Friday, November 4, 2016

Diggin in the Cassettes: Midnight Marauders

Two short years after releasing their masterpiece, and only 3 years after their debut, A Tribe Called Quest managed to somehow craft another perfect album.


Prof Thug's Diggin in the Cassettes Vol. 3

A Tribe Called Quest - Midnight Marauders 

Possibly the greatest hip hop album cover of all time.

This came out when I was in 8th grade. It really solidified hip hop as my favorite genre of music. Although there wasn't a song I liked as much as Scenario, and it didn't have the same momentous impact that The Low End Theory did on my life, it was an instant classic and it remains one of my all time favorites.

That's right: auto reverse AND bass boost.


I remember bringing this tape to school and listening during recess. We'd try to name all of the rappers featured on the cover.




This album went platinum a little over a year after its release. It actually went platinum before The Low End Theory did. It also featured their most successful single of their careers, Award Tour. Somehow it only managed to get 4.5 Mics in The Source magazine, probably because they didn't want to give them 5 Mics for three albums in a row.


Once again, the guys rap about the things they do and see in their everyday lives. They are neighborhood journalists. For the most part they focused on positive events and promoting positivity, and when they do discuss negative events, there's often a tongue-in-cheek tone, like in 8 Million Stories. However, they definitely gave commentary on societal issues they dealt with in their neighborhood and in the African American community. They just managed to do it without being corny or preachy.


Remember these things? Did anyone ever actually fill one of these out?

This album continued the evolution of their sound, while staying true to their roots and overall energy and atmosphere. This is a little bit more refined than their first two albums; it's also darker (maye even more mature) while remaining very jazzy, funky, and playful.


Midnight Marauders Tour Guide


Laurel Dann plays the robotic tour guide. It's a throwback to the interludes with Jarobi from the first album. They all feature a sample of the song Aquarius. It's very laid-back; it feels like you are on an elevator and she is escorting you to each level. She tells us a few fun facts, like the average bounce meter of the songs, and then she welcomes the listeners to the voyage: we hope that you find our presentation precise, bass heavy, and just right. Thanks.


Steve Biko (Stir It Up)


The triumphant horns start in and Phife begins: Linden Boulevard represent represent. A Tribe Called Quest represent represent.

Another great intro song. Both Phife and Tip flow perfectly with some great rhymes. Q-Tip does the stir it up...stir it up...stir it UP! Steve Biko hook.

For Phife's verse after the chorus, he starts New York City represent represent, paralleling his first verse. This parallel verse structure works so well here and exemplifies their attention to detail. They weren't simply saying words over a beat, there was a lot of effort to create the structures and flows that make songs memorable and timeless.

Plus, Phife's lyrics always showcased his personality. Here he starts by repping for his street, then his group, then his city. And no matter where he went around the world, he was always repping Queens. There's a reason Queens will soon have a street named after him.


Award Tour


The simple keys start up, then the drums come in and Trugoy from De La Soul raps we on a award tour with Muhammad my man goin each and every place with a mic in our hand. This was the first single released from the album and it is their highest charting single to date. It's not hard to understand why. There's so much undeniable, infectious energy in this song. It's so cool, yet so happy. This was at a time when Wu-Tang and Onyx were dominating the East Coast. You weren't supposed to be happy! But they made it work. 

They  somehow managed to improve their rapping with each album and their skills on the mic shine here. Plus, everything comes together so lovely on the chorus. Q-Tip repeating true... right...true...while Trugoy repeats the award tour mantra, stating different cities around the world as the song progresses. Then there's the echo effect on his voice. And the beat. It's a hip hop masterpiece.

Tip drops some knowledge regarding identity: You can be a black man and lose all your soul, You can be white and groove but don't crap the roll. He also skats a little bit during a segment of the song that all rap fans will spontaneously sing along with: Do dat do dat do do dat dat dat.

Phife also gives some memorable lines, like buddy buddy buddy all up in ya face! 

It's a simultaneous celebration of their success and a declaration that they are at the top of the world.

At the end of the song, the tour guide explains the title of the album 7 times out of 10 we listen to our music at night, thus spawned the title of this program. Maraud means to loot, in this case, we maraud for ears.


8 Million Stories


Another Skeff Anselm produced joint. 1 of 2 songs on the album not produced solely by the Tribe.

This is basically a Phife solo. He shares some stories about a day in his life over a deep bassline. Went to Carvel to get a milkshake. Who starts a rap song like that? He burns his shirt while trying to iron it. Kay-Bee isn't selling Barney and he needs it for his brother. A girl stands him up on a date to the Knicks, and to top it off Starks got ejected. It's very self-deprecating and down to earth. Phife was never the "rock star" rap star. He was the hometown hero who made it big.

Phife spits a little of his infamous patois, and at one point, he also says Who the hell you think I am Mr. Belvedere? so he will always be a legend in my eyes.

The chorus is simply him repeating problems problems problems. Q-Tip then repeats help me out yall help me out yall.

The beat is a simple drum pattern with a great bassline. This is a great album cut; Tribe had so many of those because all of their songs were good enough to be singles, some just worked better as an album track. There was no such thing as filler on a Tribe album.

The song ends with Tip saying help me help me as his voice mutates and slows down then spits out Muhammad! Gotta remember to shoutout the DJ.


Sucka Nigga


Hey sucka nigga whoever ya are.

Tip gives his perspective on the use of the word nigga. After the first verse and chorus, he repeats the same lyrics, with a slightly different inflection at times. I never really got why he used the same verse twice, besides to emphasize his words, but it works for some reason.

My History of Hip Hop professor at UConn (yes I took a Hip Hop history class at UConn) talked about this song. I always thought the song was interesting and that Tip makes some good points, but my professor said he thought it was a weak justification. When I thought about it deeper, it was hard to deny. Basically, Tip says black people reclaimed the N-word as their own a long time ago; it's a tradition in the black community, and he's not gonna stop using it. I get all that, but as my professor said, tradition should never be the sole justification to keep doing something. At one point Tip concludes with, yo I start to flinch as I try not to say it, my lips is like a oowop as I start to spray it. What does that even mean?

Still a great song, though.


Midnight (featuring Raphael Saadiq)


This is a really groovy song and another Q-Tip solo. It's a little darker beat than most Tribe songs, which makes sense considering the theme of the song and the album. Still, Tip's observations of his neighborhood depict a much less violent city than many of his peers described. The hook is Tip repeating The night is on the mind. Some guys in the background are shouting ya dont stop and yeah like there's a party going on.

Q-Tip describes a guy playing craps, scared money don't make none. then describes his journeys through the city at night. He meets a girl and tries to get with her. He hooks up with his boy for some weed. He gets harassed by the cops. A typical day for a black man in America in 2016 1993.

Tip has some great lines and really nails the delivery, as usual. Intensity, most rappers don't see it. Spirit wise, musically ya gotta be it. He can sum up the Tribe's entire ethos in just a few simple words. He's similar to Kurt Vonnegut in the way he uses simple phrases to capture deep meanings. No wonder it was my first favorite rap group.

The song fades and the guide tells us about the alarming rate of AIDs, a stark reminder of the consequences of night time actions. I'm telling you, rappers did more to stop AIDs than Reagan and Bush combined.


We Can Get Down


The song starts off with a great chorus.
BothWe can get down we can we can get down!
Tip: Its like that man its like that. 
Phife: Yes! 

Great verses by Phife and Tip (As Tip says later on the album, right there I sound redundant). The beat is a classic head nodder with great momentum. Always moving forward. Shaheed does some great scratching at the end. An all around great Tribe song.

We rap bout what we see, meaning reality. Again, Tip is able to capture their entire aesthetic in a few simple words.

The guide ends the song telling us the name of the four Tribe members. This was the first time I realized that Jarobi was actually part of the group. I never understood it because Jarobi wasn't on Low End Theory and he isn't on this album. I didn't know until I started this series that he left for culinary school after the first album. The guide compares him to the sometimes vowel/sometimes consonant Y, and that was a good enough explanation for me. He was part of the group but did his own thing, too. Cool. Moving on.

Electric Relaxation


The first song on side 2 (remember flipping a tape over?? or in this case, letting Auto Reverse flip it?) was their 2nd single from the album.

Tip opens the song with uh huh uh huh uh uh uh on each drum kick. Then the keys start in and the voice repeats relax yourself girl please settle down which I never understood until I had the internet years later. That's part of why the chorus is so great; everyone has their own interpretation.

It's an undeniably classic song that perfectly illustrates the Tribe's style. A smooth, funky laid-back beat with memorable lines all over the place. Ya coudnt relate...ya couldn't relate...ya couldn't relate. Phife and Tip go back and forth on both verses a few times, showing their natural chemistry. This song and album were the pinnacle of their musical (and personal) relationship.

This is a hip hop love/lust song. Phife drops the legendary bust off on ya couch now ya got Siemen's furniture. And Tip ends with shorty let me tell ya bout my only vice, its got to do with lots of lovin and it aint nothin nice...it aint nothin nice. 

The song proves how incredible a song can be even though it doesn't necessarily break any new ground. It's a very fundamental hip hop song (bass, samples, coherent lyrics, a rapped chorus) yet it is remarkable because every aspect is so on point.


Clap Your Hands


It starts with the interlude muzack, then the guide simply says keep bouncing and the beat kicks in. This was another darker, more grimy beat. Heavy bass, heavy scratching, the Nautilus sample echoing throughout, the sampled voice clap your hands now.

The beat calms down for the verses, relying on mostly just drums for the groove, letting the guys really shine. Then, during both verses, there's a breakdown with the Nautilus sample in the forefront. Again, a very commonly used sample is masterfully utilized to create something wholly original and amazing.

Phife murders his verse with crazy pop culture references and confidence: if I ever went solo my favorite emcee would be me.

The song ends with the guide saying Keep bouncing and the beat stops. The circle is complete.


Oh My God (featuring Busta Rhymes)


Q-Tip sets off the song with a whip sound wuh psh wuh psh psh, then the horns start in. There's a great bassline during the verses.

This was their 3rd single. It says "featuring Busta Rhymes" but I'm pretty sure that oh my god yes oh my god is a sample.

Confusingly, Phife says now the formula is this: me, Tip and Ali, for those who can't count it goes 1-2-3. So I was definitely a little confused about Jarobi's role in the group at times.

Whatever. It's another great song that has aged like fine wine and Halle Berry.


Keep It Rollin (featuring Large Professor)


At the end of the last song, the guide breaks down the meaning of the term "MC." Then this song starts and Phife comes in and gives us a perfect example of a true MC.

I already talked about Phife's incredible verse and the team chemistry on this song, so I won't go on about it too much, but this is a low key classic. It's a down tempo, funky song with endless quotables from 3 legendary MCs, including Large Professor, yeah yeah now check the method, who also produces the song. Just a great rap song.

Like basically every song in their discography up to this point, it is great on its own and it perfectly flows in the sequence of the album. Not easy to do.


The Chase, Part II


It starts with the chorus, the Biz Markie sample I'm boutta wreck ya body and say turn the party out.

Phife starts in with dem cant touch we no dem cant touch we. dem cant hold we no dem cant hold we.

Then Tip jumps in damn Phife u got fat! And Phife replies yeah i know it looks pathetic, Ali Shaheed Muhammad got me doing calisthenics then kicks his verse. It's bittersweet to listen to Phife rap, especially about his health, but it's so good to listen to them going back and forth like that, busting each other's balls. For so long, their connection seemed so genuine and full of love. They were so in tune with each other. That's why the breakup and documentary showing the tension between them was so painful; it was like two brothers falling out.

And that's why the news of a new album is so fantastic yet bittersweet. If only they had sought reconciliation years ago...

This song has more great verses and a great beat. One thing I'd say is it goes on a little long at the end with Tip shouting out various places around the world Everybody in Brooklyn, rock rock on. Everybody in Nigeria, rock rock on. Also, this was in a succession of 5 songs that sounded somewhat similar, starting with Oh My God and ending with God Lives Through. Those songs even use the same Busta Rhymes sample! That is the one complaint I ever had about the album; although, listening now, it doesn't bother me at all. The songs have a similar feel, but that's the point. It's meant to evoke a certain feeling, a certain atmosphere.

Much like Shook Ones Part 2, I didn't know what happened to The Chase part 1 for the longest time. Apparently, the original version uses the same beat, but instead of Phife and Tip rapping, it features Q-Tip's cousin Consequence, who becomes a large part of the group after this album. The song was featured as a b-side to Award Tour. Thanks Wikipedia!

There's another confusing moment when, at the end of the song, the guide says this concludes our Midnight Marauders program, yet there's 2 songs left. The song even feels like an outro when Tip is shouting out different parts of the world. The next 2 songs are great though, so no complaints.


Lyrics to Go


This is a little more uptempo. The chorus just repeats I got lyrics to go, and come on now, but the crazy guitar or keyboard or whatever it is that's sampled (seriously, I need music theory or music history or an Identifying Instruments class or something) comes in and makes it special.

As the title suggests, the guys have lyrics for days (#BARZ) and it also features one of Tip's greatest lines Wait...*sniff sniff* I think somebody shitted. Humor is very underrated in rap.

It ends with an extended instrumental that leads in to the great album closer...

God Lives Through


Phife really shines here on the opening verse:

There's a million MCs that claim they want some
But see I create sounds that make your ears go numb
Peace to Sayres Ave., yeah you know how we go
My best friend Steven at the Home Depot
Laurelton is in the house, I can't forget Southside
Walk past MCs like that girl did to Pharcyde
I'm labeled as the cat's meow, the MC with the know-how
Act like you know, not now but right now


There's slick wordplay, braggadocio, shoutouts to his neighborhood and his real life friends, and a reference to a pop culture; everything that makes a Phife verse great.

Tip does an awesome little crooning melody for the hook la la la laaaaa, shooby doo doo doo.

It's really mellow but funky. It's perfect for grooving with a lady, riding around with your boys after hours, vibing at a smoked out jazz club, or even studying.

At the end, Tip goes on to give a shoutout to all the NY boroughs and some cities that he likes. They do that quite a bit on the album. Their albums weren't necessarily concept albums, but they all had a distinct feel with overarching themes. Here the themes are the nighttime and traveling the world.

As the album closes, see I like to get down jack! it feels as if you've gone through a spiritual awakening. God lives through.

Even as an atheist, I appreciate the spiritual undertones of the song and album. They are never overtly spiritual or religious (if God wasn't in the title, you'd probably never even think about it) but their whole vibe is very spiritual. The funk, the rhythm, is a spirit that moves through all of us. Tribe identified and celebrated that spirit in all of their songs. And we, as listeners, were blessed to be a part of it.

Something I didn't find out until much later was that different countries had different versions of albums. The European Version of this album features the banger Hot Sex, featured in Eddie Murphy's Boomerang. Later it was released on the bonus disc of The Love Movement in 1998. I always loved this song and video; unfortunately I didn't have it in my possession until the Greatest Hits album came out.


Where ya at?!

There were also different versions of albums when CDs started to become the preferred media. Oftentimes they'd feature "CD bonus tracks" that weren't on cassettes. That pissed me off. It's ok though because now CDs are as obsolete as cassettes! Hahahaha we all lose! #Sad

Anyways, this has been a great start to my series so far! I almost forgot just how great these albums are. This gets another:

5 THUGS out of 5


See you soon for the last two albums of Tribe's discography. I should have them finished as the new album comes out. Synchronicity!

I Love You All...Class Dismissed. 

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