Madvillain’s Madvillainy vs. A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders. 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” 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 and your vote have decided the Sweet 16 bracket, things are getting really interesting.

March Madness is on and popping, reflected in Round 4’s opening match-up. Madvillain’s lone studio album, Madvillainy narrowly defeated De La Soul’s 3 Feet High And Rising to the shock of many in Round 3. The Stones Throw Records jewel faces another Native Tongues masterwork in A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders. That album, Tribe’s third, has knocked out three duo’s so far—thanks to Outkast, Black Star, and Gang Starr. Will Madvillain be next? Or will the unlikely Underground Hip-Hop duo knock out their third straight platinum LP? As a reminder, only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click (Click one then click “vote”).


Madvillainy by Madvillain

In the early 2000s, MF DOOM was very much a dope-MC-for-hire. Following his late 1990s career renaissance thanks to Operation Doomsday, the super-villain adopted a Tupac Shakur-like work ethic of recording, producing, and releasing albums under a plethora of aliases and guises. As many suitors came to the table to break bread, Madlib and Stones Throw Records were great fans of the former KMD front man. After coming to an agreement, the emerging MC/producer of Lootpack fame got “blunted in the bomb shelter” (Stones Throw’s studio) with DOOM. Although the album may have had modest beginnings, the synergy between the two reclusive artists cultivated new career pathways for each. Madvillainy was a tremendous merging of two esteemed talents, who celebrated ignoring convention. Despite the whimsicality, they made a remarkably soulful LP. Behind the dusty loops and drenched lyrics is an album that’s become a hallmark to each artist, a label, and a redefined Underground Hip-Hop movement in the mid-2000s. Twenty-two tracks deep, Madvillain’s lone studio album is a sum of small movements. With most songs two minutes long, this album combated the trends of the mainstream in all ways, despite its surprisingly large (eventual) profile. Songs like “Accordion” played like a profound interlude. MF DOOM, hitting the pocket of Madlib’s quirky beat, blended cartoon references with brief allusions to his own mortality. Madlib did not just play a background role in the album. Like Metal Face DOOM or Quasimoto, Madvillain stood as a character of the pair’s concoction. Instrumentals, and subdued lyrical moments showed Otis Jackson, Jr.’s sound apart from his Yesterday’s New Quintet, Quas’, or solo work. “Rainbows” were anything but straightforward, and moments that enhanced the cohesion of the stylized album without being overt. “Figaro” put DOOM in a sound that was wildly different than his own productions. As a 15-year vet was rising the ranks of MC lists, the complex rhythms of Madlib proved to be a combine drill of skill. “Fancy Clown” was a no-laughing-matter break-up track. DOOM spoke from within emotionally, as the producer made the song cry—literally. Crossover single “All Caps” transported the group back to the 1970s, rewarding fans with a song that felt like a refined Operation Doomsday holdover. In the song (and much of the album), DOOM embraced his own legend. Madlib was able to take elements of what he heard in the Fondle ‘Em Records days, and build out his motifs. While the Oxnard, California native would make albums with another NYC underground vet in Percee P, as well as Talib Kweli, Strong Arm Steady, and Guilty Simpson, Madvillainy may be his most intensive workshop. Even if its mosaic approach, short songs featured detailed sequencing, beat-flips, and nuanced accents. This unlikely pair, acting upon Madvillainy as an experimental one-off, would make career-defining chemistry together—a bomb in the shelter.

Album Number: 1 (as group)
March 24, 2004
Stones Throw Records Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #179
Song Guests:
MED, Wildchild
Song Producers:


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 album is better? Make sure you vote above.

Related: Here Is Your “Finding The GOAT Album” Sweet 16. The Bracket Just Got Real.