November 9, 1993, is an important day in the history of hip-hop. It is the day that two game changing, timeless masterpiece albums were released -- Wu-Tang Clan's flawless debut, Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers and A Tribe Called Quest's unblemished third LP, Midnight Marauders. Both hip-hop outfits came from two different parts of New York City -- Wu-Tang from Staten Island and Tribe from Queens. The release of these albums came at a pivotal time in the genre, right before the alleged "East Coast Vs. West Coast" feud. These records came just months before Nas, OutKast, Fugees, and Notorious BIG, would release their debuts and start their legacies within the hip-hop community.
In the early '90s, the West Coast was on fire thanks to NWA, Dr. Dre's solo debut, Snoop Dogg, Cypress Hill, Ice-T, and the late Tupac's releases, among others, were stealing the hip-hop spotlight. New York dominated the '80s simply because it was the birthplace of the genre and was the home to the pioneers -- DJ Kool Herc, Marly Marl, Public Enemy, Sugarhill Gang, LL Cool J, Pete Rock and CL Smooth, Erik B and Rakim, RUN DMC, KRS- One, Beastie Boys, and countless others. By the end of the '80s and the emergence of NWA and Tupac, hip-hop's sound, style, and landscape was changing. What brought attention back to the East Coast, more importantly, the city that gave birth to hip-hop, would be Wu-Tang and Tribe.
Hailing from the north end of Staten Island, Wu-Tang Clan struck fear in ears of every listener and opened the eyes of those outside the city that there are big problems in the projects. Their debut, 36 Chambers, seemed to come from nowhere. It played like a cinematic voyage into the heart of the ghetto and into the problems that the forgotten parts of New York City were facing. Unlike NWA, Beastie Boys, Naughty By Nature, and even Tribe, Wu-Tang were a hard group to market from a major label standpoint and in the early to mid-90's that simply meant everything. However, thanks to the groups visionary leader, RZA, and colorful characters like the late Ol Dirty Bastard, Method Man, Ghostface Killah, GZA, Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, U-God, and Cappadonna, the sum was just as strong as it's parts. The album sampled obscure kung-fu films, soul music, and original production from RZA, it became the blueprint from what hardcore, in-your-face hip-hop would sound like for years to come. With nine members all fighting for attention, each lyric, each phrase, each verse outdid the last. Hardly any of the songs had a hook or chorus and those that did became instant classics. The production on the album was as raw as the lyrics, it was made on a small budget so small that any success the album would gain would have been a surprise to anyone that worked on it. The album would eventually go platinum and push the Wu-Tang into the stratosphere. The album, now, 20 years old, defines the group as legends.
In an August 2013 issue of NME magazine, superstar DJ and producer Mark Ronson hailed A Tribe Called Quest's Midnight Marauders as one of the game changing hip-hop albums. Ronson said, "That album changed the sound of East Coast hip-hop, which before was very noisy and aggressive. But Midnight Marauders just had this sheen to it -- it wasn't too cleaned-up or sanitized, the snares still had that amazing 'crack' to them, but it sounded like nothing you'd ever heard before. It changed everything." Tribe were a group that sampled jazz and spoke about socially conscious issues. Midnight Marauders was a concept record of sorts that toted everyday life for the groups members: Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad. From going to the bodega, to seeing a girl you wanted to talk to, it still dealt with the racial and sexually issues that they always spoke about, but a whole different level. It was a slice of life in 14 cuts. While Tribe had consistently put out stellar records and altered how hip-hop should and could be heard, Midnight Marauders sustained their legacy as one of the most creative and genre defying groups.
While Wu-Tang and Tribe's sound could not be further from each other, they showed that hip-hop, still in its early years, did not have boundaries. They showcased what could be done and how to do it.