Wed. Jan 26th, 2022

At the premier of Michael Rapaport’s documentary, Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest, legendary hip-hop performer, Phife Dawg was questioned about the aforementioned collective. When asked about the significance and exotic bodegas of the native Queens, New York assembly, A Tribe Called Quest, he praised his former group in which he exclaimed, “A Tribe Called Quest was one of those things where it was supposed to be about growth. When I say ‘growth,’ I don’t just mean with our sound or our product, but the Tribe was supposed to help us grow as individuals.”
The year was 1993 – A Renaissance-esque period for the genre of hip-hop. During this pinnacle, hip-hop underwent a sudden aesthetic transformation that eventually altered its splashy imagery, complex lyrical dexterity, and highly perpetual nature that construed the genre eons ago. Originally dismissed by media quarters as a fad, hip-hop abandoned its Van McCoy approach, its metallic-influenced production, and its signature B-Boy mentality that grew popular in the mid-1980s. Slowly but surely, the hip-hop community began to explore unfamiliar concepts that led to the prominence of controversial subgenres such as gangsta, political and conscious hip-hop. The transition from Parliament-disco, MC’s like Grandmaster Flash & the Furious 5, to hard rock-oriented performers such as Run-D.M.C and LL Cool J, to Afrocentric multi-syllabic wordsmiths such as Big Daddy Kane and Guru, hip-hop only got better with age. The dawn of 1990s introduced a new wave of hip-hop artists that would shape their respective genre as well as music forever.
November 9, 1993 was certainly a compelling moment in hip-hop’s short existence. On this cold frigid Tuesday morning, two of the most dynamic hip-hop collectives released avant-garde projects that have since been heralded as the greatest recordings of all time. A Tribe Called Quest, consisting of Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Jarobi White, issued their third studio album entitled Midnight Marauders – An album so stupendous and wildly evoking, that its release defined the golden era of hip-hop. The same can be said about the far-famed Wu-Tang Clan, a camarilla of swashbuckling MCs hailing from Staten Island, NY who saw their debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) surface on the exact day.
It was unclear what many hip-hop fans were listening to that brisk morning and it remains ambiguous to the community 20 years since. Both albums were two of countless staples that undoubtedly characterized hip-hop’s golden era spanning from 1988 to 1994. A Tribe Called Quest, who formed in the late 1980s, has been widely regarded as quintessential pioneers during this glorious epoch. Originally deriving from a New York-based hip-hop conglomerate known as the Native Tongues Posse, A Tribe Called Quest quickly established themselves as one of three flagship collectives that dominated the East Coast hip-hop scene. Alongside analogous groups such as De La Soul and the Jungle Brothers, the Tribe imported a new measure of intelligent abstract thinking that was initially obscure to hip-hop scholars and critics at the time. While themes such as Afrocentricity, Black Nationalism, Pan-Africanism, and positivity were emplified briefly in the 1980s by acts such as the Poor Righteous Teachers and Brand Nubian, they did not reach the commercial height and media prevalence until the early 1990s in which A Tribe Called Quest strengthened these theories brilliantly.
A Tribe Called Quest was one of the few groups that ushered the politically-charged and socially-conscious subcategories of hip-hop. Influenced by the doctrines and bylaws of the Universal Zulu Nation and the Nations of Gods and Earths that raised cultural awareness for struggling urban youth and mismanaged communities engulfed in endless crime and drug trade, A Tribe Called Quest operated effectively with innovation and humanity as their central basis. Fostered by DJ Kool Red Alert, A Tribe Called Quest adopted the methods of the Zulu Nation’s founder, Afrika Bambaataa, whose comprehensive ode stood for knowledge, wisdom, understanding, freedom, justice, equality, peace, unity, love, respect, work, fun, overcoming the negative, economics, mathematics, science, life, truth facts, faith, and the oneness of God. The trio indulged themselves in the established “Supreme Mathematics” and applied the advanced messages to their music. Ironically, the group’s warm mellow manner was opposite to the inner city environment which they grew up in. The group’s lyrics weren’t exactly absent from adversity but, they reminded us they had the power to rise above it. These components allowed the Tribe to carefully craft their magnum opus, Midnight Marauders, the hallmark of East Coast hip-hop.
While conveying humanities throughout their catalogue, the Tribe strongly incorporated jazz music into the backdrop of their always-colorful misadventures. Q-Tip’s smooth delivery and Phife Dawg’s whimsically-resolute charm harmonized wonderfully with Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s animated production. Tracks such as “Electric Relaxation” and “Award Tour” always kept us attentive as we hypnotically take notice to the ever-pleasing horn section accompanied by the low-key, bass-heavy production as well as the seldomly-used xylophones integrated by Muhammad.
The Wu-Tang Clan were no strangers to leaving a lasting impression on hip-hop when Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) convoyed with Midnight Marauders that day. As imperative and fundamental as Midnight Marauders was to the genre, it was Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) that cemented uniformity, theatrical storytelling and powerful camaraderie into hip-hop culture. The Staten Island-bred crew consisting of members, RZA, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, Cappadonna, Masta Killa, U-God, and the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard remodeled hip-hop into a highly competitive sport underlining versatile lyricism comprised of fictional narratives about combatant martial artists and samurai warriors who specialized in Shaolin Kung Fu. As silly and implausible as it may sound, the Wu-Tang Clan was quite content with their philosophies loosely based on the martial art techniques found in Chinese cinema. The clan would often compare their resourceful and cohesive wordplay to the acute sword style depicted in Kung Fu films. When its members approached the microphone, each record was compiled with such a gung ho mentality- a state of mind that authored music uniquely, enthusiastically and definitively. Each member of the Wu-Tang Clan employed an ethos with a voice and personality that would send chilling sensation to run down the auditor’s spine. Similar to an organization crime syndicate seen in films such as Goodfellas and The Untouchables, the Wu-Tang Clan preached loyalty and respect with betrayal and defiance seen as violations to the faction.
In celebration of the 20th anniversary of these masterstrokes, its creation story must be reiterated, retold, and re-established. Like any form of art that has stood the test of time, an oral history must be conducted. The apotheosis of the Wu-Tang Clan and A Tribe Called Quest has equally matched the integrity of musical heavyweights such as The Beatles and Pink Floyd. Like the former and the latter, it’s only honorable to appraise the Wu-Tang Clan and Tribe like we have kowtowed to rock and roll figures for over a century. Although hip-hop may be adolescent in longevity in contrast to rock and jazz, Midnight Marauders and Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) deserve to be acknowledged alongside The Wall and A Night At the Opera. Both groups maintained a positive uplifting message and sound that has since sculpted modern civilization and terminology. Like metal and rock, nonproverbial slang and abstruse ideologies were refined and eventually accepted by generations upon generations. These two albums happened to mold our interpretations of reality, nostalgia, and imagination to the extent where Jive recording engineer, Bob Powers lauded the two groups as “the Sgt. Pe
ppers of Hip-Hop.” In all its reverence and acclaim, A Tribe Called Quest and the Wu-Tang Clan has not only left behind a far-reaching legacy but has developed a nation of followers and loyalists. So today we salute A Tribe Called Quest and the Wu-Tang Clan for giving us some of the most timeless records ever made and for allowing us to live vicariously through them.
Drew Mattiola is a second-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at 

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