I was lucky to have lived in New York City during ‘The Golden Age of Hip Hop’.
Not only could you hear the hottest jams spun by DJ Red Alert on Hot 97 and in the downtown clubs, but you could keep up-to-date with the latest in rap just by walking down the street and hearing the tunes blasting out of tenement buildings and blaring from cruising Jeeps.
I greatly admired the CNN-of-the-streets style of Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions and was one of a handful of white people who made the crusade to Harlem’s Apollo Theater to witness the two acts for their ‘Stop the Violence’ hip hop extravaganza in 1989. The music and the message were big and in-your-face and relevant to what was happening with and to the African-American community in New York at that time.
On the flip side, I was also digging the whole Native Tongues movement as the posse’s playful and clever lyrics and laid-back grooves complemented the more militant style as a breath of fresh air. Along with the Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, Monie Love and Queen Latifah, A Tribe Called Quest was at the forefront of this musical shift and change in hip hop attitude.
ATCQ’s third LP ‘Midnight Marauders’ is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month, and this album along with their sophomore effort ‘The Low End Theory’ remain two of the most significant ‘abstract hip hop’ releases. It is not as if ‘Midnight Marauders’ is all fun and games as there are moments of social and political consciousness with tunes like ‘Steve Biko (Stir It Up)’ and on ‘Sucka Nigga’ Tribe relays why some black people use the ‘N-word’ as a ‘term of endearment’.
However, this is balanced with whimsical ditties about going for a milkshake and even some old-school posturing. With ‘The Chase, Part II” A Tribe Called Quest go back to basics and in the process, display some of the album’s best interplay between MCs Phife and Q-Tip.
The song starts with a sample of one of rap’s most beloved and comical beatboxer/MCs, Biz Markie. The lyric ‘I’m ‘bout to wreck ya body and say turn the party out’ is pulled from Markie’s own self-styled big up ‘Nobody Beats the Biz’. This sample sets the tone for the ensuing humorous party banter.
Phife and Q-Tip play off one another with some hilarious words about getting fat, taking a shower with a girl and other rhymes that bite like Rin Tin Tin. There is also the over-used mention of the ‘H-Word’ (ladies know what I am talking about) but I prefer to think that this is a knowing tongue-in-cheek reference. Hey, maybe it was even used as a ‘term of endearment’! The song concludes with a long list of shout-outs starting with Brand Nubian’s Grand Puba and finishing with off with one of their favourite haunts, McDonalds.
While most of the focus is on the lyrics, the wordplay is underpinned by a truly smooth yet head-boppin’ groove from former Slave funkster Steve Arrington. ‘The Chase, Part II’ is built upon a sample of Arrington’s ‘Beddie Bye’ with its cool Rhodes riff and an understated Fender bass-line, augmented by a big kick and snare and the bright commercial sheen that is characteristic of the entire record.
I recently caught up with Arrington who said he “dug the album and the song a lot” and felt Tribe was “very important in hip hop history.” As the sample is the main groove, Arrington and his co-writers are credited as the composers of ‘The Chase, Part II”. ‘Midnight Marauders’ remains ATCQ’s biggest selling album and, as Arrington alludes, the publishing royalties were more than welcome. “I think sampling itself has kept a lot of music alive, especially Funk.”
Classic Album Sundays celebrates the 20th anniversary of A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘Midnight Marauders’ this Sunday November 3rd with listening sessions on Bowers & Wilkins 802 Diamond Series loudpeakers.
- The Hanbury Arms, London on Sunday, November 3rd
- The Empire, Portland, Maine on Sunday November 3rd
- Tickets $5 on the door and online coming soon.
If you can’t make this event, grab a decent copy, turn down the lights and listen in full at home.