My love of A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders1 starts, like most stories, with a girl.
I was a junior in high school and was on campus late one Saturday evening for an anti-drug rally. There were some girls from a neighboring town in attendance and I had taken a liking to one of them. The rally ended at 10PM, but their ride was late… so I chivalrously (and maybe selfishly) volunteered to wait with them. It was cold, but that’s ok: I let lil’ shorty wear my Starter jacket2 (and didn’t wash it for a month afterward because it smelled like her) while we passed the time by trying guess the hard-to-decipher lyrics to the chorus of “Electric Relaxation”.
“Electric Relaxation” was to 1993 as “I Need Love” was to 1987. Q-Tip was the smooth operator; Phife Dawg was the realist (I love the line: ‘I like ‘em brown, yellow, Puerto Rican, or Haitian’). The beat3 (a masterfully reworked sample of Ronnie Foster’s “Mystic Brew”) was an instant classic4.
Some months later, I found myself at South Carolina Boys Camp and had the fortune of spending the week with three really cool brothers. We spend our nights talking about girls, playing spades, taking basketball, and listening to a bevy of hip-hop albums, most notably Midnight Marauders. We must have rapped that entire album back and forth each night, with all of us taking turns as Q-Tip or Phife.
Those six months would set up the best 18 month stretch of my teenage life. I was rounding out my junior year and headed into a great senior year. I had a bevy of firsts – first car, first date, first (real) kiss, first teenage love (not the young lady referenced above). I was growing up. It made sense that I was moving to grown-up music.
The album starts with the electronic “Midnight Marauder Tour Guide” (backed by a dope sample of Cal Tjader’s “Aquarius”). From there, the boys kick into high gear with the underrated “Steve Biko (Stir It Up)”, and for great tracks: “Award Tour”, “8 Million Stories”,” Sucka Nigga”, and “Midnight”. There’s a slight misstep (the ‘just-ok’ “We Can Get Down”) before they start dropping bombs: the before mentioned “Electric Relaxation” (see below), “The Chase, Part 2”,“Oh My God”, “God Lives Through”.
My second favorite track (behind “Electric…”) is the Large Professor produced “Keep It Rollin’”. It’s just smooth as all get-out (I love the sample from Roy Ayers’ “Feel Like Makin’ Love”). Phife and Q-Tip are at their best, playing off each other (like Dre and Big Boi would master five years later on Aquemeni).
Oh yeah, that hard to understand chorus on “Electric Relaxation”…..it’s “relax yourself girl, please set-tle down”.
- I really don’t have a reason to mention the MM album art…. but I HAVE to call out that it’s a classic hip-hop album cover… maybe one of these days I’ll rank my favorite album art.
- It was 1994; everyone was wearing Starter Jackets. My was a dope Charlotte Hornets version.
- 2016 edit – When I originally posted this, I though Ali Shaheed Muhammad was the mastermind behind the beat (since he was their DJ). Turns out that Q-Tip was the real production artist. He talks about this in Michael Rapaport’s excellent ATCQ documentary Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest.
- I’m on the fence about J. Cole’s “Forbidden Fruit” (his homage to ATCQ). Yeah, he used more of Foster’s original song, and put K. Dot on the chorus… but still… it just doesn’t feel right.