It was actually closer than I anticipated, with Death Certificate taking it with 60% to 40%. As I said, I thought Death Certificate would take it, but it was closer than I thought it would be. The Amerikkka’s Most Wanted supporters made a good case, especially WYDU’s own Brian and longtime visitor Benovite. As I’ve mentioned, I love Amerikkka’s Most Wanted, and I’d call it a “classic” as well, but I just thought Death Certificate was the peak of Cube’s career and gangsta/social commentary music.
This week, we have another interesting match up. A Tribe Called Quest are one of my personal all-time favorite groups and their first three albums could all arguably be called certified “classics”. There is however a lot of talk comparing their sophomore album, Low End Theory and their third album, Midnight Marauders. I think both albums although somewhat similar both illustrate Tribe being in different places musically on the albums, but it’ll still be fun comparing the two. I honestly expect to be in the minority on this weeks vote. It’s a hard choice to make. On to the dual…..
Low End Theory Vs. Midnight Marauders
My initial introduction to A Tribe Called Quest didn’t go over very well. I was not a big fan of “People’s Instinctive Travels…..” when it originally dropped. I thought “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” was straight up corny and wishy washy, “Bonita Applebum” did nothing to sway my opinion toward anything positive. At that time, I was still on my straight up “hard” shit, such as P.E., LL, BDP, NWA & Eazy, Big Daddy Kane, all the straight up stuff that I thought was the hardcore b-boy music. I wasn’t ready accept somebody like Tribe. At that time, the whole Native Tongues sound was something completely new. When they released their third single, “Can I Kick It”, it did catch my attention, but still not enough to go buy the album. Not long after dropping “People’s Instinctive Travels….”, in the summer of 1991, ATCQ dropped their lead single for their upcoming album, “Check The Rhime”. I was in complete shock and filled with anticipation after hearing the song. This would begin my love of ATCQ.
During the summer of ’91, I was a fresh faced kid straight out of high school. For my graduation present, my parents gave me $300 bucks to do with as I pleased. Coupled that with a couple hundred that they gave me to go to prom, which I ended up pocketing after not really finding anyone I wanted to go with (I hated dances). What does an eighteen year old do? He goes and buys a dope ass car stereo. I bought an Alpine cassette deck and CD changer, a Fosgate Punch 150 Amp, two Alpine 6×9′s for the back window, some Alpine 4×6 mids for the doors and then bought two 10 inch Punch Woofers in a custom made box from a friend of mine. I threw all of this in my little ’82 Volkswagen Jetta and I had my self a “boomin’ system”. Those of you that have/had a nice stereo system, whether its a home stereo system or a car system know that certain music sounds COMPLETELY different on a good system. Some albums sound completely different on a beefed up system. Low End Theory was one such album. There is definitely some bottom to be felt on Low End Theory, an album living up to it’s name.
The sonic vibe that is found on this album was something different for Tribe compared to their first album and something different for hip hop in general. There are basslines galore found throughout Low End Theory, tracks like “Butter” need to be heard on speakers that can convey the sound that Tribe wanted the listener to hear and feel. If you have heard Low End Theory in a car with woofers in the trunk, you know that you definitely “feel” the music. “Rap Promoter” was another track that had the thick bassline that would just rattle a trunk. Q-Tip was on top of his production game on Low End Theory, as he supplied soundscapes that changed the game at the time. He provided the thick instrumentals and just layered up beats that added a “feel” to the album. “Buggin’ Out” is another track that contained the ill bassline, a prime example of what Tip was doing on the album. I remember you had to have your system up to par to handle the type of bass that was found on this LP, it had some hard hitting bottoms that could distort shit rather easily, but that was the beauty of the whole album. If your shit was right, this was one of my favorite albums to play on a nice stereo.
Lyrically, people either totally play down Q-Tip’s and Phife’s lyrical prowess or they totally give them too much credit. Neither are going to be known for the lyrical greatness, but they were far, and I mean FAR, from being booty on the mic. Both stepped up their game from their performances found on People’s Instinctive Travels…., especially Phife. This is evident on Phife’s solo track, “Butter”, as Phife kicks the mackin’ game to the females out there. His first verse on “Buggin’ Out” is my personal favorite of mine and the one that made me say “shit, Phife has really picked up this time around”:
Yo, microphone check one two what is this
The five foot assassin with the ruffneck business
I float like gravity, never had a cavity
Got more rhymes than the Winans got family
No need to sweat Arsenio to gain some type of fame
No shame in my game cause I’ll always be the same
Styles upon styles upon styles is what I have
You wanna diss the Phifer but you still don’t know the half
I sport New Balance sneakers to avoid a narrow path
Messin round with this you catch ?the sizin of em?
I never half step cause I’m not a half stepper
Drink a lo
t of soda so they call me Dr. Pepper
Refuse to com-pete with BS competition
Your name ain’t Special Ed so won’t you Step up With the Mission
I never walk the streets, think it’s all about me
Even though deep in my heart, it really could be I just try my best to like go all out
Some might even say yo shorty black you’re buggin’ out
Phife and Tip also play off each other well on this album, that can be seen on the lead single, “Check The Rhime”. It’s important in a group for the MC’s to have chemistry and that can be found all over this album. Even the guest appearances from the likes of Brand Nu and Leaders of the New School seem to fit the whole style of the album.
Low End Theory for me is the complete package when it comes to a hip hop album. It has the bangin’ beats and it has the ill lyrics. It was one of those albums that I knew all the words to (still do) and it was an enjoyment to play at anytime no matter my mood. If someone was to ask me for my essential hip hop albums, Low End Theory would be on the list. Truly a timeless classic.
After Low End Theory blew the lid open for Tribe, we’d have to wait for a couple years before they jumped back on the scene. Tribe was one of the elite hip hop groups by that time, so the anticipation for Midnight Marauders got going to dizzying heights. I was hanging with a kid named Eddie at college (I haven’t seen the cat since that semester), and he was literally counting down the days until it dropped. The Source was pumping the release up as well. “Award Tour” was the first single and it some ways it kind of made me somewhat hesitant. Not that it was a bad song (I could think of better singles, but thats beside the point), it was it wasn’t Low End Theory. Yeah, I didn’t understand that groups like Tribe would change through out their career. And that’s exactly what Tribe did on Midnight Marauders, they evolved. They reinvented themselves. Some may say, why reinvent something that was already great, but Midnight Marauders is truly in a class of its own.
While the production was a complete switch from what is found on Low End Theory, the album is praised for it’s production values just as much, if not more than their previous effort. Maybe even more of a cohesive project in both sounds and songs, the beats on Midnight Marauders are of top quality, with Tip and Shaheed providing the bulk of the soundscapes, with Large Pro and Skeff Anslem both contributing a track. There are many classic samples found through out the album, with everything from Bob James to Minnie Ripperton being used by the crate diggin’ Tip. Tracks such as “Electric Relaxation”, with it’s three samples, are classic productions as the smooth, mellow vibe, wafers through the listeners headphones, it’s hard not to close your eyes and get lost in the whole Tribe vibe. Then you had other such as “Oh My God”, that were more uptempo with an ill drum track and the crazy sax sample, leaving it as a standout track on an ill album. Where Low End Theory was speaker rattling music, I’ve always considered Midnight Marauders as more headphone music. The Large Professor assisted “Keep It Rollin’” is a perfect example of that, it’s a great track to throw on the headphones while transversing the city streets or in my case at the time, walking from class to class.
Q-Tip and Phife both continued to do their thing on Marauders, and even building off their showing on Low End Theory. It seemed their deliveries and story telling skills were even up a notch more than the their previous album. Over the boom bap production found on “Clap Your Hands”, Phife does his thing, as he displays his tighten flow and delivery:
Brothas know the flavs when the Quest gets loose
Slammin sucka f**kas like the wrestler Zeus
Crazier than Tupac in that flick called Juice
Cock is longer than the hat worn by Dr. Seuss
Love a girl in Daisy Dukes like them kids called Deuce
Gets paid to sex the hoochie like my main man Luke
Control the mic like Denzel on the girls
Wack MCs be on the nuts like Rocket J. Squirrel
The worst thing in the world is a sucka MC
Favorite rap group in the world is EPMD
Can’t forget the De La, the two originality
And if I ever went solo, my favorite MC would be me
Phife Dawg up in the house, I give a shout out to Snoopy
Peace to all the Questers, to hell with the groupies
Like um, Ralph up to Potsie, Brooklyn to Dodger
Laverne to Shirley, Rerun to Roger Ren to the Stimpy, Laurel to Hardy
Q-Tip and Phifer, they mashed up the party
Kick the rhymes and more rhymes
Kick the beats and more beats
We’ll have you scratchin in your head, like trying all techniques
For those who wanna oppose, just take a stand
But for now, just shut your shit and clap your hands
Even on his own solo track, “8 Million Stories”, Phife helps set up the mood for an almost haunting track as he flows over a Skeff Anslem beat the trials and tribulations of the city. A more mature effort than his “Butter” track found on Low End Theory. A similar track that provokes the same images and feelings is Q-Tip’s solo track, “Midnight”. Tip uses his unique voice to trap the listener in his environment as we take a trip along with through the darkness of the night.
There are so many great songs found on Midnight Maruaders and the sound of the overall album is one of classic. There was a precise moment I realized this album was special. If I remember right, Midnight Marauders dropped in November. It got a lot of play for me during that winter. That February I started dating a girl, who would actually end up being
my first “true” love. We had been dating a few weeks and I was trying to get her into some hip hop, so naturally, I figured Tribe was a good start. After going on a date, I took her home, where we parked outside her house, which meant I was get some little make out action. With Tribe playing, we started doing our make out thing. One thing led to another and I ended up getting pretty far with her that night, getting some “stinky pinky”, but the thing was, I had my CD player in my Jimmy on repeat, so once the CD finished, it just started right back up again. The CD must have played four times in a row that night while I was doing my petting and rubbing. Now, true, I had the hormones going, but I was still listening to the CD as it played and I figured any album that got a chick that hot and horny and not getting sick of after four straight plays in a row, it was a good album. One of my greatest hip hop memories ever.
Even after writing all of this, it’s so hard to call this. Both albums I hold in the highest regard and might be the best one, two punch that hip hop has ever seen. If I have to be nit pickey, both have their faults. A couple songs on Low End Theory just don’t seem to fit, namely “Skypager” and “What?”. Realize I’m just trying to find things wrong, so it’s not like they take away from the overall package, but they’ve both been my least favorites on the album. Midnight Marauders treds a fine line of sounding cohesive, but one could almost argue that it almost sounds too similar from song to song. It took me longer to warm up to Midnight Marauders than it did Low End Theory, and I attribute that fact as the reason. I have a couple songs on it as well that don’t do much for me, such as “The Chase II” and “God Lives Through”, but the same thing applies to them as well, I’m just nitpicking. When it comes down to it, I think I would say Midnight Marauders to the better overall complete project. It stands on it’s own the best, the production is simply error less, the rhymes are flawless and it’s a classic. BUT, I can’t go against an album that I constantly hail as one of my top five favorite hip hop releases of all-times. Low End Theory is a personal album for me and the sound it contains has always been closer associated to my kind of sound that I enjoy the most, deep, rich bass.
Winner: Low End Theory