A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders vs. Gang Starr’s Hard To Earn. Which Is Better?
One year ago, Ambrosia For Heads launched a debate among its readers seeking to answer one of Hip-Hop’s most hotly-contested questions: who is the greatest MC of all time? “Finding The GOAT MC” lasted between September 2014 and May 2015, engaging millions of readers and ultimately producing its winner, as determined by hundreds of thousands of voters. Now, “Finding The GOAT” returns to ask a new question: what is the greatest of all time Hip-Hop album?
“Finding The GOAT Album” will consider 120 albums from three individual eras (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. You and your vote will decide which album goes forward, and which one leaves the conversation. While there will no doubt be conversation between family and friends (virtual and real), only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click.
The 1990s bracket begins in true class and style. In a six-month 1993-1994 span, two of the decade’s most innovative, best-produced albums were released. A Tribe Called Quest made an album that seemingly everybody could relate to in Midnight Marauders, as Gang Starr’s Hard To Earn played like a volume of rhythmic street allegories. Both Tribe and Gang Starr proved to be some of the most dynamic, forward-thinking Rap acts, making the early 1990s such a critical era. Besides the intro, on Hard To Earn, the first voice heard is Phife Dawg’s. One could also argue that DJ Premier’s microscopic cuts and scratch interplay on Gang Starr’s early 1990s work informed the approach Tribe took in Marauders. Across town, crews, and the Hip-Hop landscape, these albums moved the sound of a culture, in solidarity. Together in approach, only one can go forth (Click on one then click “vote”).
Midnight Marauders by A Tribe Called Quest
By 1993, Hip-Hop groups were hyper-aware of their legacy, as they challenged the laws of gravity. Coming out of the 1980s, few groups beyond Run-D.M.C. and De La Soul proved to be capable of three great albums in their catalog. And even those were not without arguments. A Tribe Called Quest, who broke in during 1990, weighed their winning streak entering Midnight Marauders, and won tenfold. The album followed the lauded Low End Theory with a carefully packaged, highly-cohesive feel and theme. The Jazz elements and breezy narratives continued, as Tribe remained ahead of the curve.
Midnight Marauders demonstrated growth for Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad. However, in expanding, the Native Tongues found the spotlight—in their transformative first Top 10 album. Single “Electric Relaxation” beautifully merged Jazz and Electronic sources, for the perfect seduction. Cleverly sliced melodies drove the album, with groovy cuts like “Oh My God,” “Lyrics To Go,” and “We Can Get Down.” At a time when Jazz-Rap was a common theme on both coasts, A.T.C.Q. traveled to the next dimension and left no road map. The album featured smart, compelling lyrics that were far from preachy or taking themselves too seriously. Bars alluded to race relations, a changing New York City, and pressures of the Rap game, but songs seemingly didn’t. This LP was a casual, cohesive listen—which made it deeply accessible to the non-Rap consumer. The Abstract’s musings, Phife’s whimsicality, and Ali’s finest scratch clinic made A Tribe Called Quest one of the most consistent Hip-Hop acts of the first half of the 1990s. As the clock struck twelve, Midnight Marauders may be Tribe’s finest hour.
Album Number: 3
Released: November 9, 1993
Label: Jive Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #8 (certified gold, January, 1994; certified platinum, January 1995)
Song Guests: Dave, Large Professor, Busta Rhymes, Raphael Wiggins
Song Producers: ATCQ, Large Professor, Skeff Anslem
Hard To Earn by Gang Starr
Nearly two years removed from Daily Operation, Gang Starr’s Hard To Earn was a deeply refined approach from the Texas and Massachusetts duo. Guru’s wisdom expanded with age, while the distinct MC’s timing, vocal flare, and his fiery attitude grew in stride. DJ Premier’s far-reaching sample sources were complemented by his increased ability to chop the items, integrating his turntablism. Hip-Hop rhythms opened hugely with songs like the nonchalant “DWYCK,” or the menacing “F.A.L.A.” Drums, samples, and deft scratches came together as the perfect backdrop for soulful messages, with brash realities and concrete imagery. Guru was able to wax stories, from car-jacking on “Code Of The Streets,” to his own autobiography on “The Planet.” The earnestness of the words, the richness of the MC’s vocal instrument, and his interplay with the beat made Hard To Earn a 1994 Rap juggernaut.
In a year that would see The Sun Rises In The East, as well as Preemo’s work on Ready To Die and Illmatic, Hard To Earn was the musical warning shot. The whole Gang Starr Foundation proved to be a force to be wreckoned with, on the musical triptych “Speak Ya Clout,” and “F.A.L.A.” The album captured the beat of the Brooklyn, New York surroundings, and found the days of Gang Starr living in Branford Marsalis’ home resulting in one of most enduring, light-handed fusions of Hip-Hop and Jazz. Gang Starr may truly have the “Mass Appeal” in the pop space, but in terms of the Hip-Hop community, this album made Guru and Premier beacons of respect. This was highly inventive Rap music that reflected the streets, while teaching new-jacks in and out of music how to act, be, and perfect their professions. While many Hip-Hop acts begin at their best, Hard To Earn set the table for Gang Starr’s subsequent decade, at the top of their class.
Album Number: 4
Released: March 8, 1994
Label: Chrysalis/EMI Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #25
Song Guests: Nice & Smooth (Greg Nice and Smooth B), Jeru The Damaja, Lil Dap, Big Shug, Melachi The Nutcracker, Mister Cee, Nas, MC Eiht, DJ Scratch, Masta Ace, A.G.,
Song Producers: (self)
So what’s the better album? Make sure you vote above.