The storied kinship between Wu-Tang Clan and A Tribe Called Quest dates back to the 1980s, when late Wu-Tang rapper/jester Ol Dirty Bastard and Tribe’s de facto leader/Renaissance man Q-Tip crossed paths as teens, battling outside the latter’s Manhattan high school while ODB’s cousin and future Wu-Tang keymaster RZA beatboxed. (As Tip revealed in a recent interview, ODB easily served him.)
But for the past three decades, the groups have been linked to a very specific day: Nov. 9, 1993.
That was the date Wu released its seminal debut, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), and Tribe dropped its fervently beloved third album, Midnight Marauders. Those dual albums made 11-9-93 something of a holiday for hip-hop heads — and few would debate it was the greatest release date in the genre’s history. (Also up there? June 28, 1988 and Sept. 29, 1998.)
From the “slums of Shaolin” (aka Staten Island), Wu-Tang assembled a super-group that also counted GZA, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon the chef, U-God, Ghostface Killah and Method Man as original members. Their 36 Chambers was a breathtaking statement, instantly reinventing the fledgling sound of East Coast rap and paving the way for the likes of Biggie, Nas and Mobb Deep.
There had never been a crew so cohesive, so raw, so potent in their street poetics. (Nor one that so passionately bridged the gap between classic martial arts flicks and hip-hop.) And there hasn’t really been since, which is why Wu-Tang fans are almost cultish in their faith, and why there have been multiple books, documentaries and TV shows about the group’s formation.
Queens’s Tribe, as RZA notes in a recent interview with Yahoo Entertainment, was more established in the fall of ’93, as the leaves changed color — and the face of hip-hop was forever altered. As part of the Afrocentric extended family Native Tongues, Tribe — which also included the late wordsmith Phife Dawg, producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad and sometimes mystery man Jarobi (or “A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y”) — had already released two certified classics, 1990’s People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm and 1991’s The Low End Theory. But with Midnight Marauders, the group delivered their magnum opus, a pitch perfect, five-mic triumph that evolved the low-fi jazz sampling of Low End Theory into rich, layered, head-snapping boom bap.
“For us, it was just a proud day, to have your album come out, and New York City accepting us,” RZA tells us. “It was a big party and a lot of celebrities that we admired or wanted to be like, wanted to be in their position, showed up to this party. Q-Tip and I [had] known each other since high school, him and ODB got lot of great history together. And here we are on the same day. And even though we weren’t as big as Tribe at that moment — they were already a gold act headed to platinum, and we were a new act. … But that day still was serendipitous because it still sparked a movement in hip-hop and a moment in hip-hop.”
RZA could feel the momentum shifting in rap, which continued two weeks later with the release of Snoop Dogg’s prized debut album, Doggystyle.
“You had Tribe Called Quest, one of your favorite East Coast groups, coming out big, and dropping some bombs. And [then] you have Snoop on the West Coast with something big. And then you also have this new thing happening, you know what I mean?
“And so I remember that time, I remember being in the van with our brothers going different places, whether it was radio stations or record stores, and getting ready for the party, and us having the tapes of the other heroes, Tribe and Snoop and all that. ’Cause back in those days, you go to an in-store [appearance] and you also buy a few albums, you know what I mean? And you get back in the van and somebody’s throwing it in and you checking it and you listening… And I just remember that, for me, it was like, ‘Put our tape in! We got one, too. Put our s*** in.’ Boom.”
Boom went Enter the Wu, buoyed by the singles “Protect Ya Neck,” “C.R.E.A.M,” and “Can It All Be so Simple,” selling 30,000 albums in its first week. (You know an album’s special when even the B-sides like “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta F’ Wit” and “Method Man” are all-timers.) The gospel of Wu quick spread, and the album went platinum by 1995. By 2018, deep into the digital age, it tripled that status.
Midnight Marauders rode the wave of hits “Award Tour,” “Electric Relaxation” and “Oh My God” to a No. 8 debut on the Billboard 200. It went gold in 1995, and platinum in 1995 — fittingly, just like the Enter the Wu.