Pay for this and pay for that loot for nails and hair
Who the hell do you think I am, Mr. Belvedere?”
I appreciate Phife’s honesty and if you have any doubts about how integral this track is, fast forward some 16 years and Jay -Z would reference it in “Empire State Of Mind”.
As we move along the tracklist, we get to “Sucka Nigga” and this is the socially conscious ATCQ we know and love. They make a song entirely referencing the use of the N-word, as Q-Tip touches on the origins of the word and the contextual usage. Here take a look:
“See, nigga first was used back in the Deep South
Falling out between the dome of the white man’s mouth
It means that we will never grow, you know the word dummy
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”
And if that wasn’t enough, we here our familiar “robot tour guide” at the end, marauding the ears yet again. This time she leaves us with “You’re not any less of a man, if you don’t pull the trigger. You’re not necessarily a man, if you do”, and this is perhaps the voice of our conscience also.
At just about the halfway point, we’re hit with the track “Midnight”. I’m not going to spend too much time on this one, but it features Raphael Saadiq (credited as Raphael Wiggins here) and is another very socially aware song. With the simple yet meaningful hook, Tip is able to speak on police brutality, life hanging out on the streets, and constant harassment from the police for nothing and he even references a De Niro flick which is always nice. Once again we’re left with a statistical fact from the woman on “the front cover”.
As much as I love the track “We Can Get Down”, I’m going to skip over it and draw our attention to “Electric Relaxation”. There is never enough words to describe this track. From the perfectly chosen and looped samples to the incredibly smooth lyrics and perfectly executed back and forth flow from Phife and Tip. This track is easily the most referenced, the most loved and a certified classic. It’s fun, it’s witty and it’s such a clever approach to a track devoted to the ladies. From the minute Tip drops “Honey, check it out, you got me mesmerized” to Phife’s entrance with “I like em brown, yellow, Puero Rican or Haitian/ Name is Phife Dawg from the Zulu Nation/” all the way to “Shorty let me tell you about my only vice/ It has to do with lots of lovin and it ain’t nuthin nice/” which is the very last line in the final verse, these guys nail and give us a brilliant track.
You think they would stop but they don’t. We’ll skip over “Clap Your Hands” and get right to another one of my favorite tracks “Oh My God”. What I love most about this is Busta Rhymes on the hook, he adds the amount of energy and enthusiasm this track needs. Also I love how easy it is to listen to, the steady beat creates a perfect rhythm and the breaks make Q-Tip’s lyrics pop. Also, it’s incredibly fun and some lines are absolutely hilarious. I do also appreciate Tip’s use of random words
Here’s what I mean:
“V-A-V-A-Vader, the brothers in the spot
Jalick, Jalick ya wind up ya hit”
“Used to have a crush on Dawn from En Vogue
It’s not like honey dip would wanna get with me
But just in case I own more condoms than TLC”
The TLC reference here makes me laugh every time and the fact that Phife is able to somehow integrate that into his song is absolutely hilarious. Moving right along…
As we approach the end of the album, we get to “The Chase Pt. II”, which is another incredible example of Q-Tip and Phife’s dynamic. Their back and forth is reminiscent of how fluid they were on “Check The Rhime” from “The Low End Theory”. They feed off each other perfectly and Ali Shaheed on the tables is flawless (of course)as he times the breaks in the beat perfectly so the lyrics pop. The running theme of the album is heard most here and Q-Tip is BRILLIANT when he says “Lyrically it stays, the jazz will pace the beat, As we proceed to elevate you, we in four-four”. Once again for those who are musically and beat savvy, this reference is exactly the rhythm meter used and the snare in the samples line up perfectly on the second and fourth beat! I love when they bring relevant knowledge to their songs through clever lyrics and Tribe has always been known to do it…effortlessly!
We are left with the final two tracks which are “Lyrics To Go” and “God Lives Through”. I’ll focus on the last track since I like the content and that it’s the track they leave off on. It’s the spiritual, more sensitive side and to tie in the theme of “god”, they use the a sample from the previous track “Oh My God” with Busta. Tribe definitely knows how to tie in pieces of songs to create a unified project and they did that here!
(Note: On the European release, there would be an additional song added to the tracklist which is not included here by the name of “Hot Sex”.)
There we have it!! Yet another perfect release by an incredible Hip Hop group. A Tribe Called Quest seems to have only gotten better with each release. They found their niche, and managed to make classics by incorporating a style that was a signature of theirs. It worked so well for them in the Hip Hop world that they would become fan favorites and as always catered to the likes of young and old. Tip, Phife, Ali Shaheed and Jarobi will always remain one of the best gifts of Hip Hop. Every time I write about or listen back to ATCQ, I feel the loss of Phife a little more, but I always come out of it more thankful that he will forever live on in these brilliant lyrics and amazing albums! (RIP Phife Dawg).