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A Tribe Called Quest cemented their position as hip-hop royalty with 1991’s The Low End Theory. But in 1993, a year that would help define the ‘golden era’ of rap, their third record Midnight Marauders went even further, explains Sam Willis…
Onstage at KMEL Summer Jam 1993 in Mountain View, California

The year 1993 saw hip-hop go through one of its most lasting periods of metamorphosis. “The second Tuesday of November 1993,” says The Roots’ Questlove in the documentary Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest, “I consider that to be the last great day in classic hip-hop.” It was on that day that two iconic albums were released: Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) by the Wu-Tang Clan and Midnight Marauders by A Tribe Called Quest.

That pair of dichotomous records can be seen as a microcosm of the diversity in hip-hop at the time. …36 Chambers was a dark, unruly and intimidating riposte to the West Coast’s commercially gargantuan G-funk sound. It brought critical attention and an engaging brand back East, and set the groundwork for the likes of Biggie, Nas and Mobb Deep.

Midnight Marauders, on the other hand, was smooth and enlightened. It represented the last great swansong of the Native Tongues; a great peak in the work of a collective that pushed politically engaged, positive and Afrocentric rap. With the sharp focus of hindsight, for many, these records represented the death knell of the hallowed ‘golden age’.

Elsewhere in ’93, landmark records also came from the likes of KRS-One, Souls of Mischief, 2Pac, De La Soul, Run-D.M.C. and Mobb Deep, making it one of the most fertile years in the lineage of the genre. The release of …36 Chambers on 9 November marked the beginning of an illustrious career for Wu-Tang and its clan members. Midnight Marauders, in many ways, was the beginning of the end for Tribe. Tensions in the band had started to ferment. However, before those tensions took a stranglehold, Q-Tip, Phife Dawg and Ali Shaheed Muhammad released the most flawless record in their catalogue and one of the most iconic hip-hop records of all time. Midnight Marauders arrived three years after the release of Tribe’s debut record People’s Instinctive Travels And The Paths of Rhythm and five years after the Native Tongues’ Ground Zero moment: Jungle Brothers’ Straight Out The Jungle. That five-year period saw East Coast hip-hop in an era of psychedelic experimentation, spearheaded by Native Tongues – a loose collection of artists fronted by the triumvirate of A Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers and De La Soul. The movement was a rebuttal of what was defined ‘cool’ at the time. There was carte blanche to be goofy, celebrate individual eccentricities and exist without affectation. “It’s been pretty much a cool existence to be in Tribe… Along with De La Soul, we were like: ‘It’s cool to be you,’” Q-Tip told Hattie Collins in The Guardian in 2008.

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