Talib Kweli Reviews A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘Midnight Marauders’
Artist: A Tribe Called Quest
Reviewer: Talib Kweli
My first reaction was, on seeing the album cover, realizing that Tribe Called Quest was so confident in what they were doing as the greatest rap group at the time that they were able to put all their peers and all their influences on the album cover. That was a genius album cover. But to me, you could look at it like, “We’re showing love to everybody, and we’re establishing that we’re a part of this hip-hop community,” or you could look at it like, “We know our shit is so good that we have no competition.” I think both are true.
Musically, they were doing jazz, they were doing the jazz samples like on Low End Theory, but it was powerful. Like “We Can Get Down,” the story he told about Redman, those little visual hints and clues were impressive to me. The fact that that they made a song called “Steve Biko” that didn’t even touch on South Africa or the legacy of Steve Biko at all, it made me go research Steve Biko, and it made the song more powerful to me. “God Lives Through,” Lyrics To Go,” “Award Tour”—I mean shit, every single one of them. But those weren’t even hits, but they feel like hits. “Electric Relaxation” is on that record, too. God damn.
I think it holds up fine—I find myself DJ’ing parties, and that’s a go-to record. I play all those songs. Q-Tip, I’m working with Q-Tip on my new album, and just being around him and seeing him work, I’ve now watched him get giddy over samples and play me beats and stuff. And I’m like, “Wow, is this how he made Midnight Marauders?” It established Tribe as a commercial, mainstream almost pop group, but it did it by being completely true to their rudiments, and it did it by finding the greatest jazz samples and making the most classic underground hip-hop they could make. They were so good at making underground hip-hop that it went pop. —Talib Kweli As Told To Dan Rys