DAR Roundtable: A Tribe Called Quest's The Low End Theory vs Midnight Marauders

Today, we wanted to look at the two classic Tribe albums and compare them to see which would come out on top. We gathered the team up and the opinions began flooding in.

The Low End Theory

1. Excursions
2. Buggin Out
3. Rap Promoter
4. Butter
5. Verses From The Abstract
6. Show Business
7. Vibes and Stuff
8. The Infamouse Date Rape
9. Check The Rhime
10. Everything Is Fair
11. Jazz(We've Got)
12. Skypaper
13. What?
14. Scenario


Midnight Marauders

1. Midnight Marauders Tour Guide
2. Steve Biko(Stir It Up)
3. Award Tour
4. 8 Million Stories
5. Sucka Nigga
6. Midnight
7. We Can Get Down
8. Electric Relaxation
9. Clap Your Hands
10. Oh My God
11. Keep It Rollin'
12. The Chase, Part II
13. Lyrics to Go
14. God Lives Through

Midnight Marauders and The Low End Theory are two of the greatest albums of all time. Tribe's 2 best albums in my opinion. I love both of them so much that I really can't say one is better than the other. However for the purpose of the article, I'll give the slight edge to Low End Theory. It's more of the classic songs like "Jazz" and my favorite joint " Butter", that beat is so beautiful. Midnight Marauders is a little more evolved production wise as the group gets more lyrical and the beats get airy. Cloud rap of some sorts. Both are great to me in the end but I go with Low End.

The jazzy group known as Tribe Called Quest gave the world two classics. Low End Theory which was seen as the driving force for alternative Rap and was able to establish the historical balance between Hip-Hop and Jazz. Midnight Marauders was seen as another classic of rap jazz. As far as impact and more of that "classic feel", I think Low End Theory was better than Midnight Marauders. The album also has one of the greatest rap tracks of all time in "Scenario". The sound of the album is more fluid and the tracks really flow well into one another. No heavy cursing, may I add, so that's considered a plus in my book. You could feel that the Tribe had something to prove after their first album. It's like a really great sequel to a mediocre first film. I have a favorite "stretch" for the album from "Buggin Out" to "Show Business". Even though that's early in the album, back then you HAD to come out the gates with fire and that's what they did. Low End also had many great samples ranging from Sly and the Family Stone to Mr. Hendrix. You can hear the influence of this album in today's generation. Mostly from artists like Cole and of course Pro Era. Any rapper today should listen to the album and get a true understanding of how much jazz means to the rap game. I don't hear much jazz influences in rap today, but that doesn't mean that Low End Theory won't stand the test of time as one of the best Hip-Hop albums ever.

My favorite is...both of the albums. Why? They showcase the evolution of the group and are, for me at least, the first and second parts of this story, this jazzy discussion on life, culture, and so on. Without either of these albums, we wouldn't have good later-era "backpack" rap. Every artist who thought of using jazzy samples in their work or jazz-esque production in their work? You have ATCQ to thank. Even the "singles" were true to the experience and fit in quite well into the mythos.

The Low End Theory vs. Midnight Marauders. Yes, I will discuss the perpetual and ubiquitous argument among hip-hop heads everywhere. First and foremost, I must disclose that I am a die-hard ATCQ and Low End Theory fan. Not to sound like a dick rider, but ATCQ really did change my life. Before listening to Low End, I only listened to Hip-Hop, no other genre whatsoever. When I first heard "Excursions"? It was over. The way that ATCQ merged Jazz and Hip-Hop was unprecedented, innovative, and phenomenal.

Low End cemented the genre of Jazz rap. The back and forth between Phife and Q-Tip here is nothing short of perfect. Here we see the two at their peak chemistry-wise. It was as if they were lyrical extensions of one another. Phife’s lyrical development and Tip’s production are the stars of this album. Low End marked Phife’s emergence as an MC. You may ask yourself, “what about the debut?” ehh. Phife came to life on Low End. For example, Phife’s opening verse on Buggin Out. “Yo, microphone check one, two, what is this?/ The five foot assassin with the rough neck business/". So dope. This verse, in my opinion, is reminiscent of Nas’ epic opening on Illmatic. “Rappers, I monkey flip ‘em with the funky rhythm I be kickin’/Musician, inflictin’ composition/". These two openings are just filled with spontaneity and genius, but.. I digress. Phife’s use of the double entendre is on point in “Scenario”. For example, “I’m all that and then some, short, dark, and handsome/ Bust a nut inside your eye, to show you where I come from/". 

Furthermore, he references the bible in “The Infamous Date Rape.” Phife spits, “She’s hotter than Meschac, Shadrac, and Abednego.” If you wish to truly understand these lyrics please visit Rapgenius.com, you’ll be amazed. I promise. The album oozes bass and combines both the coolness of jazz and the rawness of Hip-Hop.
Midnight Marauders however was on another level. The production value of this album is second to none. This album is the exemplification of Q-Tip’s genius. "Electric Relaxation" is just perfect. The song is just mellifluous. The influential cover of the album was sort of a who’s who of Hip-Hop.  I feel that was a very altruistic way of saying that Hip-Hop is a collective effort. Each artist thrives off the success of the other. ATCQ, being a part of the Native Tongues Posse, worked with many artists to promote afro-centrism and the idea of black empowerment. This album is the apex of their careers. Phife and Q-Tip still tolerated one another, and most songs on this album are definite lifetime hits. The music was a bit more experimental. For example, the beginning electric guitar riff mixed with Minnie Ripperton’s “Inside My Love” in "Lyrics to Go" gives the tribe a new sound even with familiar samples. MM was a production masterpiece. This being the tribe’s third studio album, the maturity and experience is definitely evident in the both the lyrics and beats.

MM vs. Low End. Rationally? MM. Emotionally? Low End. Low End has Scenario, Excursions, Check the Rhyme, Buggin’ Out, and even the philosophical What? Low End is Amazing. The way Phife and Q-Tip managed to flow, in addition to the strong and beefy tones of the bass really proves their verbal dexterity and unprecedented flows. MM’s “Clap Your Hands” really shows off Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s talent as a DJ. Low End is perfect, but in the end, MM is just better. The group is older, more experienced, and had a bigger budget.  MM wins, reluctantly.

I will say this is a tough choice. I love both albums, but feel like Midnight is just slightly better because of the evolution, as most have said. Personally, I listen to both equally, but I definitely prefer Midnight Marauders by a small margin. It's the evolved sound and the increased quality in lyricism from Phife and Tip that edge it for me. That takes nothing away from Low End, which is a classic as well, but if I had to pick, got to lean towards Midnight Marauders.



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