Sunday, June 23, 2024

93 ‘til Infinity: I just can’t live without A Tribe Called Quest’s 1993 classic, ‘Midnight Marauders’

A Tribe Called Quest, Midnight Marauders,
A Tribe Called Quest’s “Award Tour” video. (Screenshot via YouTube)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Some years ago, I remember coming across author and poet Hanif Aburraqib’s third book, “Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest,” and feeling immediately annoyed. I wasn’t annoyed because the book wasn’t good — it is quite good, actually — but because he’d done something I wish I had done. I imagine this is what rappers feel like when somebody makes a song they wish they’d made. In fact, I imagine this is how every non-trap rapper felt the first time they heard the Reflection Eternal (Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek) song “The Blast,” which is as perfect a song and beat as you’re ever going to get. I wanted to be the person to write a book that served as both a set of love letters and a critical essay about the group we both clearly loved. Now, let’s be honest; Hanif was supposed to write that book, but I understood the need to do it immediately. It’s…Tribe. 

(As a point of note, the only other hip-hop group I feel even remotely compelled to write hundreds of pages about both their impact on me and the culture would be Outkast. In the non-rap world, Jagged Edge and Ray J are also on that list.)

While I, of course, was familiar with “Bonita Applebum,” “Check the Rhime,” and “Scenario” — with the latter being the song that made me a huge fan of Phife Dawg — I wasn’t all-in on A Tribe Called Quest yet. I’m not even sure I owned “The Low End Theory” on tape or compact disc when it came out in 1991. At that point, I was entirely souped up on NWA, Dr. Dre, DJ Quik and Ice Cube, who at that time was hands down my favorite rapper. But again, to listen to rap and to watch hip-hop videos meant you would know “Check the Rhime” and “Scenario.” 

1993 came and went, and “Electric Relaxation” was a complete vibe, but it wasn’t until my freshman year in college — in 1997 — that I remember having a specific conversation about Tribe’s 1993 album, “Midnight Marauders,” released on Nov. 19, 1993. One of my boys, knowing my tastes, asked me about “Midnight Marauders,” and I told him I didn’t really mess with Tribe like that, and he was stunned. Especially because at this point, I was very clear that De La Soul’s “De La Soul is Dead” was my favorite hip-hop album, and I would often sing the praises of Black Sheep, Outkast and The Pharcyde. He questioned how I could love those groups and not think Tribe was the greatest thing ever. 

So I went out and bought “Midnight Marauders” and immediately hated myself for all of the years I lost not listening to this magnificently produced and rapped album. The beats were crispy, the drums hit harder than any other, Phife was on his lyrical game and Q-Tip was, well, Q-Tip; just good at everything. I loved everything about it. 

Over the years, and as streaming took over the cassette to CD game, and as De La Soul’s album was lost, until literally this year, to streaming purgatory, “Midnight Marauders” became my default album whenever I couldn’t think of what to listen to, which happened to me a lot. No matter where I was going or who was riding with me, “Midnight Marauders” (and for about a year, Res’ “How I Do”) was riding shotgun. I listened to it so much and without ever getting tired, that at one point, I had to acknowledge that “Midnight Marauders” had overtaken “De La Soul is Dead” as my favorite album ever. And I really liked Tribe as a group, with their various side projects and the way each of them added to the musical landscape. A Tribe Called Quest, like Hanif wrote, deserved a whole book about why they mattered. 

For me, “Midnight Marauders,” unlocked that door, and it is a door that is still open, even today. I cannot live without “Midnight Marauders,” and it’s an album I look forward to introducing to my children as one they need to enjoy and love. It is, now, the eternal answer to the following question:

If you were stuck on a deserted island and could only listen to one album, what would it be? 

Without a doubt and without missing a beat, A Tribe Called Quest’s “Midnight Marauders.” 

Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest), but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said: “Unknown” (Blackest).

Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download it here.


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