‘Midnight Marauders’, released in 1993, was the highly anticipated third album from New-York formed hip-hop group, A Tribe Called Quest (ATCQ). The group consisted of four members; Ali Shaheed Muhammed, Phife Dawg, Q-tip and sometimes, the elusive Jerobi. Following on from the success of their second album,The Low End Theory, the pressure was on… and they undoubtedly delivered! With 15 tracks (the final track, ‘Hot Sex’ was an exclusive European bonus track) totalling 51 minutes, ATCQ gives us a varied and exciting album.
A computerised female vocal welcomes us the to album and acts as the Tour Guide throughout. The voice is actually a slower version of a secretary’s voice at Battery Studios, where the album was produced. The Tour Guide breaks up the album with various brief interludes, from informative snippets about ATCQ to statistics about the AIDs problem amongst the black and hispanic community and lessons of moral guidance /You’re not any less of a man if you don’t pull the trigger/ you’re not necessarily a man if you do/.
The classic Tribe fusion of jazz and hip-hop continues on from their previous albums, with obscure samples coming from the likes of Jack Wilkins (Red Clay) and Bola Seta (Bettina). This is also matched with samples from hip-hop classics such as Eric B and Rakim’s ‘My Melody’. We are given a mixture of silkier tracks such as ‘Electric Relaxation’ and others with funky bass-lines like ‘Oh my God’, accompanied by articulate and inventive lyrics /Formulate my rhymes like a child forms Play-Doh/.
We are also occasionally greeted by some new and curiously darker sounds. On ‘8 million stories’, Q and Phife rap about life’s problems, the track ending with an eerie and distorted voice repeating “Help me”.
One theme in the album is education. This isn’t force-fed to us through preach-heavy lyrics, instead ATCQ give us a little nudge in the right direction and then expect listeners to go and do a bit of digging. ‘Steve Biko’ is a perfect example. Steve Biko? An anti-apartheid activist in South Africa – our biggest clue? /I’m radical with this like the man this song is after/. References like this continue throughout the album: /It’s hemmed like Betsy Ross/ (God Lives Through’). Betsy Ross? The seamstress of the first American flag!
‘Award Tour’ was their highest selling single to date, featuring De La Soul’s ‘Trugoy’ and the feel-good, scratch heavy track of ‘We Can Get Down’ is a personal favourite. The melody coupled with the incredibly infectious baseline and hook is a track that will have even the most dance-shy of us having a little boogie. For me, it’s the closest to summarising the album in a four minute burst. Containing simple yet catchy chords, an eclectic mix of sampling from the jazz of Bill Crosby to the rock of Billy Squire, classic Tribe positivity, /slew of rappers pushing positivity/ and the uniqueness of ‘Midnight Marauders’ with our Tour Guide pipping in at the end.
A hip-hop classic.