Review Summary: Refreshing, pure joy in the form of a rap album.
ATCQ has always been my rap crutch. I get into modes where rap is the only music I ever want to listen to, and when they begin to languish after repeated listens to Ready to Die, Illmatic and Enter the 36 Chambers, ATCQ tends to come into the picture. It’s undoubtedly a soft, cushiony brand of hip-hop music, but it almost never lacks that happy and hard-hitting essence of old school rap. As the heat of the weather peaks and the windows roll down, I couldn’t honestly say that any other rap album better gives its listener the pure, unadulterated joy that can come with rhyming over beats. I can’t shake the idea that this album was made mostly for fun, and not for violence or a gritty statement like a lot of other rap, with a cypher-ridden mentality that stays true to the genre’s roots.
A classic in this genre has to have the production. Q-tip’s allegiance to and understanding of the boom-bap style is uncanny, and his ear for samples is excellent. I love the feel of being toured through the album by some robotic force; it gives ATCQ a much needed “concept” that I believe ties the album together more than the actual music ever could. There’s no denying that Phife can drop a line or two over a groove, but when he’s telling a story, getting a milkshake, complaining about some girl, what have you… well, it just makes the music real. It makes it feel like it’s endemic to the Brooklyn streets, even though many other rappers would probably disagree with a brandished 9mm. Because rap music doesn’t have to be violent, it can be playful, too, and be just as effective and evocative.
Although Low End Theory for many takes the cake as the group’s best album, I still see Midnight Marauders as a mark of the complete culmination of ATCQ’s rapping and production capabilities. Despite an often light and maybe even silly air, the album has a certain maturity to it that you don’t get with ATCQ’s earlier albums; for this, it has nearly infinite replay value, and to me is a true classic.