Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions vs. A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders. Which Is Better?

Last September, Ambrosia For Heads launched a debate among its readers seeking to answer one of Hip-Hop’s most hotly-contested questions: what is the greatest Rap Album Of All-Time? “Finding The GOAT Album” has considered more than 120 albums from the 80s, 90s and 2000s (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. Now that you have decided the Elite 8, things are critical—as is your vote.

The Elite 8 Round ends with a monster. Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back has defeated three huge albums from the ’80s, as well as one beloved work from the the 2000s. Chuck D and company now face one of the great works of the 1990s in A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders. Following a week that tragically witnessed the death of group co-founder Phife Dawg, the significance of A.T.C.Q. is heavy on the minds (and ears) of many. However, objectively, P.E.’s tour de force is quite distinct from Tribe’s blend of style and substance, beats and rhymes. Plus, Chuck’s face ended up on the cover of Quest’s third LP for a reason. These are two godly groups in Hip-Hop, as influential as they are colorful. After these albums have had their respective ways in the challenges up to this point, your single vote may dictate who walks away victorious. Only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click (Click one then click “vote”).


It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back by Public Enemy

Public Enemy’s sophomore album is an intersection of substance and style at the highest possible level. A year-and-a-half removed from their stellar debut, Yo! Bum Rush The Show, Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Terminator X, and Professor Griff raised the stakes through an audio explosion. “Bring The Noise” ushered in the album’s barrage of hard-hitting lyrics. They outed inequalities, decried sample critics, stripped the glamour off drug use, and put a militia behind the movement. Chuck D found his greatest stride, not rapping as much as rhythmically proclaiming powerful verses into MC scripture. Flav played the consummate supporter, taking the role of hype-man to the top of class. Terminator X’s (and Johnny Juice’s) skills made the turntable more akin to the hard rock guitar, in its dazzling, head-banging display. Although It Takes A Nation… yielded monumental singles in “Rebel Without A Pause” and “Don’t Believe The Hype,” it contains few—if any—weak links. The album cut almost does not exist in the case of this Def Jam sophomore. Songs like “Louder Than A Bomb” and “Prophets Of Rage” resonate through the times, alongside the hits. P.E. made one of Rap’s premier end-to-end discs.

With the issue-focused Chuck D, The Bomb Squad elevated their own craft. The stacked samples of Yo! Bum Rush The Show were intensified on the follow-up. Elements were sliced and chopped extra thin, with careful additions to the whole song. The lyrics of this album were heavy lifting for the mind, just as its sonic backbone was a workout for the ears. The raw energy of Heavy Metal was translated to Hip-Hop. Chuck’s Anthrax shout-out was not only telling, but a perfect explanation of the kind of energy and attitude that P.E. shared. While Public Enemy dismissed the Grammy snubs, they were clearly showing how album-like the genre had become. Just minutes under an hour, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back was social empowerment, and at times, propaganda. It was a complete mind-shaping Hip-Hop package that exercised freedom of speech in a way entirely different from Ice-T, N.W.A., and 2 Live Crew. However, P.E.’s message was felt across the Rap landscape, with the most organized group at the time. Twenty-seven years later, every contemporary artist seeks the kind of response to art and substance as this landmark LP.

Album Number: 2
Released: June 28, 1988
Label: Def Jam/Columbia Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #42 (certified gold, September 1988; certified platinum, August 1989)
Song Guests: Harry Allen, Fab 5 Freddy, Erica Johnson, Oris Josphe, Johnny Juice
Song Producers: (self), The Bomb Squad (Chuck D, Hank Shocklee, Eric “Vietnam” Sadler), Bill Stephney, Carl Ryder


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 (p/k/a Trugoy), Large Professor, Busta Rhymes, Raphael Wiggins
Song Producers: (self), Large Professor, Skeff Anslem

So which is the better album? Make sure you vote above.

Related: Other Finding The GOAT: Album Battles.