Trying to pick the best Tribe record is like trying to pick your favorite child, which is easy, because it’s Midnight Marauders.
I can’t gush enough about how massive A Tribe Called Quest was for hip-hop music and popular culture at the dawn of the ’90s. The ever-enlightened troop of Q-Tip, Phife Dawg (RIP brother!), Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Jarobi White ushered in a subtle and jazzy evolution for East Coast hip-hop that championed youthful expression, pensive and easygoing rhymes, and a vast appreciation of jazz, funk, and dusty grooves. Emcees Tip & Phife kept it straightforward, just as comfortable with rhyming about rhyming, women, and day-to-day adventures in their home of Queens as much as they were about headier topics like Blackness, label politics, racism, relationships, and far more. The Tribe were urbane, street-smart, and forward-looking, and along with their Native Tongues colleagues like De La Soul, Jungle Brothers, and Queen Latifah, they set the stage for a different take on hip-hop for the decade.
It’s also astonishing how consistent the group was throughout their career. Six albums deep and three are classics, two are pretty great, and one is okay. I mean really, their worst album is better than some groups’ best, and like I said last time, it’s hard to pick just one joint by the group cuz they’ve got multiple iconic listens!
But yeah, ’93’s Midnight Marauders is most definitely my favorite Tribe record. After their fun and exploratory 1990 debut People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, followed up by ’91’s more jaded and weary The Low End Theory, Marauders is lighter, more mature, and more confident in its direction, style, and sound. The Tribe is really hitting their stride here, and the fact that this album is so chill and puts me at ease edges out Low End Theory just by a hair for me. It also was my first Tribe album, and mannnn, I’ve got a lot of nostalgia about discovering this album and group in my teens.
“Award Tour” is just that: The group taking a slow victory lap knowing they’re in their bag. It’s a damn near perfect listen (“Electric Relaxation” is the ultimate perfect listen). That beat loop is ridiculously catchy, the verses from Tip and Phife are magnetic and quotable, Trugoy from De La is on the hook, and the song absolutely never fails to make me feel good.