Tuesday, October 16, 2007

[049] Midnight Marauders

Album: Midnight Marauders
Artist: A Tribe Called Quest
Release Date: November 1993
Label: Jive
Producers: A Tribe Called Quest, with Large Professor & Skeff Anselm

“We revolutionize over the kick and the snare”
- Q-Tip, from “Steve Biko (Stir It Up)”

It’s that Funk, at the front of the beat – on The One. It hits you first in the hips. You’re moving before your brain even knows what’s happening. This how the instinct in dance works; the power of rhythm is undeniable. A Tribe Called Quest were experts in making music for this reflex, titling their debut, in part, The Paths Of Rhythm, and their sophomore album The Low End Theory. It’s odd then that their most funky, beat-centric album doesn’t directly feature any titular allusions to the movement it has caused since the fall of 1993. Midnight Marauders is Tribe’s best selling album to date, and it’s no wonder why – it’s a crowd-pleasing party soundtrack that can still light the floor on fire and rock a block party proper. Just look at the album cover – dozens of faces, a block party in itself, all Tribe’s contemporaries, and not just the expected JB’s and De La and Busta. From Chuck D to Ice-T, Heavy D to the Pharcyde, the Beastie Boys to a very young Sean Combs, they all showed up for the Midnight Marauders party cuz they knew Tribe was doing something special to move your feet.

This album is about dancing; dancing can make you happy, it can make you sweat and let off pheromones. Girls dig guys that dance, and Tribe made a record for people to get their groove on to, and then move that groove to the bedroom. I don’t know what was going on with Q-Tip and Phife during the writing of this album, but they were some horny dudes. Half the songs feature references to hittin’ skins or knocking boots. Of course, the paramount is “Electric Relaxation”, one of the best songs of the group’s career, and just dripping in sex; Q-Tip and Phife pull zero punches, with Tip noting that he’d like to “pound the poontang until it stinks”, and Phife will “sink the little man from inside the boat”. Chef from South Park would be proud. On “Keep It Rollin’”, Tip piles it on with “She told me pull her hair, I did, it drove her nutty; filled up the hole like spackle or I mean putty.” But seriously, Tribe push back the bohemian boundaries they got surrounded by, instead choosing here to be just normal black men trying to pull some girls. There are a few unfortunate ‘bitches’ and ‘ho’s’ that slip out, but N.W.A. these guys are not.

I always get annoyed when lazy critics make assumptions without listening to the music; Midnight Marauders is one of those albums. They say it's darker than its predecessor, but they also say it's an upbeat party album; how can it be both?? One of the points that has been made is of their abandonment of the social subjects that they addressed on their first two albums in favor of a mainstream bid. Frankly, that’s bullshit, because even on the upbeat single “Electric Relaxation”, they’re lyrically revisiting the stresses that lead to Low End’s “Infamous Date Rape”. There’s the obvious sore thumb that is “Sucka Nigga”, where Q-Tip dissects the N-Word and its use by the younger generation, and “Midnight” deals with racial profiling by Police. On the other hand, critics attempt to point at Q-Tip’s assertion of spiritual strength, which is present in a line here and there, but so many writers point to the final track “God Lives Through”, which actually contains no lines of the kind. They look so hard for certain things that they may be missing the fact that Tip and Phife have at this point evolved in to a water-tight duo with on-point rhythmic timing and boasts for days; Phife in particular sounds better than he ever would for a whole album.

Don't think the music is lacking though. In order to move the asses, Tribe’s production would have to be top notch, but – no worries - they exceed expectations following the Jazzy landmark of The Low End Theory. The lush, bright fusion-&-funk-based loops and hard beats are among Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s best work, and whatever Q-Tip’s input was, it surely pointed the way towards his production work on the debuts of both Nas (Illmatic) and Mobb Deep (The Infamous). Brass fanfare features prominently on “Steve Biko” and “Oh My God”; on the former, it gives way to meowing guitar, while on the latter, the bassline bowls you over. Rhodes piano carries multiple tracks, colliding with everything from marimba and fuzzy guitar to what sounds like creaking floorboards on “8 Million Stories”; on the joyous “We Can Get Down” it’s paired with a monolithic beat, allowing it to wander and draw in woodwinds. “Clap Your Hands” reconfigures The Meters into a layered beast, and the criminally overlooked “The Chase, Part II” and “Lyrics To Go” wrap a Biz Markie snippet and a squealing electric guitar respectively around floating, stardust keyboards. On “Sucka Nigga”, the nimble bass travels further than it ever did on Low End’s “Excursions”, dotted here with electric piano and saxophone stabs and a mess of scratching. The swirling “Midnight” is a masterpiece of the oppressive black of night, filled with enough urban chatter to increase the nervousness of the message and the music. It manages a balance, like the rest of the album; it is both subtle, non-forced social commentary and mindblowing beats that will live forever on dancefloors and street corners, in SUV trunks and college dormrooms. And before you get those messages, the beats will grab you around the hips and shake you out of your funk.

01. “Midnight Marauders Tour Guide” [interlude]
02. “Steve Bike (Stir It Up)”
03. “Award Tour” [feat. Trugoy the Dove]
04. “8 Million Stories”
05. “Sucka Nigga”
06. “Midnight”
07. “We Can Get Down”
08. “Electric Relaxation”
09. “Clap Your Hands”
10. “Oh My God” [feat. Busta Rhymes]
11. “Keep It Rollin’” [feat. Large Professor]
12. “The Chase, Part II”
13. “Lyrics To Go”
14. “God Lives Through”

"Award Tour" [video]

"Electric Relaxation" [video]

- BONUS: "Steve Biko (Stir It Up)" [audio]
- BONUS: "Sucka Nigga" [audio]
- BONUS: "We Can Get Down" [audio]
- BONUS: "Oh My God" [video]
- BONUS: "The Chase, Part II" [audio]
- BONUS: "Lyrics To Go" [audio]
- BONUS: "God Lives Through" [audio]

1 comment:

Djembe said...

this is nutz. nice blog!!!